Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review - Asimov's Science Fiction: Vol. 34, No. 3 (March 2010) by Sheila Williams (editor)

Stories included:
Helping Them Take the Old Man Down by William Preston
Blind Cat Dance by Alexander Jablokov
The Tower by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Centaurs by Benjamin Crowell
Ticket Inspector Gliden Becomes the First Martyr of the Glorious Human Uprising by Derek Zumsteg
The Speed of Dreams by Will Ludwigsen

Poems included:
Marble People by Bruce Boston
Crazy Man by Mark Rich
Our Canine Defense Team by Vincent Miskell

Full review: While this issue contains a decent selection of science fiction stories, it continues a worrying trend of tossing in a few non-genre stories, eating up issue pages with material that simply does not match the name Asimov's Science Fiction.

Blind Cat Dance by Alexander Jablokov is probably the most ambitious story in the issue, positing a future world in which humans have figured out how to aterwildlife so that it simply does not notice humans or their artifacts. The side effect of this is that humans then have to make sure that they shepherd the animals live among them. The whole story is told on the corners of the doings of a set of socialites most of whom don't understand the careful planning that goes into the wildlife pagent that surrounds them.

The Tower by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a time travel story, but focuses mostly on the competing interests of the time travelers themselves, with the denizens of the past being of secondary concern at best. A scientific expedition to determine a trivial issue is overtaken by an effort to pull off a temporal heist with somewhat less than satisfactory results for both sides. I liked it, but there isn't anything truly memorable or noteworthy about it.

Centaurs by Benjamin Crowell is a hard science fiction story about teenage puppy love in the outer solar system. The story revolves around a date gone wrong (and many things can go wrong in the orbit of Neptune) both physically and emotionally. Ticket Inspector Gliden Becomes the First Martyr of the Glorious Human Uprising by Derek Zumsteg is a darkly funny story about human-alien contact, as aliens are brought in to investigate humanity's mass transit systems and improve them, and their ideas about efficiency clash with human sensibilities. The title gives away the ending, but that doesn't matter, as the ending is the least important part of the story. Since moving away from baseball writing into the science fiction field, Zumsteg has put out several good solid stories, and this one is no exception.

As with most poetry in Asimov's, Marble People by Bruce Boston and Crazy Man by Mark Rich are merely average. Our Canine Defense Team by Vincent Miskell, on the other hand, was an incredibly funny take on putting humanity on trial for its offenses against the rest of the biosphere.

I've commented several times before that there seems to be an annoying tendency in many genre magazines to include non-genre stuff, and in this issue this happens twice. The first story, Helping Them Take the Old Man Down by William Preston, is basically a conspiracy story involving a shadowy organization headed up by a mysterious "old man" who bears something of a resemblance to a good guy version of the Smoking Man of X-Files fame. Although the X-Files could loosely be described as science fiction, the story presented here contains none of the science fictional elements, unless one counts having an Arctic base of operations as science fiction. The story is a decent spy-thriller, but simply isn't science fiction. Also not science fiction is The Speed of Dreams by Will Ludwigsen, which is an extended suicide note written in the form of a high school science experiment. If the strange ramblings of the adolescent protagonist were actually true, then there might be a fantasy element to the story, but there's no reason given to believe them to be. Neither story is particularly bad, they are just out of place.

While all of the science fiction stories in this volume are at least pretty good, the presence of the two non-genre stories pulls the average rating of the issue down. There's nothing specifically wrong with them other than not belonging, but one can find that sort of material anywhere. When I pick up a copy of Asimov's Science Fiction, on the other hand, I'm looking for 112 pages of science fiction (or at least science fantasy). Consequently, non-genre material in an issue is a disappointment, and as a result, the overall rating of this issue suffers.

Previous issue reviewed: February 2010
Subsequent issue reviewed: April/May 2010

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  1. Just asking because I can't seem to figure out how to get your attention but I was wondering if you can do a feature post on the site, ReadWave and perhaps the founders, Rob and Raoul?

    I would be very grateful if you could get back to me on my blog (the link is there if you click my name) or by email:

  2. NyNy: There is a link to my e-mail in the sidebar.

  3. Helping take down the old man is based off of Doc Savage. ALL the tropes are there. It's totally science fiction. You should maybe read up on more science fiction before you start reviewing it....

    1. Hektor Robinson: Just because something reminds you of the tropes of Doc Savage doesn't make it science fiction. There are no science fiction elements in the story. Whether it is something that brings back fond memories because it is vaguely like a story you once read is irrelevant. The story itself needs to contain science fiction elements, and this one simply doesn't include any.

      Actual Doc Savage stories contained far more science fiction than this one. They included superscience like invisibility, teleportation, supercharged death rays, and similar things as critical plot elements. Helping Them Take the Old Man Down has none of those things. And what happens when you strip all of the science fiction elements out of a science fiction story? It stops being science fiction.

      And Doc Savage was only marginally science fiction to begin with. It was pulp action, and not really science fiction any more than Tarzan is science fiction. It is pulp action, and only the most generous description of science fiction would classify it in the genre. And the old Doc Savage stories are far closer to science fiction than Preston's story in this issue of Asimov's was.

      By the way, if you are going to comment on a story, you should get the title right. It isn't "Helping take down the old man", is it Helping Them Take the Old Man Down. Displaying semi-literacy that way doesn't help your case.

      As for me needing to "read up on science fiction before I review it", I don't think I have ever seen a more uninformed statement than that. You might want to research the people you are talking with before you comment next time.