Tuesday, May 13, 2008

April/May Asimov's (Part the second)

Oh noes, I'm falling behind! (It's been time well-spent though: two days as a referee at a youth fencing tournament where I earned as much as I would selling two reviews and an article, then yesterday I wrote 2200 words for a review for Strange Horizons that might turn into something *very* good indeed.) There shall be three short stories today to make up time—full speed ahead!

The ever-prolific Robert Reed contributes a thoughtful story to the Asimov's spring double-issue. "The House Left Empty" contrasts the advantages and disadvantages of small, communal, environmentally-friendly living with those of capitalist, nationalist, anti-social living. He makes it clear that neither is inherently superior. However, for all those who, like me, probably knee-jerk towards the green option, he makes clear his opinion as to which system is more likely to get us out into space. It's hard to dispute his assertion.

Another short story, "An Almanac for the Alien Invaders" by Merrie Haskell is interesting. It describes the journey of a dissatisfied Post-Doc joining up with our new alien overlords. It's an interesting examination of colonialism from the POV of the colonized; looking at what's gained and what's lost by throwing your lot in with the colonizers. However, the "Almanac" framing device didn't really work for me, as it never seemed well integrated. The structure was always like this passage: "In February, the groundhog will see his shadow, and a million people will disappear overnight." I'm not sure if the idea is to make everything that happens seem inevitable, but it seemed to make things trivial instead. Also, the story is told in a mixture of future and present tense that made everything seem slightly distant and surreal. This was obviously intentional, but it didn't work for me.

"An Art, Like Everything Else" by Nick Wolven is a beautiful story with a tear-jerker ending. It all takes place after humanity has uploaded into a massive computer simulation. However, after centuries, people still start to, not "grow old" exactly, but to degrade ( a bit like Alzheimer's). A man is haunted by the ghost of his lover and the places they used to enjoy together. He has to face his grief at the loss instead of trying to run away from it. It is a lovely tale, and makes the VR environment seem real. It also features a positively-depicted gay couple without acting like that's anything special, which is nice to see. It mirrors a big concern that sf stories seem to be grappling with right now: aging. There appears to be a massive fear of Alzheimer's, which makes sense for a community founded on intellect and imagination. (Once again let me pimp the Match it for Pratchett campaign to raise funds for Alzheimer's research.) Also, it may reflect the slowly aging audience for the print magazines (and some of the authors themselves). Over the past few years several Mike Resnick stories have picked up this theme, as well as current Hugo-nominee Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer, among many others. As the Baby Boomers start to go (probably not gently) into that good night, I suspect we'll see much, much more of this sort of thing.

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