Magazine review: Asimov’s, vol 32 no. 3, March 2008 (ed. Sheila Williams)


(Dell Magazines, ISSN 1065-2698)

(Review first published on the Australian Specfic in Focus website, April 2008)

This issue of Asimov’s contains four novelettes and four short stories. It also includes several poems and regular non-fiction features; my pdf package included only the fiction, and so I’ve restricted my review to the eight stories that comprise this issue.

“Following the Pharmers” by Brian Stableford has too many soliloquys (dialogue-delivered infodumps) for its own good, but it’s a sharp and highly thoughtful offering nonetheless. Daniel is a small-time pharmer (tweaker of plant genes) living and working in the Yorkshire everglades, using his gene-altered crops to produce traditional (and still illegal) psychotropic agents, but he has a past. His new neighbour, Judith, has a similar skill set, but a much more ambitious agenda: she wants to use genetic modification to correct some of natural selection’s most basic mistakes. She could use Daniel’s help, but how will he respond to her overtures?

“Kallakak’s Cousins” by Cat Rambo is a light-footed story concerning the ballabel alien Kallakak’s troubles, as he tries to protect his cramped but valuable commercial location on a space station from hostile takeover by a pair of Jelidoos, all the while trying to keep his naïve trio of cousins from bumbling him into ruin. Unlike some of the other stories in this issue, this one feels just the right length for its contents.

“The World Within The World” by Steven Utley is a short, somewhat inconclusive little tale of mysterious electrical spikes in the apparatus associated with a temporal transfer station. I found it tantalising, but ultimately a bit vague.

Elizabeth Bear’s “Shoggoths in Bloom” is an unexpectedly heartening revisiting of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s monsters, as a black professor in late-1930s New England risks his life and his reputation to uncover the secrets of shoggoth biology. Bear’s story is a multi-layered examination of bigotry, slavery, and destiny. Cthulhu purists may consider that it lacks for terror, but I enjoyed it.

“This Is How It Feels” by Ian Creasey explores the use of transferred grief, administered through implants, to modify undesirable behaviours. Nathan is an overworked consultant, torn between competing priorities and tormented by his implant. This is a thoughtful and intelligent story which perhaps slightly overplays its emotional hand but doesn’t outstay its welcome.

“Sepoy Fidelities” by Tom Purdom is an actioner involving body-swapping human servants of Earth’s alien overlords. It’s not, in fact, as clichéd as this description makes it sound, it certainly has its thoughtful moments, and the characterisation is plausible (given the story’s precepts), but the extended action sequence that occupies most of the story appeared too staged, with too artificial a stand-off, for my liking.

Sue Burke’s “Spiders” has a father taking his five-year-old son on a nature ramble through an alien ecology on their colonised planet. It’s a pleasantly tense story with an ultimately unfinished feel to it, and is perhaps intended more to serve as an introduction to an upcoming novel than as a complete story in its own right.

In “Master of the Road to Nowhere”, Carol Emshwiller explores a society in which bands of renegade humans live by herd rules. It’s effective, plainly told, and rounds out the issue nicely.

As always, any multiple-author collection of short fiction will contain some stories that appeal more than others to the reader. In this case and from my perspective, the most rewarding stories here were Rambo, Bear, and Creasey, though the Stableford and Emshwiller novelettes also appealed.


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