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Asimov's Science Fiction, August 2000

Asimov's SF, August 2000
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A review by Nick Gevers

This issue of Asimov's is characterized by a certain symmetry. It contains a brilliant novella, probably one of the year's finest; but this is counterbalanced by an appalling novella, surely one of the year's worst. Two short stories are highly distinguished, admirably lucid and concise statements of their authors' concerns; but two others can only invite derision. This is the nature of the magazine market, ever an intermingler of gems and dross; but Asimov's is cheap, the dross is easily ignored, and August's gem is one of rare lustre indeed...

This gem is one of Lucius Shepard's occasional ventures into the fiction market, his new novella "Radiant Green Star." It remains to be explained why, after his prolific decade from the early 80s to the early 90s, Shepard is now such a fugitive presence in SF and Fantasy; but it is clear that his huge talent -- his acute moralist's sensibility, his ineffable sense of place, his extraordinary command of metaphorical language -- is undimmed. "Radiant Green Star," more authentically than Shepard's other recent novella, "Crocodile Rock" (F&SF 1999), recalls the luminous poetic ferocity of the great stories he collected in The Jaguar Hunter (1987) and The Ends of the Earth (1991); like the Dragon Griaule of his earlier tales, Shepard is stirring again, communicating a rich disturbance far and wide.

Shepard's tale is narrated by a young Vietnamese man of the mid-21st century, who has, apparently, been exiled from power and fortune by his scheming father. His exile is with Radiant Green Star, a circus that travels the backroads of rural Vietnam; his mentor is the circus's owner, an old man withdrawing from this world towards the dubious bliss of a cybernetic Heaven; his narrative precursor is a miraculously long-lived American Vietnam veteran, who gradually remembers and exposes the moral failure of the previous century; and his lover is a young woman who inspires in him such an ardent regard that he will commit hideous crimes in her name (and that of patricidal revenge). Told in a tempestuous flood of magical imagery, "Radiant Green Star" sums up very powerfully the fugacity of happiness and the numbness of compromise, the continuing grip of the dead past and the profound perplexities of the future. This story should be collected very soon...

But this is not true, alas, of "One-Eyed Jacks and Suicide Kings" by R. Garcia y Robertson, August's glib and garish opening novella. In the obtuse slick vein of many of his earlier time-travel tales, Garcia unleashes on medieval France visitors from the future, whose presence on the eve of the Black Death and the Battle of Crecy is played for romantic laughs. As thousands die in battle and millions prepare to die of the Plague, one good French knight gets to copulate with a pretty chrononaut, giggle at the expense of all his contemporaries not so blessed, and cavort off into the cosily utopian tomorrow. This is otiose sexual fantasy, a wallowing in personal irresponsibility that Garcia truly should hesitate to repeat.

Excellence and accountability return in Robert Reed's "When It Ends," a slyly expert indictment of those who would so reduce the world and its history to a self-gratifying game. Moral heedlessness is punctured even more savagely by Nancy Kress, whose "To Cuddle Amy" achieves a chilling effect of lifestyle horror in a mere two pages. But immediately afterwards, there lumbers into view Brian Stableford's "The Ladykiller, As Observed From a Safe Distance," which, while addressing subject matter akin to that of Kress, so girds itself about with argumentative armour that the reader's patience is very soon exhausted. A pity that so able an author should so clot his prose, and vitiate with it his thesis. A pity also that Asimov's, SF's premier fiction market, should bother to publish R. Neube's "The Wurst King vs Aluminum Foil Boy," a tedious confection after the school of nudge-nudge-wink-wink sophomoric toilet humour, and an exercise in sexist balderdash that Mr. Garcia would no doubt applaud. Please, please, no more of this.

But for all the deflating impact of such stinkers, "Radiant Green Star" shines sublimely above, full justification on its own for acquiring this issue of Asimov's.

Copyright © 2000 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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