Sunday, February 24, 2013

Review - Asimov's Science Fiction: Vol. 34, No. 2 (February 2010) by Sheila Williams (editor)

Stories included:
The Ice Line by Stephen Baxter
Stone Wall Truth by Caroline M. Yoachim
The Woman Who Waited Forever by Bruce McAllister
The Wind-Blown Man by Aliette de Bodard
Dead Air by Damien Broderick
The Bold Explorer in the Place Beyond by David Erik Nelson

Poems included:
Reincarnation by Peter Swanson
Subatomic Redemption by Michael Meyerhofer

Full review: The February 2010 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction sees a return to form of the magazine after a disappointing January issue. With three "punk" stories, the magazine seems to have a mini-theme, although this is probably not a strength as two of the "punk" stories are the weakest two in the issue. On the other hand, Baxter's The Ice Line is the best story Asimov's has had in a few months, so that more than balances out the duds.

Stephen Baxter's The Ice Line is another installment in his "Anti-Ice" alternate history series in which England is caught fighting off the invasions of both Napoleon and the alien Phoebans. It is a strange combination of hard science fiction and steampunk (two genres that one might not expect to work well together) and brings a collection of secondary historical characters to the forefront of its narrative. Baxter weaves the historical characters together with the alien element with great skill to come up with a bizarre but believable alien invasion story that is my favorite offering of this issue. Also in the steampunk genre is David Erik Nelson's The Bold Explorer in the Place Beyond concerning a drunken relating of a water dweller's foray on to dry land to explore, the troubles he encounters, and the help he receives that doesn't turn out quite like what he expected. Unfortunately, as it is in the same issue as Baxter's story, this one suffers by comparison, as it just isn't as good.

Moving away from steampunk to cyberpunk we find Damien Broderick's Dead Air, a truly strange story about life in the New York of the future in which the dead apparently have begun to commandeer television sets so they can look out on the living. The story is told using a quirky writing style clearly intended to convey a cyberpunk feel to the telling, but I thought it sometimes got in the way of narrative. The "twist" ending was somewhat predictable, and in the end this wasn't really a great story, but merely an adequate one.

Caroline M. Yoachim's Stone Wall Truth is a surprisingly gory story revolving around the misuse of lost technology as a device for horrific torture and punishment by those who had forgotten the original purpose of the device in question. The story meanders along in its bloodiness until the protagonist has an epiphany and the story simply stops with little resolution. Also surprisingly violent is Aliette de Bodard's The Wind-Blown Man, an alternate history story that posits the dominance of Chinese culture on the world stage, and the resulting apparent stagnation. An unexpected element returns to possibly shake things up, and the establishment reacts badly and viciously. I found these two stories to be stronger stuff than is normal for the magazine, but not notably over the top.

Less violent, but still somewhat bloody is Bruce McAllister's The Woman Who Waited Forever, a ghost story that details the brutality of adults towards one another in wartime, and children towards one another when at play. I'm not usually a big fan of ghost stories, but this one is well-done and the ghost element is so generally limited and the believable relationships between the boys hold center stage in the story.

This turned out to be an up and down issue, with some less than good stories, but these are balanced out in my opinion by Baxter's contribution. When one adds in the sundry good stories the overall quality of this issue is standard for Asimov's. After the modest disappointment that the January 2010 issue turned out to be, this one is a definite step up in quality.

Previous issue reviewed: January 2010
Subsequent issue reviewed: March 2010

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