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Daughter of Eden by Chris Beckett

Corvus, 2016, 398 p

 Daughter of Eden cover

The narrator here is Angie Redlantern, childhood friend of Starlight, the protagonist of the previous novel in Beckett’s Dark Eden sequence, Mother of Eden, but long since struck out on her own from Knee Tree Grounds and living among the Davidfolk in Veeklehouse on the near side of Worldpool. Angie is a batface, one of the many such in Eden as a consequence of the inbreeding unavoidable in the scenario. She had for a long time been companion to Mary, a shadowspeaker faithful to the cult of Gela but was rejected by her after failing to hear Gela’s voice in the sacred Circle of Stones. The novel kicks off when Angie’s daughter, Candy, is the first to notice the men in metal masks coming across Worldpool in wave after wave of boats. Soon Angie’s family is heading out over Snowy Dark to Circle Valley to escape this invasion. There, in a strange left turn that falls outside the narrative pattern of the trilogy so far, the event that marks Angie’s life occurs. To reveal it would be a spoiler of sorts.

Beckett is of course examining origin myths and belief systems and here explicitly the question of what happens when evidence arises that directly contradicts the stories you have heard all your life, stories which that life revolves around, especially if they are stories on which your self-esteem and means of living depend. Well, belief is a stubborn beast. If you truly believe, you just rationalise that evidence away.

Beckett’s depiction of the evolution and entrenchment of social hierarchies is not an especially optimistic view of humanity. Perhaps all Edens are dark. Within it, however, while he shows us humans bickering and fighting, we also find loving and caring; so there is hope. Readable as always, Beckett involves us fully in Angie’s world, and presents us with characters who behave in the way we know they would. I’m still not sure about that life-marking event though.

Pedant’s corner:- sprung (sprang,) when when (this is not one of those instances where Eden folk use repetition of an adjective to express the comparative, a habit Beckett expands on later; just one “when” needed here,) me and her had fallen out (the English ought to be I and she or she and I but of course Angie is writing in Edenic,) me and Mary (I and Mary; Mary and I, ditto.) “Their bones, those that were left unpulverized, would be twice as old as the cave paintings at Lascaux” (twice as old as the cave paintings at Lascaux? Those cave paintings [being older than the bones] would themselves be three times as old as the ones referred to by the time concerned. “Twice as old as the cave paintings at Lascaux are now” would make more sense.) “Come Tree Road” (this corruption of the song Country Road is elsewhere “Come Tree Row”,) Johnfollk (Johnfolk,) a new kind of, story (kind of story.)

The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem, Head of Zeus, 2015, 400 p, translated from the Chinese 三體, Chongqing Publishing Group 2006, by Ken Liu. The Dark Forest, Head of Zeus, 2015, 512 p, translated from the Chinese 黑暗森林, Chongqing Publishing Group 2008, by Joel Martinsen. Reviewed for Interzone 261, Nov-Dec 2016.

 The Three-Body Problem cover

Barring Verne and the genre’s very beginnings, non-Anglophone SF has historically had a low profile in its heartlands. Some Eastern European SF did manage to filter across the language barrier during the Iron Curtain days but was usually a niche commodity. That situation has recently begun to change markedly with SF emanating from outwith the usual source countries. Though not all from non-Anglophone sources, in the past few years I have been able to sample SF originating from Japan, Finland, Israel, South Africa, Nigeria and other former colonial states. Now, aided by Puppygate and its unintended consequence of a best novel Hugo Award for Cixin Liu, his Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy looks set to raise the profile of Chinese Science Fiction; which on this evidence comprises hard SF, red in tooth and claw (though arguably not red in political terms.)

The first book, The Three-Body Problem, begins during the Cultural Revolution when Ye Wenjie witnesses the death of her father, a physicist unwilling to bend to the doctrine that the theories which underpin his subject are reactionary, at the hands of Red Guards. Ye herself is sent to a labour camp and further blots her copybook when she reads Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and pens a letter to the authorities about the environmental depredations resulting from the work of her labour corps but due to her capabilities as a physicist she is assigned to Red Coast Base, an apparently military endeavour.

There is then a jump of forty years in the narrative and we are plunged into a world where nanomaterials researcher Wang Miao is co-opted into a Battle Command Centre – a committee whose members comprise not only Chinese but also NATO generals plus the unorthodox but effective cop Shi Qiang. The world faces a threat (at this point unspecified) related to the fact that physicists are killing themselves as their experimental results are not consistent, leading them to the conclusion that physics varies from place to place and so does not exist. Shi Qiang warns Wang always to look behind the surfaces of things to find the deeper connections.

Strange things begin to happen to Wang; he sees a countdown on his photographs and then on his eyes. This stops when he ceases his research. His wider investigations lead him to an online game at www.3body.net, the playing of which requires a haptic feedback suit, and which is set on a curious world with unreliable sunrises and sunsets, Stable and Chaotic Eras, mysterious flying stars and inhabitants who can dehydrate and rehydrate according to the conditions. Each time he logs into it the game’s history has moved on. He works out the planet has three suns whose orbits form an inherently chaotic configuration. This is Trisolaris. In one of the novel’s structural problems the relevance of this game to the ongoing threat is not revealed till later.

We subsequently find Red Coast was actually a site for SETI investigations and Ye Wenjie had used its antenna – via the sun as a signal amplifier – to send a message to the universe. A reply containing a warning of invasion if Earth responds came from only four light years away and therefore must have originated on Alpha Centauri. The disillusioned Ye, convinced that humanity’s relationship to evil is like the iceberg to the ocean (made of the same material) ignores the warning. Meanwhile a secretive Earth Trisolaran Organisation, ETO, has recruited devotees via 3-body and communicated with the Trisolarans who have developed Project Sophon, the unfolding of protons into different dimensions, to shoot a quantum entangled pair at Earth to completely ruin scientific research and seal off the progress of human science. The Alpha Centauri system of course contains three suns.

The trouble is we are told a lot of this via the medium of 3-body and transcripts of Trisolaran transmissions – most of which content is dry as dust. Human interactions are sidelined, the main instigator of ETO, Mike Evans, advocate of Pan-Species Communism, barely appears in the novel and the chronology of the events is disjointed. While Wang’s nanomaterials background comes in useful in obtaining the Trisolaran transcripts the incident concerned is really the only one which occurs in the novel’s here-and-now.

In his translator’s afterword Ken Liu refers to Chinese fiction having different emphases and preferences “compared to what American readers expect”. Whether this explains the oddness of The Three-Body Problem’s structure the non-Chinese reader cannot tell. And nothing is resolved, the whole is merely a prologue.

 The Dark Forest cover

In The Dark Forest the narrative is much more linear. Earth has 450 years to prepare for the Trisolaran invasion but is now riddled with sophons, making all transactions transparent to Trisolaris. The UN has set up a Planetary Defence Council which initiates the Wallfacer Project whereby four individuals are given more or less absolute power to command resources to further the anti-Trisolaran plans devised in their own minds, (the sophons cannot read thoughts). One character muses, “I wonder whether we could find a form of communication that only humans can comprehend, but which the sophons never will. That way, humanity can be free of sophon monitoring…… A gaze or a smile can transmit so much information!”

The first part of the book follows the progress of the Wallfacers’ plans, the setting up and development of Earth’s space forces and the societal changes which take place under the Trisolaran threat. “Behind them was the Golden Age, the good times that began in the 1980s and ended with the Crisis. Ahead of them, humanity’s arduous years were about to unfold.”

The disparity in force between Earth and Trisolaris is the biggest in human history, defeatism the worst enemy – especially in the space forces. Escapism, the thought of leaving Earth for the wide blue yonder, appeals to some but is soon made illegal as who goes and who remains involves basic human values no matter who gets to leave – elites, the rich, or ordinary people. So long as some will be left behind, it means the collapse of humanity’s ethical value system. One character says, “The fundamental axiom of economics is the human mercenary instinct. Without that assumption, the entire field would collapse. There isn’t any fundamental axiom for sociology yet, but it might be even darker than economics. A small number of people could fly off into space, but if we knew it would come to that, why would we have bothered in the first place?”

There are still occasional forays into 3-body where we find Trisolaris has designated a Wallbreaker to each Wallfacer, to frustrate or reveal their plans.

Curiously – or is this an endemic Chinese habit? – smoking seems to be commonplace in this future even when we have again jumped in time to year 205 of the Crisis Era, after a minor Dark Age called the Great Ravine has more than halved Earth’s population. Most cities are now underground.

The narrative contains a few potential sense of wonder moments. Giant space telescopes, the seeding of space with oil film, “mined” from Neptune’s rings, to reveal the tracks of Trisolaran probes, a space battle which came over eerily like an updated version of E E ‘Doc’ Smith, and other Science Fictional concepts such as the technology to fix beliefs in the human brain. However, there are times when the info dumping can be intrusive and strange interludes such as when Liu allows his characters to discourse on the writing process, “The highest level of literary creation is when the characters in a novel possess life in the mind of the writer. The writer is unable to control them. But today’s practitioners of literature have lost that creativity,” and the nature of the object of love, “not the man or woman of reality, but what he or she is like in their imagination.”

Key to the book are two maxims, “Survival is the primary need of civilization” and, “Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant,” plus the related concepts of chains of suspicion and technology explosion.

The Dark Forest bristles with SF ideas while remixing the tropes of First Contact, Generation Starship and disaster tale but these elements sometimes sit uneasily with the stories of the humans involved. Its title’s metaphor encapsulates a bleak explanation for the Fermi Paradox.

Both these novels contain footnotes, mostly to explain specifically Chinese references. Footnotes can be a delight but SF readers are used to neologisms – sometimes unexplained. Their necessity in either book is therefore arguable – and in the cases of Kuiper Belt, Oort Cloud, tokamaks, the strong nuclear interaction and Lagrange point, surely superfluous.

However, together they both suggest Chinese SF has been neglected in the wider world for far too long.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- ahold (a hold,) meet-up (meeting,) to not have heard(not to have heard,) we get tori (correct for the plural of torus) but tetrahedrons instead of tetrahedra, in a 3body argument with “Liebniz”, “Newton” is heard to refer to calculus (Isaac Newton called his system fluxions, calculus was Liebniz’s name for these mathematical functions,) sunken (sunk,) Wallfacers (Wallfacer, singular,) widow (window,) in The Dark Forest the base is called Red Shore (in The Three-Body Problem it was Red Coast,) gasses (gases,) “you only would have” (you would only have,) automatons (automata,) Jupiter is referred to as a liquid planet – it’s a gas giant, impassible (impassable,) shape of sword (shape of a sword,) 120gs (a measurement unit’s abbreviation subsumes its plural so 120g,) miniscule (minuscule,) become (became,) torturous (the context implies tortuous,) off of, use to (used to, x 3.)

The Corporation Wars: Dissidence by Ken MacLeod

Orbit, 2016, 333 p

 The Corporation Wars: Dissidence cover

Most of the “characters” in this novel are dead, their consciousnesses (or what remains of them) uploaded into a simulation. Others are robots whose “minds” have gained awareness. The first of these presents a problem; one which I have written about before here and here. I know that fiction isn’t a description of the real, it’s all made-up – thinly disguised real lives of the roman à clef aside – but it aspires to that verisimilitude; the people we are reading about ought to feel real, or at the very least plausible, their perils and dilemmas actual to the reader even if at one remove. Breaking the necessary suspension of disbelief is a dangerous activity for an author, with the potential fatally to undermine what is the delicate process of interacting with a fictional text. But if the characters in a novel are themselves dead the distancing goes too far. Put simply, if these people are dead already why should the reader care? There is no real jeopardy; they can be resurrected at the touch of a button. Yes, there is the argument that our “real life” might itself be a simulation so what does it matter if the characters in a novel also are but that falls down on the grounds that we can only suspect it, we do not know it for sure.

The action, and there is a lot of it, takes place on or near an exo-planet long after the Final War on Earth between the more-or-less progressive Acceleration and the counter-revolutionary Reaction. A government known as “The Direction” is nominally in charge but as a result of the development of robot consciousness various companies are now at war either with the robots or each other. Human consciousnesses from the time of the Final War have been preserved, training to fight the Corporations’ wars after being decanted into a virtual reality of the way the exo-planet will be after its terraformation. The story-telling details here are elegant enough, the “bus journey” from the “spaceport” every time they are resurrected from an abortive mission is a nice touch. The shadow of the Final War still hangs over these remnants though. The extension of their consciousnesses beyond their bodies when they are in their (tiny) battle arrays is also neatly handled, instantaneous connectivity feeling akin to telepathy, being able to “smell” the sun etc.

Curiously (or perhaps not, as they may be the most “real” characters in the book as opposed to mere ghosts of electrons fizzing about in a server) it is the robots who seem the most human entities in Dissidence even if their dialogue, , can be a little reminiscent of Dalek in its terseness and detached vocabulary (though admittedly, is never an injunction I have heard issued by a Dalek.)

As usual with MacLeod there is a degree of philosophical discourse, especially among the robots, and of political discussion. There is also an allusion to please all SF buffs, “I have no mouth and I must gape.” If you can get over any nagging doubts about the “reality” of the dilemmas and situation of the entities here it’s a fine read.

Pedant’s corner: when in their “battle” arrays the “humans” also spoke in chevrons apart from one instance at the close of a section where the quote marks were normal. I didn’t gain the impression they had yet dropped out of battle mode. There was also medieval (long time devotees know I prefer mediaeval or even mediæval,) plus “upside the head” (a USianism, what’s wrong with “on the head”?)

Trumping Democracy

I happened to catch on BBC rolling news today a “speech” given by one Donald J Trump. This consisted mostly of him opening his mouth and letting anything pour out (or, as the phrase has it, letting his belly rumble.) There was absolutely nothing of substance in it whatever, merely the assertion and vacuous sloganising of a blustering braggart and bully.

I note that he has also repeated his belief that the US Presidential election is rigged against him.

So, let me get this clear; the reopening of an FBI investigation against his opponent isn’t rigging but its subsequent finding “no evidence of criminality” is? Is that perhaps because the first was to his advantage and the second wasn’t? (And yes, Donald, it is possible to trawl through millions of emails in a few days. There’s something called a “search” function that will allow you to do precisely that.)

The claim of rigging sounded to me remarkably like someone who thought they weren’t going to win anyway getting their excuses in first.

Yet the attitude behind it is the culmination of a trend I noticed a long time ago whereby Democratic Presidents don’t seem to be afforded the same leeway as that accorded to Republicans.

You may remember eight years ago I predicted that Barack Obama would face four (or eight) years of hounding if he were to be elected. I wasn’t wrong. As I recall it started as soon as he was sworn in (or even before if you don’t think the original swearing in was legitimate.)

To claim the election is rigged goes against everything the US is supposed to stand for. The cornerstone of democracy is that leaders are replaced peaceably – and the new one is accepted by the old and his/her supporters. Claims of illegitimacy put that peaceful handover in danger (and in the case of a country awash with firearms might even lead to civil war.)

There was also the small point of Trump suggesting during the campaign that he didn’t know what the “Second Amendment people” would do if his opponent wins. To which I say this, if Trump loses and the then President Hillary Clinton is subsequently assassinated the prime accused in any court case ought to be Donald Trump, for incitement to murder.

Later on the BBC news showed a speech by Clinton in which, by contrast, she appeared measured, thoughful, rational and reasonable. (To be fair that wasn’t a big ask.)

Mr Trump has been revealed (is even proud of the fact!) to have paid little or no tax for at least a ten year period and hasn’t released details of any tax payments in the years since. I find it incredible that a tax avoider can put himself forward to become the head of state of a country to which he has made no such monetary contribution. (My view is that it is the duty of a citizen to pay the taxes necessary for the country in which they are domiciled/make a living to be run successfully. And to do so without complaint. The only point to be debated is the level at which the taxes ought to be levied, not whether they are to be ignored.)

In amongst his ramblings Trump said America* was a laughing stock.

Not quite yet, Donald. Not quite yet.

But if you are elected President the US will not only have become a laughing stock overnight; it will have removed itself from the status of a serious nation and be seriously weakened as a result. Far from making America great again it will diminish it hugely. You can not have someone with the character traits of a narcissist in charge of a country’s diplomacy. Especially when that country is the most important in the world and whose actions may impact on allies and potential foes alike. (I shudder at the thought of any such person being in charge of the nuclear launch codes.)

US citizens might say their election is none of my business. To that I would reply “no annihilation without representation”.

A former US President once used the phrase, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Good advice; especially the “speak softly” part.

*Don’t you just love that appropriation of a whole two continents’ name to a polity which occupies only a small portion of its landmass?

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Windmill Books, 2012, 574 p (plus no fewer than 9 p of puffs before the publishing information page.)

 Angelmaker cover

Clockworker Joshua Joseph Spork, son of Matthew a now dead former denizen of the Night Market, by contrast likes to keep his head down and his nose clean. An old woman called Edie Banister with her one-toothed, marble-eyed dog; the Death Clock left to Spork by his father; a plague of mechanical bees; various varieties of heavies, governmental and not, all lead to him becoming active rather than passive. On the way we encounter a train called the Ada Lovelace, which is a kind of travelling Bletchley Park, an Asian fiefdom ruled by a ruthless would-be-god, not to mention the resourceful Polly Cradle, all wrapped up in a plot which revolves around an Apprehension Engine, “‘a device which would allow one to know the truth of a situation, without fear of error,’” aka Angelmaker as, “‘It makes angels out of men…. It makes the world better, just by being,’” but with the potential to make the world infinitely worse.

Any plot summary suffers the possibility of being thought bonkers but we are driven on throughout by an insistent present tense – in which even the flash-backs are couched – and the brio of the storytelling plus the incidental details render any tendency to disbelief otiose. (Polly Cradle’s bed is a memorable construction.) The Night Market has echoes of Hugo and the names of Arvin Cummerbund, Rodney Titwhistle, Frankie Fossoyeur and Vaughn Parry evoke Dickens but this is really sui generis.

The book is exquisitely written – and fantastic entertainment – but in the end not much more than entertainment. I was left with a slight sense of disappointment that it wasn’t more meaningful. Still, that would be greedy. As it is Edie Banister and Polly Cradle are wonderful creations. To have two such in the one book is a pleasure indeed. I shall look out for more Harkaway.

Pedant’s corner:- the work gang look like astronauts from another world (the work gang looks like,) medieval. “But he has no Scots lilt, just a pure English diction… (Scots don’t speak pure English????) Brits (was this designation in use in the 1940s?) “Having your own engine means no timetables, no delays” (yes, acknowledging that signals etc will have to be set to accommodate this,) twenty foot away (feet; please,) “a wild exultant creel of power” (a wild exultant “rack”, or “basket for fish”, of power?) Decent batter (of Don Bradman; the English – as opposed to USian – usage is batsman,) “‘even with the new bodyline’” (in the 1940s bodyline was well past new,) twinging (twingeing?) mischievious (why do people add that extraneous “i” into mischievous?) “none of these blessings place the Watsons in the clutches of the system” (none of these places the Watsons,) “the enemy knows they’re on the edge” (the enemy knows it’s on the edge,) surpresses (suppresses,) “X-rayed, MRI’d and electron microscoped” (I would prefer MRI-ed; there are no letters missing to warrant an apostrophe. Also, the first two techniques would delve into the depths of an object – the required goal here – but electron microscopy only reveals surface details,) oxidisation (the verb is oxidise but the noun is oxidation,) novagenarian (nonagenarian, I think,) “‘I think I may have over-egged the nitro and gone a bit heavy on the toluene’” (a good line but a touch inaccurate. The first of these is possible, though chemically difficult, but the second would have the opposite effect to the one implied,) “written in a European alphabet Joe doesn’t recognise” (? As far as I’m aware European alphabets are Roman, Cyrillic or Greek. Surely all three are recognisable?) a magnet … so that any metal will move the catch (not any metal: only iron – hence its alloy, steel – nickel and cobalt are magnetic.) “The fire service withdraw their operators” (withdraws its operators,) the wrecking crew strip the dead machines (the crew strips; on the previous page we had, correctly, the crew slips away,) veterbrae (vertebrae.) I liked “brook no denay.”

Interzone Review Time Again

 Invisible Planets cover

Two months seem to come round very quickly.

This time it’s back to Chinese SF with Invisible Planets: 13 visions of the future from China, edited and translated by Ken Liu. I’m looking forward to it. The cover shown on the page on the link above is the US one from Tor. I’ve got the UK publication from Head of Zeus.

I’ve been given a bit more leeway with this one. 1400 words instead of the usual 800.

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

Jo Fletcher, 2014, 345 p, plus i p acknowledgements and v p bonus content.

 The Galaxy Game cover

Humans are spread over five extraterrestrial planets, Saraldi, Zhinu, Punartam, Cygnus Beta and Ntshune with Earth embargoed. Psionic abilities necessary for swift transit between solar systems are frowned upon in Cygnus Beta where Rafi lives. Since he may follow his father in being be so endowed he is administered a cap to monitor his urges/proclivities. However, Rafi swiftly moves on to Punartam where his abilities are encouraged and developed in a wall-running game which – like the similar task in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game – has much more significance than at first appears. Third person narration is interspersed with first person sections from one of Rafi’s friends; which seemed to me rather an odd authorial decision.

Unfortunately I found out too late that The Galaxy Game seems to be a sequel to one of Lord’s previous novels, The Best of All Possible Worlds, which I have not read and knowledge of which may have improved my appreciation of this one. As it is, two weeks on from reading this I can barely recall what it was about except that too many things were reported rather than narrated, even in the first person sections.

I enjoyed Lord’s first novel, Redemption in Indigo, which was set in Africa, much more than this even though it was more of a fantasy rather than the straightforward SF of The Galaxy Game.

Pedant’s corner:- directed a student (at a student,) “‘are you in love with Rafi,'” (question mark rather than comma,) “he was staring a collection of shapes, colours and textures that coalesced … under the identity Naraldi,” (staring at a collection,) “a handful of Uplanders were (a handful was,) a skilled team who knows (team who know,) must have showed (shown,) practise (practice? practise is USian?) “anything that the worlds ….. has seen (have seen,) mentions an ice-bound world that nevertheless has a stable and favourable atmosphere (what produces the oxygen that makes it breathable? On our world it is plants and photosynthetic algae. Is that going to be true for an ice-covered world?) “She quickly reached in and detached the upper casing from their pod.” (Only one person was in the pod; so his, not their,) by slight increase in gravity (by a slight increase,) hovercrafts (hovercraft’s plural is hovercraft,) “according whatever terms were agreeable to us” (according to whatever terms) tumbling out thin air (out of thin air,) paid with their pilots lives (pilots’.)
Plus points for the “fewer” in “fewer drugs and less malaise” though.

Sheri S Tepper

I see Sheri S Tepper has died.

She has a long list of SF works and awards to her name but the only one I have read so far is Grass. So many books, so little time.

Sheri S Tepper (née Stewart): 16/7/1929-22/10/2016. So it goes.

The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner

Gollancz, 2015, 543 p.

The Promise of the Child cover

It is sometime in the 14,700s, Homo sapiens has speciated, “Prismed into a dozen breeds of fairy-tale grotesques,” Pifoon, Vulgar, Melius, Amaranthine, being only some of its descendants; Immortals wait out their time before falling into madness, a war is being waged. There is intrigue over the succession of a new Emperor. A machine called the Soul Engine can resurrect dead bodies, undamaged dead bodies, into true immortality and is an object of desire for some of the characters, none of whom engaged my interest or sympathy. A pair of long-dead space-faring dinosaurs found among the rings of Saturn also feature.

Despite containing spaceships and superluminal engines (which somehow also seem to be capable of operating at sub-light speeds) this future still has artillery which fires shells and recognisable place names and locations on Earth. Also marring it all are unconvincing fight and battle scenes, tedious information dumping and a failure to adhere to Colin Greenland’s injunction to beware the pluperfect.

I never give up on a book; but I came perilously close with this one.

Pedant’s corner:- The text mentions lifeless worlds exist where oxygen concentration is higher than that of the Old World. (Oxygen is a reactive gas; without replenishment it would swiftly be used up. Replenishment is a by-product of plant activity, ie life,) “the drilling team were” (was,) whisps, (wisps,) Impatiens’ (Impatiens’s; and this use of the apostrophe is not applied consistently, witness Sotiris’s,) fetid (I prefer foetid,) the crew were (was,) crenulated (crenellated?) metal is “soft enough to mould and carve in a person’s hand, with only a dip in salt water necessary to begin the hardening process” (no metal I know of behaves like this; each metal is either soft or not, depending perhaps on the temperature. Mind you, this metal grows on trees,) “said…. a voice in the chapel that appeared to come from everywhere” (the chapel came from everywhere?) “hoping at least one would find their target” (its target surely?) “but did nothing shade them” (nothing to shade them,) hingeing (I believe the correct form is hinging – but to someone from the West of Scotland there is a distinction between hinge and hing so I would accept hingeing in a Scottish work, which this isn’t,) the expectant trio were (was,) epicentre (centre,) master-at-arms’ (master-at-arms’s,) wollen (woollen.)

Asimov’s Aug 2016

Dell Magazines

Asimov's Aug 2016 cover

Sheila Williams’s Editorial1 remembers her introduction to SF via the women superheroes found in comic books and the inspiration she took from them; inspiration she hopes her own daughters will also find. Robert Silverberg’s Reflections2 discusses the software of magic (spells) with regard to ancient Egyptian papyri. Paul Di Filippo’s On Books3 is complimentary about all the books reviewed but especially a reprint of Judith Merril’s critical essays on SF and China Miéville’s This Census Taker (which I reviewed here.)
In the fiction:-
Wakers4 by Sean Monaghan is set on a colonisation starship which has suffered damage to its operating AI and veered off course. Only one crew member at a time is woken to keep things going, passing on the duty at the end of their stint. The latest waker has an idea to change the ship’s fate.
In Toppers5 by Jason Sandford New York has been separated from the rest of the world. Only the tallest skyscrapers provide secure refuges above the mists. Our (unnamed) female protagonist has to walk through the mists to get supplies.
The title of The Mutants Men Don’t See by James Alan Garner of course refers to a celebrated SF story by James Tiptree Jr (Alice Sheldon.) Here a repressed Flash Gene may be activated by some kind of shock during puberty and changes its carrier into a superhero. Menopausal Ellie Lee fears her son will try to force such a change by endangering his life and sets put to protect him. It becomes obvious very early on where this is going. I’m afraid it doesn’t hold a candle to Tiptree.
The “Kit” in Kit: Some Assembly Required6 by Kathe Koja & Carter Scholz is Christopher Marlowe or, rather, a simulacrum of Marlowe in a computer network. Kit achieves sentience. The slightly clichéd identity of his human “creator” is all that lets this tale down. The best story I’ve read in Asimov’s so far.
Patience Lake7 by Matthew Claxton sees a former cyborg soldier, damaged in an attack and surplus to requirements, hitch-hiking to Saskatchewan and taking odd jobs to try to meet his maintenance costs. But his spare parts could make him valuable himself.
In Kairos8 by Sieren Damsgaard Ernst, a research project has come up with a way to stop telomeres unravelling and hence halt ageing. Our narrator is married to the technology’s discoverer and suffers a crisis of conscience, apparently due to the legacy of her previous marriage. The story depicts scientists as blinkered and philistine. Well, not all of them are ignorant of the humanities.
The title of Sandra McDonald’s President John F Kennedy, Astronaut9 is a trifle misleading as the story is more about the search in an ice-cap melted, flooded future world for an obelisk found by said astronaut but whose existence was subsequently concealed.

Pedant’s corner:- 1(she) learned marital arts (that would be a good thing I suppose but I think martial arts was what was meant,) no pinic (no picnic,) 2 H G Wells’ (H G Wells’s,) 3Karel apek (for some reason misses the capital letter of his surname, Čapek,) 4 “A Masters from .. but on the next line her master’s thesis (if one Masters is capitalised I would think the other ought to be,) 5 lays (lies,) 6loathe (loth or loath; loathe is something else entirely,) 7thirty clicks outside (four lines later; “the last few dozen klicks”,) augur (auger –used previously,) 8“none of them know, none of them have any idea” (none knows, none has any idea,) “so he did he” (has one “he” too many,) 9 blond hair (blonde,) gravitation distortion (gravitational,) “where whales still roamed and tropical reefs covered with dazzling life” (were covered?) “to imagine what must have been like” (what it must have been like,) “great-great-great forbearer” (forebear.)

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