Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review - Asimov's Science Fiction: Vol. 33, No. 7 (July 2009) edited by Sheila Williams

Stories included:
Earth II by Stephen Baxter
SinBad the Sand Sailor by R. Garcia y Robertson
The Last Apostle by Michael Cassutt
Camp Nowhere by Kit Reed
Sleepless in the House of Ye by Ian McHugh
Shoes-to-Run by Sara Genge

Poems included:
For Sale: One Moonbase, Never Used by Esther M. Friesner
Exobiology II by F.J. Bergman

Full review: This is a mostly disappointing issue of Asimov's Science Fiction. The issue leads off with an editorial by Sheila Williams in which she argues that in prosperous economic times, authors write hopeful, mostly upbeat science fiction, while in down times, they write depressing stories. The evidence she marshals to support this contention is not that impressive, but the story selections for this issue seem to be aimed at proving her right.

The longest story is Earth II from Stephen Baxter about the descendants of a group of settlers on a new planet. The new Earth is mostly water covered, and has a axial tilt that results in long hot "days" and long cold "nights" that last for months. The inhabitants have divided into nations and fallen to fighting with one another, but that only serves as the backdrop for the real story as one group tries to preserve the store of knowledge handed down by the original settlers, while another group seeks to find the remnants of the long lost indigenous inhabitants of the planet. The story ends by basically stating that the only way forward is to destroy the past, which I find to be a very depressing conclusion.

Of the remaining stories, the only truly fun one is SinBad the Sand Sailor by R. Garcia y Robertson, which is a sort of realistic version of the conditions that could create a Barsoom-like Mars complete with flying cities, sand sailors, men fighting with swords and crossbows, slavers from Thuria, and so on. Michael Cassutt's The Last Apostle is a less than convincing story about an alternate group of Apollo astronauts who find evidence of life on the Moon, and then for completely unexplained reasons cover it up until all but one are dead. Shoes-to-Run, by Sara Genge, features both gender identity issues and the conflict between the civilized inhabitants of a future city and the barbaric dwellers of the countryside on a future Earth apparently destroyed by global warming and radiation.

The weakest stories in the volume are Sleepless in the House of Ye by Ian McHugh and Camp Nowhere by Kit Reed. I would describe Sleepless as an ambitious failure - it is told from a completely alien perspective with almost no human reference points. Unfortunately, that makes for a difficult story, and ultimately I think, a failed one. Camp Nowhere, on the other hand, seems simply to not belong in a science fiction magazine. Although possibly set in the future, there is no science fiction idea in the story, unless one considers group therapy and child abandonment to be science fiction.

Overall, this is simply not a particularly good issue of the magazine, with only two really decent stories, and the others ranging from barely adequate to pretty bad. The most interesting part of the issue was Robert Silverberg's column on his efforts to obtain foreign language editions of his own work, which, while amusing, shouldn't be the highlight of an issue. For me, this volume was simply a disappointment.

Previous issue reviewed: June 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: August 2009

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