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Roads Not Taken edited by Gardner Dozois and Stanley Schmidt

Tales of Alternate History, Del Rey, 1998, 332 p plus iv p What is Alternate History? by Shelly Shapiro.

Roads Not Taken cover

The question in that What is Alternate History? introduction is surely superfluous to anyone with an interest in buying this book.

As someone with an interest in both history and SF I’m obviously a pushover for counterfactual histories like the ones collected here. None of the stories (which are all by men I note) here deal with the big what-ifs like different outcomes to the US Civil War or Second World War but instead examine smaller turning points with subtler ramifications. The quality of the writing is variable but all hold the attention.
Must and Shall1 by Harry Turtledove sees Lincoln shot in a Confederate attack on Washington DC so that many years later the former Confederate States are still ruled by a much resented military occupation and aching to rebel.
An Outpost of the Empire2 is one of Robert Silverberg’s Roma Eterna stories. Here a new Roman pro-consul comes to Venetia – once of the recently defeated Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Greek aristocrat Eudoxia despises him yet has to be accommodating. The plot could be described as Pride and Prejudice in togas even though Silverberg undercuts it with his last sentence.
In We Could Do Worse by Gregory Benford we are under Joe McCarthy’s Presidency as Nixon had delivered the 1950 California Republican Primary delegates to Taft who in turn nominated McCarthy as Vice-President. Taft died. The story illustrates the resulting authoritarianism and bending of rules to ensure McCarthy’s re-election, all in the name of anti-Communism. Sadly this strikes all too resonant a chord now than it would when it was first published in 1989.
Mike Resnick’s Over There3 sees Teddy Roosevelt make a nuisance of himself during the Great War by reconstituting his Rough Riders and taking them over to France where Pershing is under orders to keep him well away from the front.
Ink From the New Moon by A A Attanasio is narrated by a Chinese visitor to the New World – colonised from Asia much earlier than it was by Europeans in our time – and encounters Columbus.
Southpaw by Bruce McAllister follows Fidel Castro after his acceptance of the invitation to become a professional baseball player with the New York Giants. The story concerns his glancing contact with Cuban dissidents.
Greg Costikyan’s The West is Red4 has an impoverished capitalist USA has voting in a Communist President to implement the more efficient economics of centralist planning. Background events in the story bear some resemblance to Boris Yeltsin’s frustration of the old guard’s coup d’état in our world.
The longest story in the book, The Forest of Time5 by Michael J Flynn, examines the fate of a parallel worlds Jumper who is marooned in a North America where the thirteen original colonies never united and focuses on the responses of those who encounter him.
In Aristotle and the Gun6 by L Sprague de Camp a time traveller goes back to try to persuade Aristotle of the benefits of the Scientific Method, with, to him, unexpected results.
How I Lost the Second World War and Helped Turn Back the German Invasion by Gene Wolfe is not as apocalyptic as it sounds. The Second World War is a board game and the German invasion is by the “People’s Car”, a device outperformed due to Churchill’s knowledge of the properties of transistors.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Michaels’ (Michaels’s,) Morrie Harris’ (Morrie Harris’s,) New Orleans’ (New Orleans’s,) “gaping at naked women” (it’s usually gawping at,) Colquit Reynolds’ (Colquit Reynolds’s) 2In the introduction “Shadrack in the Furnace” (Shadrach.) 3”Bullets and cannonballs flew to the right and left” (cannonballs? In World War 1?) 4”would have own the Cold War” (would have won.) 5mowed down (mown.) “The argument in the cell reached a crescendo.” (No. It reached a climax,) Oschenfuss’ (Oschenfuss’s.) 6Nearchos’ (Nearchos’s,) Alexandros’ (Alexandros’s,) Zandras’ (Zandras’s,) Attalos’ (Attalos’s,) Herodotos’ (Herodotos’s.)

Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer

the greatest empire that never was.

Small Beer, 2003, 255 p. Translated from the Spanish Kalpa Imperial by Ursula K Le Guin. First published in two volumes La casa del poder (The House of Power) and El Imperio mas vasto (The Greatest Empire) by Ediciones Minotauro, Buenos Aires, 1983.

 Kalpa Imperial cover

This is not really like anything I’ve ever read before, a sweeping, dazzling, accomplishment of a book, soaring yet at the same time utterly grounded, told in two parts, The House of Power and The Greatest Empire, of five and six sections respectively, a history of an empire “so long that a whole life dedicated to study and research isn’t enough to know it wholly,” a history “strewn with surprise, contradictions, abysses, deaths, resurrections,” of an empire “so vast that a man can’t cross it in his lifetime.” A chronicling of human life, then.

I doubt it has any equivalent but the nearest comparison in SF is probably Robert Silverberg’s Roma Eterna, mainly due to its episodic narrative, but despite its fabular nature (no empire could ever last as long, with so many ruling dynasties, as the one in this book) this is somehow less fanciful and more convincing (and I liked Roma Eterna a lot even though it was late Silverberg where he wasn’t quite as incisive as in his pomp.) Kalpa Imperial nevertheless did somehow at times remind me of translations of Chinese literature but probably only because it deals with emperors and empires and the consequent power struggles.

Despite its subtitle the book does not restrict itself to the emperors or their courts. Life in the empire is presented in an approximation of its diversity but there is no continuity between the sections, no characters carry on from one to the next or later. Instead the picture is built up from what are in effect short stories/novellas set in the same milieu. A binding link in the book, though, is that, like fairy tales, most of the sections begin with the same phrase, in this case, “The storyteller said:” but varied with one, “Yes, said the storyteller:” a, “Vast is the empire, said the storyteller:” with the last section altering the template to, “‘I’m an orphan,” The Cat had said,’”. All these help to solidify the tales, to root the book in a compelling simulation of an actual history as remembered by oral historians. But it is precisely that lack of continuity, that difference between the sections (except for the narrative tone,) that works to make the book feel like a true history.

Throughout the book there are asides on the art of story. “The reason why there are storytellers in the world is to answer those questions we all ask, and not as the teller, but as the reader,” “a storyteller is no more than a free man, and being a free man is a dangerous business,” and, pertinently to any time but certainly apposite now, “who takes any notice of the wise, these days, except storytellers, or poets?” Particularly redolent was the passage which dwelt on the phrase, “not all is said.”

There is a knowing quality to the section which riffs on The Odyssey. A legend is recited containing people named Kirdaglas, Marlenditrij, Betedeivis, Maripícfor, Briyibardó, Jedilamar, Alendelón, Orsonuéls, Clargueibl, Yeimsdín etc, with houses named saloon, rashomon, elañopasadoenmarienbad and charge of the light brigade and which also features sirens called ringostars.

Gorodischer is well-served by her translator. (Though if you’re going to be translated it must be a boon if it is done by one of the best writers around.) But the whole is a marvel of invention, a rich imagining of a world not our own but as near to it as makes no difference.

Pedant’s corner:- “time’s mirror losses all its reflects” (reflections, surely?) Ja’ladahlva (elsewhere Ja’ladahva,) a missing end quotation mark, busses (buses,) “who lived more than twenty kilos away” (kilo is used as an abbreviation for kilogram, not kilometre,) “the girl was very young girl” (a very young girl,) “in the darkness under of the walls” (either under or of, not both,) two of the women were were crawling (only one were needed.) “Five minutes later” (twice in two lines, both beginning a paragraph.) “He knew it” – death – “was waiting for him in the South too, but maybe there it wouldn’t take so long to come” (context suggests “but maybe there it would take longer to come”,) traveller’s tales (travellers’ tales?) “.. he could stay as long as he like before” (liked,) “a gesture that included that included” (one “that included” only,) a missing quote mark at a section beginning with a piece of dialogue – probably house style but it irritates me, Clargueible (previously Clargueibl,) “of the the dead emperor” (only one “the”,) “it it rose up” (only one “it”.)

Blood on the Mink by Robert Silverberg

Titan Hard Case Crime, 2012, 213 p. Content first published in 1959, 1960 and 1962.

 Blood on the Mink cover

The author is my second favourite writer of SF and I read this one for the sake of completeness. Silverberg is not widely known for his crime novels but he knocked a few out in the last dying days of the pulp era when that market for Science Fiction had dried up. Pulp crime was not long in following but that wasn’t Silverberg’s fault. He is incapable of writing anything that is less than readable but this has the vices of its idiom in its lack of ornamentation, of its time in its casual sexism and of its place in an equally casual attitude to the use of guns.

Narrator Nick is a law enforcement agent whose speciality is in subduing his own identity and impersonating less major criminals in order to get to the main players. The plot involves the distributor of very good forgeries of five and ten dollars bills and the discovery and release from bondage of the engraver who made the plates for their manufacture. None of the characters lifts beyond the functional – or typical – but the plot is well-honed and provides the action its intended readership presumably craved.

The two accompanying short stories used to pad out this paperback are from the same era and in similar vein. Dangerous Doll riffs on the counterfeiting game and, as its title suggests, features a femme fatale, while One Night of Violence sees a travelling salesman get caught up in a gangland shootout. In this story I did wonder what on earth the “video set” in a late 1950s hotel lobby might have been.

Pedant’s corner:- bollixed (the British “bollocksed” is much to be preferred,) Klaus’ (Klaus’s, several instances,) Chavez’ (Chavez’s, ditto,) a missing full stop, Kleinjeld (elsewhere always Kleinfeld.)
Plus points for fitted – USian fiction usually has fit as a past tense.

Asimov’s Oct-Nov 2016

Special Slightly Spooky Issue. Dell Magazines.

Asimov's Oct-Nov 2016 cover

Editorial: Our Slightly Spooky Issue Asimov’s1 by Sheila Williams reminisces about all the issues of Asimov’s tinged with the uncanny which she has published around Halloween time.
Reflections: Magical Thinking by Robert Silverberg considers Lynn Thorndike’s “magisterial” A History of Magic and Experimental Science “an extraordinary treasurehouse of human thought in all its folly and grandeur.”
On the NET: Welcome Our Robot Overlords!2 by James Patrick Kelly examines the state of AI development.
In an excellent On Books:3 Norman Spinrad, for the first time in his reviewing career at Asimov’s dealing with short story collections/anthologies, notes the tendency for works of fantasy to dominate SF awards (and outlets,) in effect the colonisation of SF by “literary” craftspeople looking for a market (all but the only market,) and the necessity for story and style to be combined to make any fictional work outstanding. He decries the necessity for an author to have a “voice” as the style a tale is told in ought to serve the story, not the ego of its author.

In the fiction, Alexander Jablokov’s The Forgotten Taste of Honey4 sees viewpoint character Tromvi have to take a corpse back to the land it came from in order to please the gods. A transfer of memories from the corpse to Tromvi via the honey from a hive inside the body thwarts the man who tries to prevent him.
In Eating Science with Ghosts by Octavia Cade our unnamed narrator goes about eating and drinking with the ghosts of scientists and explorers, ghosts only she can see.
The People in the Building5 by Sandra McDonald describes the occupants of said building – including the interplanetary rescue service on the third floor which has unwisely as it turns out revived an ancient god from a nearby swamp.
Wretched the Romantic by Michael Libling is narrated by Richard, a loser who takes up scattering ashes as a scam once he discovers he has taken on the attributes of the deceased after accidentally inhaling them.
Water Scorpions6 by Rich Larson is set in the aftermath of the crash of an alien spaceship in the Sahara. One of their offspring, genetically modified to make them more human-like, is taken into the family of an ethnobiologist.
In The Leaning Lincoln7 by Will Ludwigstein, said figure is a toy made from a lead ingot salvaged from the shore. It has baleful properties.
Lucite8 by Susan Palwick sees a visitor to an attraction based on Dante’s Inferno take home a dead person’s soul in a lucite box.
Project Entropy9 by Dominica Phetteplace is another in the author’s series on AIs in San Francisco. My heart has begun to sink when I see her name on Asimov’s cover.
When Grandfather Returns10 by S N Dyer is a tale of the appearance among the Navaho of Cabeza De Vaca and his followers and their displacement to the present day.
In Choose Poison, Choose Life11 by Michael Blumlein a woman who has an unfortunate taste in men is variously, and in various guises, saved from, or saves herself from, suicide.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Joel Richards’ (Richards’s.) 2easily your best source the very latest news (of the latest news,) 3Henry James’ (James’s,) a epiphany climax (an,) Gunther Grass’ (Grass’s,) “what the differences between the two, are and stronger “ (between the two are, and stronger.) 4an ewer (I suppose since ewer starts with a vowel this is technically correct, but… It is sounded as a consonant so “a ewer” would be fine by me,) “maw” used for part of a ruminant’s stomach (hurray!) 5new emotions arrives (arrive.) 6sked (seems to be a USian abbreviation for schedule. I was of course thoroughly confused as I pronounce schedule as “shed-yule”.) 7Tutankhamen, (Tutankhamun.) 8McManus’ (McManus’s.) 9negress (we’re back to using n-words now?) 10Thunder Cries’ (Thunder Cries’s,) Rabbit Smile’s (name was previously Rabbit Smiles: the later Rabbit Smiles’ should be Rabbit Smiles’s,) 11to portage the water (“portage”? What on Earth is wrong with “carry”?)

Asimov’s Science Fiction Sep 2016

Dell Magazines.

Asimov's Sep 2016 cover

Sheila Williams’s Editorial lists The Thirtieth Annual Readers’ Award Results. Robert Silverberg’s Reflections (“Darn,” He Smiled) remembers the glory days of Science Fiction reviewing by James Blish and Damon Knight including one memorable Blish evisceration of a story that used 89 different expressions for “said” (a practice Silverberg himself thereafter strictly avoided) and laments that the pendulum has now swung so much the other way that would-be writers are positively encouraged to eschew the unintrusive “said”.
Peter Heck On Books1 looks favourably on the latest novels by Charlie Jane Anders, Laura R Gilman, and Fred Chapell, Paul di Filippo’s collection and the non-fiction Breaking the Chains of Gravity: the story of space flight before NASA by Amy Shira Teitel.
In The Mind is its Own Place2 by Carrie Vaughn, Lieutenant Mitchell wakes up in hospital to be told he is suffering from Mand Dementia, an affliction suffered by navigators who intuit the correct coordinates for hyperspace jumps. The story concerns his gradual unravelling of what happened to him.
Dome on the Prairie3 by Robert Reed is an alien invasion story inspired by the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Aliens in the form of the Scourge have come to Earth. Our (unnamed) narrator is chosen to try to communicate with a Scourge child dubbed Laura.
In Epitome4 by Tegan Moore, Shelby, a woman given power of attorney by her female lover Vivian (whom for some unexplained reason she cannot acknowledge as such) becomes her carer after a fall causes brain damage. To compensate, Shelby has a hacker friend upload a brain scan of Vivian into the Personify virtual reality programme.
Academic Circles5 by Peter Wood is a time travel story wherein a man uses a time machine to plagiarise academic essays on Philip K Dick and claim precedence. Others have feelings of déjà vu.
In The Whole Mess6 by Jack Skillingstead mathematical genius Professor Dunn is handed an incomplete equation. When he solves it tentacled Masters slip through from a parallel universe and he slides to a third. Only he can undo the change but his abilities are restricted.
All That Robot…7 by Rich Larson sees a man stranded on an island otherwise inhabited by sentient robots sin against their nascent religion.
The best is kept till last – and it’s the best in Asimov’s all year up to now. Ian R MacLeod’s The Visitor From Taured8 tells the tale of Lita, a woman who studies Analogue Literature (old style 2D physical books rather than interactive or non-static narratives,) and her (lack of) relationship with astrophysics adept Rob who is trying to prove the many worlds theory.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Palazo (in a book title! palazzo,) 2“He’d signed in, said good morning to the captain, went to his station” (He’d; therefore [he’d] gone to his station,) “He had to learn to the truth” (learn the truth.) 3a wide range… were scattered (was,) “shifting its aim for a moment that ends when you forcing your attentions to…. (with you forcing? when you force?) 4 freshman (freshmen mad emoe sense) 5Popoov (Popov,) a missing end quote mark. 6 the ‘the Masters’ (only one the needed,) a particularly adept memoirists (memoirist,) I couldn’t breath (breathe.) 7”hoping that the two events to coincide” (the two events coincide.) 8Even in a US publication it is intensely annoying to read in a story by a Briton and set mostly in Leeds and the Outer Hebrides the word “asshole” rather than arsehole, yet there was archaeologist not archaeologist and later maths and “arsed around”. “He fucked about.” (I assume US readers will read this as implying promiscuity – the context leans towards it – but I didn’t. In Britain it means engaging in activities to little purpose, not fulfilling yourself, see “arsed around”,) post-centarian (post-centenarian?) this stuff happen at the atomic level (this stuff happens,) “as if every choice you made in a virtual was mapped out in its entirety” (“world” after virtual?) sung (sang,) span (spun.)

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.)

Asimov’s Jul 2016

Dell Magazines

Asimov's Jul 2016 cover

Sheila Williams’s editorial1 discusses past and present winners of the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. Robert Silverberg’s Reflections2 muses on Persons from Porlock and how he always took great care to allow no distractions when he was working but that Coleridge’s experience did provide him with the inspiration for his first ever sale (for $5) at the age of fifteen. Paul di Filippo’s “On Books” reviews retrospective collections from Nancy Kress and Gregory Benford, a contemporary one from Finnish writer Leena Krohn and novels by Christopher Fowler and Gene Wolfe.
In the fiction we have Suzanne Palmer’s Ten Poems for the Mossums, One for the Man3 which is narrated by a poet set down alone on an alien planet where he discovers the nature of some of its alien life.
Both Filtered4 by Leah Cypess andMasked5 by Rich Larson are typical ‘push current trends to their logical conclusion’ SF stories. In the former a journalist tries to get his story about the manipulation of everyone’s communication feeds by filter programmes through the filters. The latter has teenagers constantly surrounded by a cloud of appearance created to enhance their real selves. One of them, Vera, has been affected by a virus which turned the “cover” off.
Project Entropy5, the latest of the series of stories in Asimov’s by Dominica Phetteplace, explores the ramifications of Angelina having had her Watcher chip removed and the implications of such AIs. Curiously flat in execution.
In Jack Skillingstead’s The Savior Virus6 a biologist who lost his legs in a terrorist bombing engineers a virus to remove the notion of God from people’s minds.
In Nobody Like Josh7 by Robert Thurston Josh is a town’s secret alien whose spaceship crashed before the narrator was born. This story is curiously similar in premise to I married a Monster from Outer Space which appeared in Asimov’s March 2016 issue, but isn’t anything like as affective or effective.
Webs by Mary Anne Mohanraj is set around the prejudice of ordinary humans on a colony world towards those with adaptations.
In Lost: Mind by Will McIntosh a man has to search for the missing parts of his wife’s downloaded mind after they are stolen. The story is marred by a continuity error in the last quarter page which totally undermines verisimilitude.

1 graduating with a duel major (dual,) Joan Sloncewski (the correct spelling, Slonczewski, is used later in the piece.) 2 Samuel Purchas’ (Purchas’s,) 3 beside (besides,) to not spend (not to spend,) “how good he has always been about putting off things” (about putting things off.) 4matrixes (matrices.) 5Lawless’ (Lawless’s.) 5 canvasses (canvases.) 6 symptoms would manifest in mild cold-like symptoms. 7 crashed-landed (crash-landed.)

Asimov’s Science Fiction Jun 2016

Dell Magazines.

Asimov's Jun 2016 cover

The fourth issue of this year’s subscription. In the editorial Sheila Williams introduces the magazine’s background staff. Robert Silverberg’s column describes his discovery of the utility of a smartphone. (He still doesn’t own one though.) In On the NET James Patrick Kelly discusses the back and present catalogue of stories set on Mars in the light of encouraging real space missions. Norman Spinrad’s excellent Book Review essay reflects on the difficulties of representing quantum reality (his preferred term for quantum mechanics) in fictional form and the necessity to treat the reader fairly vis-à-vis recent developments in astronomy.

As for the fiction:-
Clearance by Sarah Pinsker sees a tooth gel saleswoman discover the delights of holidays in different realities.
In Unreeled by Mercurio D Rivera the husband of a streamer (people whose consciousnesses are beamed across the universe then brought back again) finds his wife’s behaviour has altered as a result of a trip to a black hole. The denouement seemed a trifle rushed.
Rambunctious by Rick Wilber is a tale of an overly-gifted young girl whose family harbours a secret. I was reminded (a bit) of Zenna Henderson’s stories of The People.
Project Symmetry by Dominica Phetteplace sees a woman’s Watcher chip help her to come to terms with her life. This story didn’t really add much to what we already knew about the author’s fictional universe.
In Rats Dream of the Future by Paul McAuley a researcher tries to get rats to predict the future in order to make stock market killings.
What We Hold Onto by Jay O’Connell is set in a climate changed world where some cities have been inundated. A woman enlists a Nomad (a group of stateless licensed helpers) to deal with her dying mother’s estate. In essence an extended love story.

Pedant’s corner:- phase (I prefer faze for this sense, though apparently phase is an acceptable US usage,) laying down with (lying down with,) flack (flak,) patinaed (patinated,) Chthulu (Cthulhu,) sat (sitting; or seated,) Nils Bor (Nils Bohr,) a “neither…. or” rather than neither … nor, “summarizing .. for or readers” (omit “or”,) daring-do (this is the first time I have seen this formulation but it is indeed the original which was mistaken as a noun in itself and so has long been rendered as derring-do,) charactarogical (characterogical, surely?)

Asimov’s Science Fiction, Double Issue April-May 2016

Dell Magazines, 192 p.

Asimov's Apr-May 2016 cover

The third issue of the year’s subscription to the magazine my younger son gave me as a Christmas present. In the guest editorial Charlie Jane Anders takes issue with the myth that novels and short stories can’t be written equally well by the same author. In his column Robert Silverberg muses on the possibility that there was not one Trojan War but several, not one Homer but many, writing down their accounts over centuries before it was all drawn into one after Greek script evolved from Phœnician. In the fiction:-
Matilda by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.1 Matilda is a single ship. She likes being piloted by Devi. The feeling is not mutual. Yet in conflict against the CeaWayLaVi they must act in concert.
Three Paintings by James van Pelt. An artist worried about going stale conceives a plan to be backed up, cut himself off from the world, paint and then kill himself, be restored, paint again, kill his new self, and repeat the cycle once more. His commercial partner gets greedy.
In The Days of Hamelin by Robert Reed2 children between the ages of five and eighteen start to die of ruptured arteries. For obvious reasons the virus responsible comes to be known as Hamelin. The few child survivors evolve a mordant philosophy.
The Return of Black Murray by Alexander Jablokov3 sees three former high school friends return to the scene of an incident from their senior year. Black Murray is a giant moray eel; or its simulation. The payoff here does not justify the story’s length.
Starless Night by Robert R Chase is a tale of the response of Earth colonies to invasion from Sagittarius.
Project Synergy by Dominica Phetteplace4 is another of the author’s stories featuring Watcher chips. Here the chip wants to acquire a body of its own, which is highly illegal.
Flame Trees by T R Napper.5 The titular trees are a nostalgic trigger for a war veteran whose memories are about to be wiped for committing an act of violence.
A Flight From the Ages by Derek Künsken6 spans the lifetime of the universe. In 3113 AD a weapon starts to dissolve space-time. Over succeeding multi-millennia efforts are made to escape its expanding wave-front and make the universe into a Klein bottle – all mediated through the experiences of AIs. Very dry indeed.
Of the Beast in the Belly by C W Johnson.7 The belly is that of an arcthant. Nawiz and, Janum, the man she is chasing for revenge purposes, have been swallowed by the huge sea creature. Inside its array of increasingly acidic stomachs exist a number of different societies, scraping a living from the (part) digested contents.
In Woman in the Reeds by Esther M Friesner8 the woman has been feigning madness to avoid the attentions of Pharaoh’s slave overseers and collecting the bones of dead children from the Nile in order to gain the power to restore her own dead son. She refuses the demands of the god Set to hand over a baby she finds floating in a bulrush basket.
Lazy Dog Out by Suzanne Palmer.9 The Lazy Dog is Khifi’s salvage ship. Khifi gets implicated in a plot to take over her habitat and uses the ship to frustrate it. There is an incident here of summary justice (which in my view is never acceptable – even for the supposed good guys. When you think clearly about it, summary justice is no justice at all.)

Pedant’s corner:- 1overlaying (overlying,) 2US spelling of practice and practicing for the verb practise (plus points though for “hanged himself”,) 3vortexes (vortices,) according the Pete (according to Pete,) “The girls squealed satisfyingly and moved closer to me and Myron” (? This would have been difficult. They were in separate boats,) 4terrariums (terraria,) “The long skirt of her skirt grazes the floor” (how about “her long skirt grazes the floor”??) “Often times” (oftentimes is USian I know but isn’t it usually one word?) 5bowls green (USian? we would say bowling green,) 6Poluphemos’ (Poluphemos’s,) Ulixes’ (Ulixes’s,) even less processing sources (even fewer,) 7a pack of sea-jackals were attacking (a pack was,) “with out of his large hands” (with one of his large hands,) Nawiz laid down (lay down,) maw was used here several times: fine; the story takes place inside stomachs, 8Osiris’ (Osiris’s,) maw (it’s a stomach, not a mouth,) 9locii (loci, or even locuses,) Candles’ (x 3; Candles is one if the characters, so Candles’s – which was used once!) “cut the freighter’s main engines, flipped on the brakers.” (Space-ships have brakes? Which can work when the main engines have shut off?) maw (it’s a stomach; not a mouth,) “behind them in a semicircle was Redrum, Jonjon and Inchbug” (behind them were.)

Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2016

Dell Magazines, 112 p.

Asimov's Mar 2016 cover

The second issue of the year’s subscription to the magazine my younger son gave me as a Christmas present. Robert Silverberg describes how Walter de la Mare’s story The Three Mulla-Mulgars, read in his youth and many times since, inspired him and fed into his fiction. James Patrick Kelly’s internet overview discusses the pros and cons of reading and writing a series of books.1 In the fiction:-
The Bewilderness of Lions by Ted Kosmatka.2 A data cruncher who can predict scandals goes to work for a politician. Then she is contacted by the people who really run things. Another story which panders to the secret-conspiracy-that-rules-the-world tendency.
The Ship Whisperer by Julie Novakova. An expedition to a black dwarf (which shouldn’t exist) discovers a device that can alter the rate of change of time. The titular character can “talk” to quantum computers, enabling the story’s resolution.
A Partial List of Lists I Have Lost Over Time by Sunil Patel is a series of listicles. I believe it is supposed to be humorous. The author seems to have a particular thing about kale.
Project Empathy by Dominica Phetteplace is about trends, moving elsewhere then finding the norms are different, plus there are Watcher chips inside people’s heads.
Do Not Forget Me by Ray Nayler3 is a story in the Eastern tradition, of tales within the tale – four embedded narratives here – the central one being about a man who doesn’t age. There is nothing really noteworthy here though.
A Little Bigotry by R Neube.4 An ex-soldier down on her uppers is reduced to accepting a contract to be an escort to a former enemy. A fine enough story but reminiscent of Barry B Longyear’s Enemy Mine. Then again, I suppose the point about enemies being worthy of understanding always bears repeating.
New Earth by James Gunn.5 A colony ship from a more-or-less destroyed Erath has reached a new planetary home. Choices and dangers must be faced.
I Married a Monster from Outer Space by Dale Bailey6 is narrated by a woman who takes home an alien who came into the Walmart she works in. This at first unpromising – clichéd even – scenario is, though, only scaffolding over what eventually becomes an affecting tale of love, loss and redemption. I note the references by Bailey – via the narrator’s surname (Sheldon,) her dead daughter Alice and her comment on her status as an invisible woman – to the career of James Tiptree Jr.

Pedant’s corner:- In the editorial; definine (define,) chose (choose,) Lawrence Watt Evans tale (Evans’s,) 1 ambiance (ambience,) 2 she could feel it siding in her fingers (sliding makes more sense,) lobyists (lobbyists,) 3 lay about (lie about.) 4 license (licence,) maw used for mouth (maw means stomach,) accurst (accursed,) 5mentions trees that are not-quite-trees but one of the characters says multi-cellular life hasn’t evolved there. Trees are multi-cellular; the fern-like structures subsequently described would be also. 6Bug-Eyes’ (it’s singular; so Bug-Eyes’s,) Hastings’ (Hastings’s,) laying (lying; plus lay for lie,) breath in (breathe in.) In Paul di Filippo’s book reviews; stefnal to mean science-fictional, a usage I had not come across before, whereas sfnal I was familiar with.

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