Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Clapping Hands of God

Novelette by Michael F. Flynn
Read for Starship Sofa by Mike Boris
2005 Hugo Nominee

Hassan leads a team of explorers through a gate onto another world. He is a devout Muslim, in charge of an international exploration/science team with a near-future level of technology. They don't really understand how the gates work, but they open semi-randomly onto many populated worlds. Basically they've developed an international Stargate program.

They set up camp on a mountaintop to study the indigenous people, following a prime-directive-like philosophy of non-interference. They observe the mid-19th century-level aliens with stealth drones and microcameras. One day, the aliens' behavior changes suddenly, and Hassan is forced to wonder if they've been discovered, and how long they can afford to stay. It turns out he has a much more difficult decisions to make.

As someone mentioned elsewhere, it seems Hassan is a science fiction reader, as he encounters and avoids all the standard first contact pitfalls and idiot plots. Throughout the novelette, he reminds his team that the aliens are not human, and we can't ascribe human traits to them or jump to conclusions based on imagined narratives with scant evidence. All the team members are well drawn and interestingly differentiated, and Mike Boris provides different accents and voices for each of them. I was quite impressed with his talent for accents here.

Just as we think the story is going to wrap up in an expected way, the entire situation changes for the more complex. And just when that situation is about to wrap up, it doesn't go how we expect either. The last quarter of this story is excellent, some of the best first-contact storytelling I've ever seen. The whole thing reads like a deconstruction of the standard first-contact tale. The ending is sad, thoughtful, and pragmatic.

4 hands clapping out of 5.

Originally published in Analog, July/August 2004
Anthologized in Dozois' Year's Best Science Fiction 22

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pulp Cover

Short Story by Gene Wolfe
Starship Sofa podcast read by Mike Boris

This story, as explained by the title and at the end, are basically a look at one of the tropes of bad movies and generic cover art of 1950s SF, but with the introduction of Wolfe's subtlety and restraint. A man wants to marry his boss's young daughter, but loses to a handsome, rich, Yale-graduate competitor. Except maybe the guy isn't who he says he is.

This isn't Wolfe's deepest work, but there is still much more to it than your average story. Fear and sadness are much more prevalent than the jealousy you'd expect this story to be about. Somewhat simplistic, there is still an extra twist-beyond-the-twist, and the brevity and openendedness make for an effective horror story. I'm particularly left wondering why the protagonist hired a writer to tell his story (Gene Wolfe, of course!) and why he felt his name had to be hidden, but the world made aware. There is a remaining menace and mystery to what ought to be a bittersweet happy ending, and I really like that.

Primarily a creepy little horror story set in either the 50s or today, but where all the horror is implied, aside from the protagonist's feeling of being generally creeped out. The ending was great, 4 distressed women in tinfoil bikinis out of 5.

Pulp Cover was originally published in Asimov's March 2004.
It was reprinted for the Hartwell & Cramer Year's Best SF 10 anthology.
And again for Gene Wolfe's Starwater Strains collection.


Novelette by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Podcast by Starship Sofa, read by Christie Yant

When this novelette opened like Sex and the City narrated by some sort of awkward alien woman, I was a little nervous. Noella is an alien or a sort of magical being who has given up much of her innate power to take human form and marry a human man. One day, she finds out he is cheating on her with a girl at the office: J.C.. Finding her marriage vows broken, which were literally powerful, she is able to reclaim her lost abilities.

Noella meets up with J.C. to discuss the situation with Hugh, and eventually comes to forgive her. Together, they are both pretty angry with him though. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" is a more terrifying quote when she borders on all-powerful.
Hugh:"What are you doing?"
Noella: "Whatever I want."
The ending wraps up with Noella still not knowing what she wants to do yet, but I think she's partly forgiven Hugh, and wants to be friends with J.C.. The ending seems darkly happy; I wouldn't want to be Hugh in that situation, but I like to think everyone was happy in the long run.

So despite my initial misgivings, I liked this story a lot. The "knotwork" is a very interesting magical system, but the real highlight is the characters. All three main characters are exceptionally well developed and at least somewhat sympathetic. We get to know about Hugh's mommy-issues, J.C.'s loneliness and low self-esteem, and Noella's lack of understanding of some social signals and emotions. She has an odd touch of the anti-hero about her which I think makes for an interesting protagonist in a story about cheating spouses. J.C., the woman he cheated with, actually comes across as the most sympathetic though, and at the end, it's her future I'm most interested in.

Yant is a good reader for capturing the emotions here, and I suspect she improves the excitement and nuance of the story just with her voice. It does lead me to seeing connections with It Takes Two that aren't really there, but both were good stories.

I like this one quite a bit, 4 knots out of 5.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Last Evolution

Short Story by John W. Campbell Jr.

A somewhat dry history of the human and machine war with an invading alien threat. The humans lose and are wiped out, but leave behind machines which continue to evolve. In fact, this appears to be one of the first seeds of the technological singularity idea: Humans create machines smarter than them, who themselves create new even smarter machines, and so on.

The overall money-quote of the story:
"Most of mankind were quite useless"
There is a bit of a theme regarding human inefficiency and how great machines are, but the POV character is a machine, so a justified bias.

I don't mean to pick on Campbell too much, as it was first published in August, 1932, but the physics is hilariously bad. One of the joys I got out of this story was just how terrible the physics was.

Also, there was a segment that reminded me of The Colour Out of Space by Lovecraft.

Overall, not a great story, but interesting in that the singularity was introduced as early as 1932. And that things developed beyond that. Obviously some of my faults with this are just a product of the time, but it still isn't a great story. 2.5 Ultimate Energies out of 5.

Campanella does some great voices in this episode. I honestly think he may have read too slowly or something though, I can't identify how much of the dragging sensation was the reading, and how much the story. It does drag when being read as text, but I think it is slower as audio. Campanella's voicework was great, but I'm not sure it paid off overall.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Poetry Roundup: Asimov's October/November 2010

Roadside Stand by Mark Rich

A settler on Mars haggles over tomatoes, and poetically enjoys memories of home. Not bad.

Foxwife by Jane Yolen

Either a fox attaches herself to a scholar hanging out in some ruins, or a woman protects her husband. Maybe both. This one is nicely weird.

Welcome Home by Janis Ian

A nice rhyming song about how reading (SF in particular) makes it easier for the weird kids to make it through a lonely childhood. References so many things I can't list them here, but I'm glad to see Cordwainer Smith in there. Best of issue, although this averages out to the most poetically strong issue of the year.

All That Matters by Roger Dutcher

Colonizers of the outer solar system feel insignificant on the scale of space. Is there any point? Okay.

Tourists from Outer Space by Darrell Schweitzer (Unlisted in the Table of Contents by editorial error, appears on page 141)

Tourists to Earth from other species and planets don't absorb our culture, they just party and leave. Like America is with underdeveloped countries. This is just taking something from everyday life and saying "hey, what if someone did this to us." Not interesting. The only poem in this issue I didn't at least somewhat enjoy.

Poetry Roundup: Asimov's September 2010

The Now We Almost Inhabit by Roger Dutcher and Robert Frazier

The Singularity is approaching, and while that is one "Now" we almost inhabit, once it gets here, things will change so fast that anything we know will only be almost. And maybe the end implies the Singularity is like The Rapture? I don't get this one entirely but it is poetic and nicely worded and not blinding obvious, which is always nice. Best of issue.

Egg Protection by Ruth Berman

Some robins protect their eggs from Berman's fourth bad poem of the year. She muses on how she doesn't want their eggs and they don't trust her. I'm getting too sick of Berman to even get up any sarcasm at this point. Long, meaningless, non-poetic story.

Poetry Roundup: Asimov's August 2010

Cultural Boundaries by F.J. Bergmann

Visitors to a small alien world are amazed by how fast learning they are. And then they all die of contamination as we leave. This ground has been covered a million times, and in better poetics. A tad amusing, but nothing special.

A Wrong Turn by Elizabeth Penrose

Folded infinities don't make good glove-compartment maps. Neatly written and not obvious. Amusing.

The Great Peeloff by Qadira P. Garger

Best of the issue. Double meaning, neat poem, well written. Not a ton of depth, but there is something, and this one is fun without being obvious.

Poetry Roundup: Asimov's July 2010

The Gears of New August by Bruce Boston and Todd Hanks

A fairly interesting poem about the hardship of a farmer on an alien world. Drops a reference to The Green Hills of Earth, but he misses Earth in a more sad way, especially considering he once yearned for the stars. A more thoughtful, sad poem than anything else thus far this year in Asimov's.
My third favorite Asimov's poem for the year, overall.

Neosaur by Robert Borski

In the future, we can recreate prehistoric goldfish pets for our children. Okay, not great, not really thoughtful either. But not poorly written.

Poetry Roundup: Asimov's June 2010

Human Potential by Geoffrey A. Landis

There is a lot of potential energy in humans, in the nuclear sense. Would blind all the aura people. Funny, not deep or beautiful, but not bad.

Crushed by Susan Abel Sullivan

Never fall in love with a black hole. Funny, but the metaphor breaks down a bit halfway through. Black holes don't technically suck, unlike relationships.

Of Lycanthropy and Lilacs by Sandra Lindow

Werewolves in spring. Nice rhythm, very good imagery, not as obvious as I thought. Still not too deep, but this was a very nice poem. Best of the issue.

Poetry Roundup: Asimov's April/May 2010

Kitchen Deities by Ruth Berman

Meaningless 23-word thing on cooking. No rhyme, no rhythm, no metaphor, no deep meanings, no humor, no interest.

Martian Opal by Ruth Berman

Okay little joke about geology and astrology and difficulties settling Mars. Not great, but best of issue in this rather meager, one-woman double-issue of Asimov's.

Poetry Roundup: Asimov's March 2010

Marble People by Bruce Boston

Three types of marble that fantasy people could be, generically described. Meh.

Crazy Man by Mark Rich

A time traveler from the past comes to the future. He can't go back, and is crazy for ending up in our shitty time and leaving his. Again, Rich has a good flow and some internal rhymes and wordplay.

Our Canine Defense Team by Vincent Miskell

Cute little story where all animals were uplifted, and now dogs defend us against charges of genocide. Better than the touchy-feely ending I was expecting, still not much of a poem though, but worth reading.

Poetry Roundup: Asimov's February 2010

Reincarnation by Peter Swanson

Awkward line breaks, little to no rhythm but an interesting concept: Certain knowledge that we reincarnate leads to suicide. No humans left, only animals. This is a little more depressed than I find the concept though. World might be better off for everyone without us humans.

Subatomic Redemption by Michael Meyerhofer

Electrons randomly go everywhere. No reason to fear growing up, death, adolescence, or anything else. Our electrons have already been there, done that. Pretty good, thoughtful, some clever use of pauses and breaks.
My second favorite Asimov's poem of the year.

Poetry Roundup: Asimov's January 2010

DoT Acolytes by Ruth Berman

The MN department of Transportation are acolytes to the God of roads. When they don't fix potholes, he gets angry and makes worse potholes. Not funny, not clever, not complex. Blah.

Louisa Drifting by Mark Rich

Like this one quite a bit. Two astronauts dying after an accident, drifting apart. Metaphor for ending a relationship. More serious that Berman, but also funnier. Implication is obvious, but Rich doesn't completely spell it out.
Actually, in the final reading of things, I consider this the best Asimov's poem of the year.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Asimov's December 2010

A generally mediocre-but-not-bad issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.


Short Stories:
There are also 3 poems, nothing special but not too bad overall.

There was nothing truly outstanding in this issue, but nothing truly bad either. Despite being clustered around the middle, it was quite easy to establish a hierarchy. Variations is just outright more powerful than Prize or Warfriends, and given that it is his first work, I think Werkheiser is worth looking out for in the future. I was waffling between 3.5 and 4 for him, while the others were more on the 3.5 vs. 3 end.

Likewise, Uncle E was strictly better than Sins of the Father. Both are simplistic stories, but Emshwiller writes more beautifully and captures the thinking of children, plus there is a bit more underlying subtlety there.

Russia and Excellence are both partially fumbled stories by well-established masters. It's funny that the three most famous writers in the issue all got scores of 2.5, I'm not trying to hold them to a higher standard, but I'll admit there is a subconscious possibility when I see things by such prolific writers. On the other hand, maybe they've all gotten a tad lazy. Regardless, my feeling is that the stories are well-written enough, but they have essential plot failings. But Excellence is a clear top because it is trying to make a less common and, I think, more significant point.

The pairs of stories by rating really do complement each other nicely. But I put Libertarian Russia at the bottom of the issue, and some people have loved it. I don't think it is actually bad, just not good enough to recommend. But I feel safe in saying that nothing in this issue is actually a waste of time if you do happen to be reading it.

As to the Departments:
Editorial: Sheila and Ted's Excellent Adventure has a most triumphant title, and while it has little substance, provides a nice bit of human-interest news about the SFWA gathering for the Space Shuttle Atlantis launch. The neat pictures are the kind of thing worth seeing, and justify the page count.

Reflections: Rereading Kornbluth provides a bit of history, and performs the valuable public service of increasing C.M. Kornbluth awareness.

On Books: Reviews The Bird of the River by Kage Baker, Kraken by China Mieville, Coyote Horizon and Coyote Destiny by Allen Steele and The Business of Science Fiction by Mike Resnick & Barry Malzberg.

It's somewhat annoying that all the reviews are positive buy-this-now endorsements, but given the caliber of the writers, it may be more than blowing smoke. Given the reviews, I definitely need to read Kraken, and while I suspect I can leave the others alone, the reviews provide enough interest that were I to see a few more positive reviews, I might give them a shot, although I suspect they aren't exactly my thing.

I am a bit disappointed in the reviews because they don't provide much depth beyond plot summary, and they are somewhat out of date, but nothing really wrong here.

I'd say that is the overwhelming theme of this issue: Nothing wrong, no big problems, but nothing really outstanding. Adequate.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Poetry Roundup: Asimov's December 2010

Xenoaesthetics by F.J. Bergmann

Nice language, a touch of amusing imagery, but I'm not sure I can get behind the concept. A species who doesn't use adjectives or appreciate beauty is not just secretly desperate for it. Stop anthropomorphizing very alien aliens!

Sailor by Mark Rich

Very nice rhythm and wordplay about a solar-sail ship leaving Earth behind.

Blueprint For a Domed City by Jessica Taylor

A beautiful, safe, organized domed city is pretty awful in the grand scheme. Much like the turns-of-phrase in this poem.

Mark Rich is the clear standout this issue, nailing both language and concept. Bergmann has the language only, and Taylor murders even that. But I'm still not sure Sailor is good enough for any awards.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Novelette by Tom Purdom

This is the first sequel to Purdom's 1966 novel The Tree Lord of Imeten. As far as I can tell, it was an Ace Double which hasn't seen print since, aside from now being available as an ebook (linked above). Which is why I'm surprised there is no recap or explanatory note by author or editor, or much in the way of introductory exposition to the story.

Purdom begins in media res, and while I'm drawn in and appreciate the lack of infodumps, the first five pages or so are confusing as hell and I had to re-read them a few times to understand what was going on. All the information is there to piece it together, but it is unclear and released over the entire story, which is still written as if assuming readers should know this already. When the prequel novel last saw print 20 years before I was born, I find this assumption rather ill-considered.

Once you know what's going on, though, this is a pretty exciting tale. I found myself ignoring at least two phonecalls to finish reading once I was over halfway through. And I don't think I'd be opposed to seeing another sequel in this mode, especially now that I have the setting figured out.

The itiji are a species of essentially sentient big cats, who, until the events of the prior novel, were enslaved to sentient, weapon-using, chimps. Now the itiji find themselves allied with the Warriors of Imeten, one of several nations of tree-people, in a war against the Drovil, a nation who want to steal the Imeten's iron mine, and have not yet freed their itiji slaves.

Vigdal is our itiji protagonist, and he finds himself leading the ground section of a joint raid on the Drovil. Both groups need to learn to cooperate here, as each needs to focus on the objectives the other cares more about. Only the itiji can drag away the precious iron ore the Imeten need so badly, but they need the tree-people to have any shot at rescuing the captive itiji.

While largely an exciting war story of a raid that gets rapidly more complicated, there are themes of not just cooperating with your former enemy and putting the past behind, but also of the necessity to subordinate a subgroup's goals to what is tactically better for everyone, even if that benefits your former enemies more, and a lesson in having to think like your opposition and the tactical and diplomatic benefits and difficulties of codependency.

But Purdom doesn't really preach here. The morals of the story are rather obvious, but they aren't as heavy-handed as they could have been. And most impressive is the amount of world-building and the details of how both species think, it's important that he develops the psychological differences, since they are inherently key to the tension behind such a new alliance and their ability to cooperate. Overall the itiji are a great invention and I wouldn't mind reading more about them, but this story was on one hand too confusing, and on the other too straightforward for me to absolutely love it. 3.5 shares of iron loot out of 5.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Uncle E

Short Story by Carol Emshwiller

Four orphans have to figure out how to survive in our modern world without their mother. They're able to make it with a little help from their Uncle E.

The twist here is telegraphed well in advance and goes completely unexplained. Which isn't so much a problem for this story, but it does help illustrate that without the twist, it is still pretty much the same story. It's basically a 6-page sentimental expansion on the 2 sentence summary above. The ending is cute, but there isn't much more to it than that.

3 frozen dinners out of 5.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Prize Beyond Gold

Short Story by Ian Creasey
Read for Escape Pod (free text & audio) by Josh Roseman

It stands to reason that the further we go into the future, the harder it is to break Olympic records, as we inevitably approach the asymptote of what is humanly possible. Delroy is one such Olympic athlete, and going into a race, he finally has the perfect wind, humidity, and pressure conditions to have a shot at breaking the 70-year men's hundred-meter dash record. The titular Prize Beyond Gold.

But what starts out as a sports story is really anything but. If Delroy breaks the record, his decision on what sort of bordering-on-transhumanism enhancements he gets, if any. Athletics is, of course, highly regulated, but after breaking the record, he'll presumably retire, and then it becomes a matter of international politics whether he chooses to stick with the "ancestral" model, or upgrade, and which new form of humanity he will choose to endorse.

There are some interesting thoughts here about the transition to new types of human bodies, and it's for the better that we don't see the action, or the result of the race. The important thing here is Delroy's state of mind and his quest for freedom-of-choice against the necessity of perfectly determined preparation. It's reassuring that Creasey knows this. So maybe freedom is the real prize beyond gold, and maybe that's harder to train for.

Not the most exciting thing ever, but worthwhile nonetheless. 3.5 milliseconds left to shave off the record.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Short Story by Robert Reed

This is a story I'm very torn over, in terms of rating. I absolutely love the point Reed is trying to make here, I think it is important, and the overall idea is a great one. Larry Voss is a brilliant middle-aged man who lives alone in a house he inherited from his parents, never working, just living off their life insurance policies. He sits around playing online games all day, a completely meaningless arena in which he is hugely successful.

One day, Larry is scouted by a charitable foundation interested in his wasted potential. The deal doesn't go exactly as he expected, but the twist surely inspires him to greater heights than his slightly improved coasting by would have. As his friend points out earlier, the grants are just a way for the rich to keep the masses content, and as we find out at the end of the story: "sometimes it is best to take a comfortable citizen and make him less so."

So I intensely agree with Reed, I like the setting, and I love the conclusion. But the essential twist is pure bullshit. Even in the fictional world laid out, it makes no sense, and doesn't seem convincingly legal (or even borderline legal enough to stick). And regardless of legality within fictional legal systems, it just seems like too much a game of Xanatos Roulette. The overall plot just makes no sense in terms of being likely. The characters motivations are all clear, and things make sense otherwise, but this is too much of an asspull to get past.

2.5 doppels out of 5.

What is it with so many stories getting the same name, and failing to live up to it?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Short Story by Ian Werkheiser

This is Werkheiser's SF debut and while it isn't my top pick of the issue, he is certainly a new writer to watch.

Joe Novak was a musical prodigy, but when his piano virtuoso father died in a car crash, he stopped playing altogether. Down on his luck and out of money, he has taken a job helping a technology company reproduce his father's music. But it turns out they want to synthesize his style and build machines to effectively recreate his talent. This leads to some internal conflict, both about his father's legacy, and about their relationship before he died.

This is a moving story with an emotional ending. But Werkheiser fails to expand on what I felt was the most significant line of the whole thing, the segment where Joe has been practicing remembering how the songs were played so many times that his memories and emotional connections have begun to fade and the songs are now just rote memory actions:
"He felt like this was the way he was always supposed to have felt about life, as if it were a light stone held in an open hand, rather than a hot, heavy coal clutched burning to his chest."
This sense of well-being and freedom from the loss of emotional memories, that double-edged sword of "getting over it" and forgetting painful memories, but also not thinking as much about the good things seemed like the Werkheiser was going somewhere very interesting. But he mostly dropped Joe's changes with the admittedly good concluding breakdown. I'd have liked to see a bit more depth and exploration here.

The one other problem is that some of the sentences are painfully convoluted, creating confusion and a bad flow. But there are some nice bits of language too, and I quite like the musical theme that runs through the whole thing, even the structure of the narrative. So it isn't perfect or even the best in the issue, but this story is pretty good, definitely worth reading, and it marks Werkheiser as a writer to look out for in the next couple years. 3.5 out of 5.

Freia in the Sunlight

Short Story by Gregory Norman Bossert

Told from the point of view of the new and newly sentient Fully-autonomous Reconnaissance Electronic Intelligence and Attack drone, this is an oddly poetic and moving little piece.

We're made to feel significant empathy for an attack drone; this story is a better-than-usual exploration of how an Artificial Intelligence tries to learn and understand human language and eventually transcends and/or fails it's intended purpose by exceeding human expectations.

I know it's an old joke, but some of the vocabulary misunderstandings are pretty funny. And Freia's unique understanding of human speech adds to the emotional impact in a weird (good) way. The last line in particular was great.

This story was BeautifulTM. 4 attack drones out of 5.

Sins of the Father

Short Story by Sara Genge

A merman is exiled to land by his mermaid-dictator mother. The actual story is a subtle but minor tale of his courtship of a human girl, but the interesting part is the setting. After significant global warming, most of Earth is underwater and humans live primarily on remaining archipelagos that were once mountains. They are kept at a primitive level of technology by the more advanced merfolk.

So it's an interesting setting, and I like the way it is introduced sort of incidentally to the love story. But I don't know that there is much more to be said about it. I don't think it is really missing anything, but there still isn't much to this story. 3 out of 5 love stories begin at a party.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Libertarian Russia

Short Story by Michael Swanwick

Victor Pelevin thinks he is the only Libertarian in post-depopulation Russia, and he really enjoys his lifestyle. Having fled Moscow, he is driving across the country on his genetically locked, grass-and-water fueled motorcycle. Along the way, he picks up Svetlana, a prostitute who wants to set up her own practice outside the tight controls of the cities.

The plot seems like something from Bruce Sterling, and that impression holds up throughout, although I never like it quite as much as I'd like a Sterling story. The whole thing is an argument against a straw-man version of Libertarianism and is pretty anvilicious about that toward the end. Victor escapes from the gang of ex-secret police basically through hooker ex machina (or machina ex hooker?) But after having been successfully threatened and finding out that no government isn't as nice as he thought, Victor continues on his way, but decides maybe he isn't a Libertarian after all.

I guess the other problem I have is that the story could have taken place in any vague post-apocalyptic or other government free area, and there is no real reason for it to be Russia, nor any especially Russian flavor to the setting. But there is some nice writing here, and the story is short enough that it doesn't feel like the waste of time it would be at greater length. And I guess I can get over the conflation of anarchism with libertarianism since the two are often found together and some libertarians don't seem to get the distinction either.

2.5 Russians out of 5 truly understand the value of a good gesture.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Plus or Minus

Novelette by James Patrick Kelly

The cover story for December's Asimov's is far from the best of the issue, but since the spaceship looks a bit like a Christmas tree and the stars are festive I guess it can stay.

This story is the disinterestedly-awaited return of Mariska, the bitchy teenage girl from Kelly's mediocre Going Deep (which blessedly failed to win a Nebula award). This time, she has signed on to a ship hauling cargo to and from the asteroid belt in another attempt to rebel from her clone/mother's plans. Four other "maintenance monkeys" crew the ship, none of whom are well developed and two of whom are nearly irrelevant to the story altogether. The senior member is Beep, whose stupid name goes unremarked through the entire novelette.

The first 3/4 is mostly long-winded irrelevant technical detail about the ship, and little bits of dialogue that don't end up mattering much. Mr. Kelly does a good job of drawing the setting but the Shining Legend just isn't as interesting as the earlier story's Moon and the details don't seem to matter much.

The Big Science Problem of the story finally comes in towards the end, and the characters eventually stumble upon the obvious solution that I'd expected from the moment the problem was presented. It is made out to be a tough decision but seems obvious, necessary, and not all that bad. The conclusion is where Kelly saves this story though. Just as I thought the ending was going to be too facile, it doesn't end up the way I expected. It was a pleasant surprise but I'm not sure it redeems the story overall.

A character-driven hard-SF Analog type story that isn't quite as angsty and sappy as Going Deep, but while I much preferred the conclusion of this tale, it didn't make up for the rest of it. While I can't recommend this, I would keep an eye out for the next Mariska story from James Patrick Kelly. That sounds weird when talking about such an experienced writer, but I think this chain of stories overall may be moving in a better direction. 2.5 dream circuses out of 5.