Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Issue Before the Current Issue of Baen's Universe

Baen’s Universe continues to build its reputation for publishing solidly entertaining, though rarely ground-breaking, science fiction and fantasy. I suspect that this will continue to be a highly successful publishing model for them in years to come. Let me reiterate my praise of their DRM-free, let’s-not-treat-our-customers-like-thieves e-publishing business model, as well. Given that I didn’t find anything massively mind-expanding in this issue, let me instead highlight the stories that kept me well entertained.

These include “Discards” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Two adolescent scavengers on a trash planet find a living being in their trash heap and have to decide what to do with it. Unfortunately, the story feels like it stops just when it’s getting particularly interesting—they make the decision but the story ends before getting into consequences. I’d like to read more!

“Letting Go” by David Walton won a “NSF Contest,” and predictably centers on a pure physics problem—a capsule in a frictionless tube drilled through the Moon. I appreciated the physics even while I really disliked the main character—a domineering jerk who seems to think that if his daughter got married, she’d have to stop working. What? Real Year = 1950?

“Dragon’s Tooth” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch did not have such problems. The heroine is a magic investigator who finds an unlicensed magic store in Paris that has artefacts in inventory that could be particularly dangerous. She’s “retired,” but just has to solve one more problem… nothing groundbreaking here but a well-told-tale. I’ve consistently enjoyed Rusch’s sf work for the last couple of years, and I’m glad to see that I enjoy her fantasy just as much. (Although I find it less emotionally engaging than the sf, that has more to do with my relationship with the space program.)

My favorite in the issue is “The Super” by Bud Sparhawk. It describes a solo-around-the-Earth sea-sailing race (I was going to say “around-the-world sailing race” but in an sf story that’s much too ambiguous), where the prize is the chance to inaugurate a sailing competition in the clouds of Jupiter. One of the participants swings too far South to try to shorten her distance and her ship capsizes in the rough storms of the southern latitudes. Most of the story consists of her flashbacks as a hallucinatory Orca prompts her for her tale and she tries to hold on to her boat until help can reach her. The extrapolation of sailing technology, built-in drama, and science fictional stakes all made this a favorite for me. Add in the fact that I particularly enjoy non-fiction about these sorts of extreme outdoors adventures (sailing, mountain/rock climbing, etc.) and this one was written for me.

That’s the reason that I keep my Baen’s subscription: even though I know I’m unlikely to find much in the way of genre-bending/expanding award-winning new perspectives, they continue to tell tales that I *like*. Can’t fault them for that!

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