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Asimov's Science Fiction, February 2001

Asimov's SF, February 2001
Asimov's SF
Asimov's SF Website has excerpts from upcoming issues, book reviews, online interviews and chats with many favourite writers, Isaac Asimov's famous Editorials, Robert Silverberg's controversial Reflections column, reprints of classic Asimov's stories, puzzles, letters, and cartoons.

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A review by Nick Gevers

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This (quite strong) issue of Asimov's, rather unusually, contains a reprint; but this is hardly reprehensible. The story is by Bruce Sterling, his best in some time; and its original appearance was in a journal preoccupied with design engineering, a recent fascination of Sterling's but terra incognita to 99 percent of the Asimov's readership. While "User-Centric" may (who knows?) have seemed a sort of in-house jape to the engineers, capturing as it does the manipulative logic animating their team e-mail conferences and product marketing campaigns, it is in fact a clever postmodern fabulation, featuring the formulation out of thin air of an advertising narrative that is supposed to be lifelike, and duly is. Reminiscent of much earlier self-reflexive Sterling confections such as "Dori Bangs" and "The Sword of Damocles" (both in Globalhead (1992)), "User-Centric" concludes simultaneously with artifice and truth.

Meanwhile, Eleanor Arnason returns to her Lydia Duluth cycle in "Lifeline," a novelette that speculates, with the author's usual dry humour, on the function of political revolutions in ensuring the survival of species. Arnason is increasingly adopting a didactic tone in this sequence, and the alien species and engineered planetary habitat that illustrate her fable are rather too conveniently schematic; but wit and exoticism leaven the sermon, so not too much damage is done. Another novelette, "Ice and Mirrors" by Brenda Cooper and Larry Niven (more Cooper than Niven, surely) also involves aliens and an even more alien planet as pillars for a moral thesis; but the affect here is romantically earnest, and the point made (how genocide underwrites the colonial instinct) is serious and profound enough to compensate for flimsy characterization. In "The Gods Abandon Alcibiades," an intriguing sortie into the classical past, Joel Richards insinuates his aliens into the politics of ancient Athens, explaining in the process (well, not truly explaining) why a hero went astray, and why some statues relinquished appendages. This is a fine tale of aliens in an alien land.

But February's other stories have a decidedly human focus. Tom Purdom's novelette, "Romance With Phobic Variations," depicts an encounter between a near-future interplanetary Casanova (comparison fully made in the text) and the composite woman of his dreams; unfortunately, the rationale and outcome of this is all rather obvious, and Purdom's satyr is a lot less interesting than his historical counterpart, who had a real aesthetic (or claimed one). Far more resonantly, Daniel Abraham explores the alienation of lovers (and, more importantly, brothers) in "Exclusion"; imagining a socio-technological innovation of some originality and huge thematic force, Abraham strikes a powerfully redemptive note. And redemption -- an end to the gulfs separating siblings, alienation's terminus -- is the matter of James Sallis' sensitive and poetic short story "Day's Heat," in which a kind of psychic vampire makes sudden great amends.

And there are the poems. "Weekend Cottage in the Woods" by Ruth Berman is a quip more than anything else; but Keith Daniels's "The Man Who Was Sing Sing" is a superb extrapolation from a whimsical conceit, acid on the deity (and on us). John Clute would approve.

Copyright © 2001 Nick Gevers

Since completing a Ph.D. on uses of history in SF, Nick Gevers has become a moderately prolific reviewer and interviewer in the field of speculative fiction. He has published in INTERZONE, NOVA EXPRESS, the NEW YORK REVIEW OF SF, and GALAXIES; much of his work is available at INFINITY PLUS, of which he is Associate Editor. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.


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