Sunday, January 31, 2010
Particularly short one about a lab tech who kills her boss. The story of what happened and why is revealed in her own thoughts as she is interrogated by a semi-intelligent wall. Fun, open non-ending. 3.5 out of 5.
A geologist discovers the remains of an alien preserved in a coal mine. We manage to have 7 points of view in 10 pages, with minimal characterization and no characters returned to, no personal stories completed. Basically one vanilla occupation hands off to another vanilla occupation to continue the story of the dig. Birth and death happen, but it is all sort of meaningless. Nothing really happens, nothing is really discovered, and the truth revealed at the end is not at all interesting. And the Pascal's Wager at the end fails to create any lasting impression or thoughtfulness. 1.5 out of 5.
Triple-layered title: Humanity is eroded as we replace more and more of our bodies with artificial parts. Our eroded protagonist, Winston, wanders the eroding cliffs of England, which is crumbling into a rising sea. While taking one last walk before leaving to colonize a new planet, he encounters the eroding AI of an old lady attached to a bench memorializing the woman she once was. He proceeds to get into and out of trouble, but the point of the story is more in how we are forced to give up bits of ourselves and will eventually be left with nothing of the original. And the feeling I get reading this is maybe that erosion won't be so catastrophic after all. A strangely hopeful take on a classically depressing trend; I like it. 4.5 out of 5 AI's are sick of haunting worn-down benches.
Two powerful, ethereal beings toy with humanity. Maybe they should consider the rights of such lower creatures. Pretty short, nothing original to see here, lame title, lame ending. The writing is good enough, but the story goes nowhere and manages to be repetitive and pointless in just 10 pages. 1.5 out of 5.
Short Story by Jeff Carlson
Audio version available for free at the excellent Starship Sofa, Narrated by Amy H. Sturgis
Julie Beauchain and her boyfriend Highsong are park rangers. They fight a bio-engineered termite infestation in Montana. There may be terrorism, conspiracy, or insurance fraud afoot. Exciting, the mystery is left a touch ambiguous, which is good. The resolution is a bit cliche but nothing really bad about this story and it's lots of fun. 3.5 out of 5 rangers are too sexy for Montana.
P.S. This is the sequel to Gunfight at the Sugarloaf Pet Food & Taxidermy, also by Jeff Carlson. I didn't know this until listening to the Starship Sofa version though, so it doesn't hurt not to have read it. Still it is available free from Starship Sofa in Episode #88, and it's pretty good.
Charming little story about a woman who finds a classic magic shop selling her heart's desire (in a jar). When she leaves, before doing anything with it, she bumps into an aspiring musician, accidentally breaking the jar. They can't seem to find the shop again, and her wish is gone, but maybe she gets her heart's desire anyway. Classic plot, but well done, with a shoutout to The Wombats. 3 out of 5 wishes don't need as much magic as you'd think.
Poe Ye is some sort of amphibious alien creature, whose family needs her to stay awake (which is essentially biological suicide) for the winter to protect their spawn from predatory worms. Things go to hell rapidly and keep getting worse, the ending is thoughtful and bittersweet.
I really enjoyed this one. The aliens are very alien and an intriguing world is developed well without any obtrusive infodumps. You can really empathize with these things that aren't even close to being human. And it is an exciting survival/self-sacrifice story as well. 4 out of 5.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Sidibé Traoré ended up as Earth's diplomatic representative because she was an astronaut who loved to pop the blisters on a sheet of bubble wrap.
Novelette by Christopher Barzak
Friday, January 22, 2010
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Six Anti-stanzas of words beginning with anti-, anti-strung together into anti-sentences making anti-sense. The last stanza tries to tie it all together with some actual meaning, but falls flat. I anti-love this anti-poem, because I find it anti-anti-annoying.
Monday, January 11, 2010
This one is going to join Gunfight on Farside as a good story that I liked, but not nearly as much as internet/reviewer/best-of-collection-editor consensus indicates I should. 3 out of 5.
The strange thing is I can't really identify why. The protagonist, Barry, is an excellent, well drawn character. Imagine Toby Zeigler washing out of politics and deciding to become an actress's manager. Also he's a dwarf and has to think about genetic modifications and free will.
I love this sort of character, I love genetics, the ethical issues brought up by the story are important, every character is excellent, the plot is plausible yet surprising. The only complaint I can come up with is that the ending is maybe wrapped up a bit too fast, but I see no good way to make it longer, and it does make you think. There is really nothing wrong here, but I didn't love it, I only liked it. Kress is an excellent writer, and you can certainly see that in this story, yet it lacks the punch it ought to have for me.
The Pané are a species of aliens with extremely picky musical taste. Picky to the point I can see it being selective pressure against the continued existence of their society, but everything works so well I can get past it. One of the top musicians on the planet, a castrato male soprano, misses a single note during a performance, and his career is over. So rather than sit around being a has-been he catches the first cargo ship to the musical capital of human space. There he spends a bit too much time agonizing over the specifics of musical theory behind the blues, before getting to an extremely poignant conclusion. This one brought a tear to my eye, and proves that Ms. Rusch does actually know how to write a brilliant ending when she tries. 4.5 out of 5 orphans can sing the blues, but they don't all have perfect pitch.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
A jumbled mess, with a couple good ideas tossed in at the end; 1 out of 5.
At 38 pages, I found exactly one page of this novella good, with maybe another ten worth reading to get to that one. And that leaves a good deal of fluff. You could safely amputate the first 25 pages without losing much of anything (the mark of great literature!) The Sea of Dreams should have been a short story, and even then I can't see myself giving it more than maybe a 2.5 out of 5 with extreme editing.
There are many instances of entirely irrelevant sex in this story. And for all the time wasted talking about sex, it is neither graphic nor erotic, so you can't justify it as erotic fiction either, (if you consider that a justification). The central scientific dilemma, while admittedly not the point (although I'm not sure what the point was) is complete rubbish. The problem the characters have to solve would have resolved the same with a comatose protagonist being wheeled around between scenes, although I guess his boring chatter ended up making things worse for some parallel universes we don't care about.
A brief plot summary (spoiler-light, although I anti-recommend wasting your time on this) :
7 pages of almost entirely irrelevant introduction. 12 more of dealing with a civilization that exists purely as an homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs, with some Red Orm references sprinkled in. Neither of these have any bearing on anything. I quit reading 6 times during this part. It took me a week.
Finally, we get to the good bit: 9 pages of moving between some other irrelevant locations, with about a page worth of disjointed, barely comprehensible useful background, delivered with lots of made-up terms that never matter. Then our pointless heroes get sent to the past for 4 pages of standard-issue paradox avoidance, before being sent to the distant future for 5 pages of wandering around aimlessly with a little bit of pseudo-physics thrown in.
And finally the quest to return home is completed with a very literal bit of deus ex machina and we get exactly 1 page of fairly thought provoking denouement, although it ends with an out-of-nowhere speculation about which option to choose of what seems to me a false dichotomy about an issue I'd gotten the impression the protagonist should have moved past long ago. Why the hell semi-ruin the universe to get back a lost love after spending the whole novella falling for your cloned sex slave. Not that the reader can actually care about our central lizardman anyway. 38 pages and all the character development of 5. The saving grace to the ending was that it wasn't either terrible thing I expected: it was neither all a dream nor The Number of the Beast for dummies. Small victories.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Francis Bacon and a bunch of other Sixteenth Century personages save the world from an armada of ether-ships sent by the insect civilization of the moon. This is apparently the conclusion to a series of 3 other stories, none of which I've read. I get the impression this was the weakest of them. It took me 15 of the 40 pages to engage with the story at all, the Preface summarizing the first 3 stories was probably necessary, but between that and all the allusions to prior events, there was a large hurdle to get over before having a clue what was going on.
When I finally did get into the story, it was very interesting, although Bacon seemed just along for the ride up until the last 1/4 of the story. And besides the heavy amount of background required, I guess that is my major complaint: none of the main characters had much to do with the events or resolution of the story. Technically Bacon did, but the ending he brought about, although satisfying, smelled a bit of deus ex machina. And still, I absolutely loved it. A bit of meta-humor certainly helps.
"It was a comedy," Francis said. "For which we should all be truly thankful. Had it been a tragedy, as it might so easily have become, it would not be a suitable subject for drama for at least five hundred years."
The technology, descriptions, and religious overtones really made this feel like this came from the Sixteenth Century, and that pays off big for me. Much of it was a simple adventure ride, proceeding along the tracks from scene to scene regardless of the efforts of the protagonist, but still enjoyable. Although I can only give this a 2.5 out of 5, I suspect the others in the series would fare better, and I'll be tracking them down sooner or later.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
We follow the exploration of the caves beneath the titular Big Dumb Object from the points of view of supremely competent security chief Meklos, frustratingly secretive (and to my mind, incompetent) archaeologist Gabrielle, and mysterious hidden agenda lady Navi. One cannot help but like Meklos, and it must be tough resisting the urge to punch Gabrielle. So the characters, although perhaps more flat than one might like, are certainly well drawn. The setting is neat and the archaeological mystery is pretty good and there is an excellent tension throughout the whole story. But, again, the whole thing falls apart in the last couple pages. The action builds up to a critical point, a major twist is revealed, although it was subtly foreshadowed, but then said twist fizzles out the entire climax rather than satisfactorily resolving it. And the two things I was most curious about were either not explained, or implied to be non-mysteries in the end. An exciting tale of archeology and danger that has a crap ending and comes across as half finished despite being the longest novella in Asimov's this year; 3 out of 5.