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Asimov's Science Fiction, February 1999

Asimov's SF, February 1999
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 Steve Lazarowitz

I found myself quite surprised as I read through this issue of what I've always considered to be one of the best SF magazines on the market. I was not surprised by the quality of the work. Asimov's has never disappointed me in that area. Rather, I was surprised by the somewhat political nature of the stories. Don't get me wrong. I've read many SF stories that have addressed issues of morality or political concepts, just not so many in one place. Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy reading it.

The first thing that caught my eye was an opinion column by Robert Silverberg, entitled "Reflections: End of the World Canceled." I have always found Mr. Silverberg to be both intelligent and entertaining. This column bore out my expectations. The serious nature of Armageddon didn't stop him from having fun with it.

The rest of the issue consisted of a novella, three novelettes and two short stories. There were also book reviews, a letters column and Asimov's ever-present convention calendar, complete with misprint. (I believe the February Conventions listed will take place in 1999, rather than 1998 as indicated.)

"Mac and Me" by Robert Reed was my favourite story. This is a far future story, illustrating an Earth all but destroyed by man's greed. In this new world, diamonds are so common that they have become worthless, whereas carbon, the very basis of life on Earth, is far more precious. Mr. Reed's view of the future was chilling, and quite different from any I'd ever pictured. Yet he arrives at that future so competently that I found it very easy to accept. The characters here are well developed. I particularly like the voice of the protagonist.

Another tale that I particularly enjoyed was entitled "Cabbages and Kales or How We Downsized North America" by David Marusek. This is the third tale set in Mr. Marusek's North American near-future. It presented an interesting view of future politics. The protagonist is the Vice President of the USNA (a future incarnation of the United States). I found this story rather tongue-in-cheek, though once again, it is not without an interesting political and moral dilemma.

"Living Trust" by L. Timmel Duchamp was the longest story and brought up a number of interesting questions about morality and law in the near future. This was the "hardest" SF story in the book, its plot building on current medical theory, cloning and genetics. It was also a story with a moral, though I'm not certain that I agreed with the protagonist's conclusion.

The oddest story in the volume, "The Night Copernicus Died" by Kathryn Kulpa, was more fantasy than SF. I found this story to be beautifully written, but a hard SF fan might not enjoy it as much as I did. Indeed it was so strange that you really would have to read it yourself and draw your own conclusions. Nothing I write here could do it justice.

"Fossil Games" by Tom Purdom was another far future story that interested me, though perhaps in a different way than the author intended. Here the moral issue did nothing for me, but the method by which the protagonist operated was infinitely fascinating. It was somewhat reminiscent of what I pictured Hari Seldon's methods to be in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. Mr. Purdom explained the ramifications of social wave theory brilliantly. The future he depicted was also entertaining. I could almost see the dynamics of his characters' moral and political struggles as a reflection of our own shortsightedness.

Finally, "Ancient Engines" by Michael Swanwick is another near future story, again with an interesting moral agenda. The real question is, do you want to live forever? I found that by the end of the story, I was no longer certain.

A short enjoyable poem entitled "The Watchers" by Wendy Rathbone rounds out the issue.

All of the stories are well written, well thought out and entertaining. And like every issue of Asimov's I've ever read, each left me pensive.

Which is one of the main reasons I continue to read science fiction.

Copyright © 1999 Steve Lazarowitz

Steve Lazarowitz reads and writes fantasy and SF. His work has been published in a number of online 'zines and he is the editor of the Dragonclaw Showcase. His short story anthology A Creative Edge: Tales of Speculation is due out from Domhan books in 1999.

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