Thursday, May 15, 2008

April/May Asimov's (Part the fourth)

"Another Country," by Matthew Johnson is a story about time-traveling refugees. It centers around a community of ancient Romans trying to integrate into modern day Seattle. One, a man who arrived when he was young, has assimilated well and now assists others. Some of his compatriots are having difficulty, especially young boys whose fathers didn't make it. Rome was intensely patriarchal, and they feel they are being pulled in impossible directions. As American pre-teens they cannot provide for the family, but as the oldest male that's exactly what they feel they should be doing. Some of the older men, having an even harder time adjusting, may be exploiting them. This story is similar to "Lost Continent," another story about time-traveling refugees by Greg Egan, which can be found in the excellent Starry Rift sf YA anthology. However, where Egan's young protagonist never makes it out of the government refugee processing center, Johnson takes the next step in describing the difficulties immigrants, especially involuntary immigrants, face in adapting. It's a good story, with an unexpectedly ambiguous ending.

"The Advocate" is another story about aging and our collective fear of losing our minds, this one by Barry Longyear. It's narrated by an ailing author. His mind is beginning to go, and as his illness progresses the narrative becomes as incoherent as that implies. The science fictional twist offers the possibility of hope, the author's constructed doppleganger of himself, but that is a very feeble hope. This is a sparse and disturbing tale, the sort of thing you don't enjoy but do appreciate.

Finally we get "The Room of Lost Souls," a novella by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. It's a follow-on to her earlier story, "Diving the Wreck," but can be easily read as a stand-alone. It's about a retired wreck diver tempted back into service by a woman on a quest to rescue her father from the eponymous room. He was a war hero in the last major wars (described with the post-9/11 military scene in mind), but disappeared before the peace treaties were signed. The protagonist researches the woman's father, but eventually has to also meet with her own father and begin to face her own family's history with the room. In the end, she outfits a very reasonable, well thought out expedition and goes in to face the artifact with all due precaution. The information that will bite you is the information you don't have, and of course things don't go smoothly. It's generally a character driven story. The protagonist, while not a particularly nice person, is empathetic. She appreciably grows and changes through the course of the novella. The plotting is well done, and no one has to act like an idiot, which is always appreciated. Rusch is good at dramatic tension, and shows off her skill well here. All in all, a very satisfying story to close out the issue.

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