Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review - Asimov's Science Fiction: Vol. 33, No. 12 (December 2009) by Sheila Williams (editor)

Stories included:
A Large Bucket, and Accidental Godlike Mastery of Spacetime by Benjamin Crowell
Some Like It Hot by Brian Stableford
A Lovely Little Christmas Fire by Jeff Carlson
As Women Fight by Sara Genge
Animus Rights by John Shirley
Angie's Errand by Nick Wolven
Leaving the Station by Jim Aikin
The Bride of Frankenstein by Mike Resnick

Poems included:
The Anti-World by Andrew Gudgel
The World's Ending Again in 2012 by Darrell Schweitzer
Shiner by G.O. Clark

Full review: The December 2009 issue of Asimov's is a decent mix of stories covering a broad range of the science fiction genre. Unfortunately, the mostly good stories are pulled down a bit by the inclusion of some mediocre ones featuring pretty worn out plots. On the whole, however, this is an above average issue of the magazine.

The first of the two anchor stories for the issue is A Large Bucket, and Accidental Godlike Mastery of Spacetime by Benjamin Crowell. The story deals with a human ambassador to the galactic culture on a ship traveling at relativistic speeds accompanied by the representatives of hundreds of other races picked up on the spacecraft's circuit of the galaxy. The story focuses on her attempts to negotiate with the most dissimilar race to humanity, and the horse trading she goes through to make this negotiation work on her way to becoming a major power broker among the alien races. The story is somewhat silly, and the ending is a little trite, but it is well executed and enjoyable.

The second novelette in the issue is Brian Stableford's Some Like It Hot, which is a near future hard science tale about political machinations concerning the impending global warming crisis. The protagonist takes a stand that some might find disturbing and outwits her more conventionally minded political opponent. The story is well researched and comes at the topic from an unusual angle, but the global warming story has been done to death recently, and maybe it should be retired for a while.

As Women Fight by Sara Genge is a strange tale about a collection of people who swap genders on a regular basis, and fight over the right to be the female member of their partnership. It deals with gender issues, but as one might expect, in a fairly blunt kind of way. Angie's Errand by Nick Wolven also deals with gender issues, in this case the responsibility a young girl feels to find a husband to help her take care of her younger siblings in a post-apocalyptic society. This story seemed a little clumsy to me, as the protagonist does some fairly obviously stupid things, some fairly obviously desperate things, and ends up making a decision that seemd preordained from the beginning. Also touching on gender issues, albeit in a humorous way, is Mike Resnick's Bride of Frankenstein, but in this case the bride is Doctor Frankenstein's wife, who doesn't understand her husband's work, or share any of his interests. The Frankenstein story told from her perspective in a funny way is diverting, but nothing more.

My least favorite story in the issue is Animus Rights by John Shirley, not because the story isn't well told, but rather because it takes the form of a very old and pretty worn out plot that follows the struggle between two alien entities using humans as the pawns in their tit for tat game of dominance. The only real twist to the story is the "human rights" advocate who intervenes on humanity's behalf. Super-powerful aliens mentally controlling humans in some sort of game or power-struggle with others of their kind has been done a thousand times, and this story isn't original enough to be anything other than a run-of-the mill example of the meme.

My favorite story in the issue is Jeff Carlson's A Lovely Little Christmas Fire, which is the December Christmas tale and returns to Montana and Julie Beauchain who was first introduced in Gunfight at the Sugarloaf Pet Food & Taxidermy. Unlike most Christmas stories in Asimov's and Analog, this one doesn't seem forced, although that is probably because the Christmas element to the story is kept well to the background of the bio-engineered super-termite infestation main plot. It is fun, action-packed, with enough plot and intrigue to make the other elements hang together. Also quite good is Leaving the Station, a ghost tale about a woman who inherits an unusual antique store from her uncle. After trying to sell the store, she discovers the magical secret of the place, and stays to fulfill her destiny. It is sweet and touching.

With only one real clunker a bunch of good stories and a couple very good ones, this issue is a pretty good one. Even the stories that rely upon overused plots are written well, so if one can overlook the fact that they cover the same ground as many, many other stories, they are decent enough. Overall, this is well worth reading.

Previous issue reviewed: October/November 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: January 2010

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