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Asimov's Science Fiction, October-November 1999

Asimov's SF, October-November 1999
Asimov's SF
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A review by Rich Horton

Each year Asimov's Science Fiction publishes a double-sized issue dated October-November. These issues tend to be showcase issues, featuring lots of well-known authors, and some very good stories as well. The 1999 October-November Double Issue is a perfect example.

Asimov's has over the last few years consistently published the most of the best short fiction, among all the SF magazines. A look at the list of Hugo Winners supports this assertion: for example, all three of the 1999 short fiction awards were first published in this magazine.

This issue features two novellas. Multiple-Hugo winner Connie Willis gives us "The Winds of Marble Arch". The narrator is a middle-aged man, visiting London with his wife. This is the first time they've visited for years, and the city doesn't seem to match his recollections. The narrator recalls loving the London tubes, but his wife will have none of that. So he spends a couple of frenetic days wandering the tube system, charged with getting tickets to a show, while his wife shops. At the same time another couple seems to be having marital problems. The show tickets are absurdly hard to find. Amid all this the narrator starts to experience terrible smelling winds in the tubes: winds that smell of horrible historical events. The story is paced like one of Willis' comedies, but it's quite serious. Finally the semi-comic mishaps, the personal problems of some of the characters, and the story of the winds come to a head. The resolution is serious and honest, but just a bit trite, and in the end the story's theme didn't seem to support the weight of the rest of the story. A good story, not Willis' best.

The other novella is "Argonautica" by Walter Jon Williams. This is a retelling of the story of Jason and the Argonauts in a US Civil War setting. The story features Jase Miller and his crew (with names like Harry Klee -- get it?) appropriating a river ironclad and venturing up the Mississippi to find a hidden cache of gold. Jase finds his Medea, and then the gold. The story ends just before the final resolution of the original, which adds a nice frisson: we can guess what's going to happen next. I liked this one a lot.

The cover story is "A Martian Romance," a novelette by Kim Stanley Robinson. This is from his new collection of pendants to his Mars Trilogy, The Martians. It appears to be outside of the main timeline of the trilogy, and a direct sequel to his wonderful early novella, "Green Mars." Roger Claiborne and Eileen Monday of that story join a group of their old friends sailing an iceboat on the now frozen seas of Mars, as the terraforming project appears to be failing. It's a terribly sad story, in the context of the much more optimistic trilogy.

Other novelettes include a fine story by Asimov's editor Gardner Dozois, "A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows." Aging Charles Czudak, famous for his Meat Manifesto, and nearing death, is confronted by an old enemy, and asked one more time to reconsider his positions. The story carefully raises its deeply science-fictional issues, and leaves them for the reader to try to resolve. Newer writer Richard Wadholm contributes "Green Tea," a pretty good story about future wars and atrocities.

At the shorter lengths, I was most impressed by Tony Daniel's "In from the Commons." Four friends are camping in the wilderness of an artificial habitat when they are summoned by a mysterious call. The true nature of these people, and the call, and their environment, is slowly revealed. The idea is original and thought-provoking, and the story will turn up at least on my Hugo nomination ballot this year. Mike Resnick's "Hothouse Flowers" tells of an attendant at a future nursing home, after death has been conquered, but not aging. A scary story, but not quite believable. Nelson Bond, a veteran of the Golden Age, recently named an SFWA Author Emeritus, weighs in with a cute trifle, "Proof of the Pudding," about a rich man who is convinced the world is really the inside of a hollow sphere, and decides to prove it. And 1999 short story Hugo winner Michael Swanwick gives us "Riding the Giganotosaur," a fine story about a dying financier who gets his brain implanted in a Cretaceous carnosaur, and learns a lesson that even rapacious carnivores need to learn.

Besides the fiction, editor Dozois features six poems, four by the very popular Bruce Boston, as well as one each by Howard Hendrix and Rhysling Award-winner Laurel Winter. And on the non-fiction side, there is another of Robert Silverberg's opinion pieces, a guest editorial by Jack Williamson, who has been appearing everywhere as the 20th century closes, and a book review column by Norman Spinrad.

This is a first-rate issue of a first-rate science fiction magazine.

Copyright © 1999 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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