Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review - Asimov's Science Fiction: Vol. 33, No. 6 (June 2009) by Sheila Williams (editor)

Stories included:
Going Deep by James Patrick Kelly
Controlled Experiment by Tom Purdom
Sails the Morne by Chris Willrich
Bare, Forked Animal by John Alfred Taylor
Cold Testing by Eric Brown
The Monsters of Morgan Island by Sandra McDonald

Poems included:
And Drunk the Milk of Paradise by Robert Frazier
Within Your Shoes by Mark Rich
Split Decisions by Kendall Evans and David C. Kopaska-Merkel

Full review: While this issue makes a big deal out of the 25th anniversary of James Patrick Kelly having a story in every June issue of Asimov's, what makes this issue truly special is a sterling line-up of excellent stories. Every story in this issue is at least good, and some are very good, and range from near future hard science to bizarre space opera to monster driven dark fantasy.

The issue kicks off with a tribute to James Patrick Kelly, who has had a story appear in every June issue of Asimov's for twenty-five years. Several other contributors offer various congratulatory blurbs about Kelly's genius. His entry in this year's June issue is Going Deep, a pretty good coming of age story about a girl grappling with her identity and rebelling against her clone-mother's plans for her.

After the Kelly love-fest, the issue gets down to business, starting with Tom Purdom's Controlled Experiment, a disturbing story about both the implications of widespread, easily exploitable technology that creates a world in which criminal behavior to take others down a notch becomes not only accepted, but for many a badge of honor. The story centers around a "mischief" whose actions got out of hand, provoking real criminal prosecution, and the difficulties of rehabilitating him. This was my favorite story in the issue, depicting a future that is both scary and compelling.

On the other end of the thematic scale is John Alfred Taylor's Bare, Forked Animal, depicting the horror that ensues when an inhabitant of a culture in which people are entirely dependent upon technology finds himself unrecognized by the automated systems the run everyday life. Locked out of society into a nightmare netherworld, the protagonist almost starves to death and realizes the truth of King Lear. While this story was good, it was too short, and I wanted to see more of the world behind the technology.

Continuing the parade of good stories is Eric Brown's Cold Testing featuring an unusual love triangle between a man, a woman, and an AI  with a sad resolution that somehow felt inevitable. The Monsters of Morgan Island by Sandra McDonald also has a somewhat sad ending to its strange love story, but that is the only similarity, as this story is a fantasy about an island that has a pit full of monsters as a tourist attraction, until the monsters have other ideas. It is bizarre, creepy, and also quite good.

Sails the Morne by Chris Willrich is probably the most bizarre tale in the book, dealing with a long haul space freighter from a backwater Earth delivering an artifact to aliens and dealing with space pirates and a murderer on board ship. I cannot come up with a description that can do the strangeness of the story true justice, and for all its strangeness it hangs together in the end and adds one final tick to the list of good stories found in this issue.

When the worst story in the issue is a pretty good 25th anniversary story by an acclaimed author, you know you have a good issue. Each story in this installment of Asimov's is both good and quite distinct from the other stories that accompany it, which makes for a good read with plenty of variety. This is simply one of the best issues of Asimov's in the past couple years.

Previous issue reviewed: April/May 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: July 2009

2010 Locus Award Nominees
2010 Nebula Award Nominees

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