Review: Asimov’s SF, V31 #8, August 2007

Asimov’s Science Fiction, V31 #8, August 2007

Asimov’s Science Fiction has been the meat and potatoes of my science fiction reading since I was a junior in high school when the magazine was fondly known as IA’sfm. There is much about the magazine I like, else I would not have been a reader for so long. As one of the premier outlets for SF short fiction, the quality of the stories is normally very high. The cover art tends to be outstanding. Unfortunately the cover is so thin, imagine glossy newsprint, that it rarely arrives in my mailbox intact. The interior art is reserved for poetry only. I miss the George Barr ink drawings that would show up in the older issues. There needs to be more art, and before anyone accuses me of wanting the editors to give up story space let me go on record that perhaps some of the nearly page length author bios need not be in a font larger than the text of the story. A smaller font would provide space for more art.

I am including the department sections in this review. It may seem weird but over the years Asimov’s has had some very thought provoking and fun editorials and columns.

  • (editorial) The 2007 Dell Magazine Awards:
    This month Sheila Williams tells us about the winners of this yearly writers’ contest for college students. There must be some form of nanites in the water at Stanford University, because that school seems to be the mecca of budding SF writers.
  • (column) Reflections: Decoding Cuneiform:
    Once again Robert Silverberg has stoked my curiosity with one of his columns. I liked Isaac Asimov’s editorials because he stoked my curiosity regularly. I am happy that Silverberg is filling this role so well at Asimov’s. This time he discusses what it took for the human race to recover the ability to read cuneiform, the ancient written language of Persia (Assyria, Sumeria, etc.) If anyone knows of a good book describing the history of decoding and deciphering cuneiform, please let me know. I really want to know the story behind solving the cuneiform puzzle. I didn’t know how lucky we are to be able to read ancient texts like Gilgamesh.
  • (column) On the Net: Happy Red Planet:
    You never know what James Patrick Kelly is going to cover from month to month in his internet column. Sometimes he misses capturing my interest. Many things contribute to this and I figure that the time lag from submission deadline to published magazine, and the speed that the internet changes, are the two main culprits. This time his discussion of Mars and the plethora of sites available on the internet is very timely, at least for me. GoogleMars is fun!
  • (novelette) Hormiga Canyon– Rudy Rucker & Bruce Sterling:
    What a fun romp! The cover story delivers with a tight tale that left me wanting a sequel. Giant ants, quantum string theory, an Indian motorcycle and a hypercube-like ultracluster computer made from ten thousand discarded cell phones! What more could anyone ask for? Oh, yeah. MORE. {nt7}
  • (short story) Dead Horse Point– Daryl Gregory:
    It is not often that a story surprises me they way this one did. I was caught up in the implications of the science and math when I should have been seeing the human equation. This is not a complaint. This is the way the story was told, and I enjoyed it immensely. {ss9}
  • (novelette) The Bridge– Kathleen Ann Goonan:
    It is sometimes difficult to describe a story without giving away too much of the story. This is one of those stories. The theme is tightly wound around the plot and main character. This makes for a very strong story about individuality in a world and society that had to dramatically change. I really enjoyed this story. It has a message that is told with a gentle hand. {nt8}
  • (publisher note) Report Unwanted Telemarketing Calls:
    Dell Magazines recognizes that telemarketing scams are a big enough problem that they use 2/3rds of a page to address the issue with their readership. Wow.
  • (short story) Teachers’ Lounge– Tim McDaniel
    I am not a fan of stories that are mostly dialog. It is a personal preference, nothing more. There are some interesting things that can be said about the spoken word, and this story says a few. To be honest, I don’t think the story would have worked in the traditional story format; it needed to be heavy on dialog. Despite my preferences, I found myself really enjoying this tale. {ss6}
  • (short story) Prodigal– Justin Stanchfield:
    This appropriately titled story is the second tale of Mr. Stanchfield’s that I have had the pleasure of reviewing (and reading). (See Review: All Possible Worlds V1 #1, Spring 2007.) I am going to be searching for more of his work. I really am impressed by the way he is able to create descriptions that paint the scene in my mind’s eye. I didn’t have to imagine what life at the top of a space needle looks like; I felt as if I could see it. But vivid descriptions are not the only strong points for this story. The characters and the story they have to tell feel real. Realism is something I really like to see in Science Fiction because it can bring with it stronger emotional ties to the characters because the reader can more easily empathize and sympathize with them. Stanchfield shows he belongs in the world of mainstream SF with this, his first story for Asimov’s. {ss8}
  • (short story) Thank You, Mr. Whiskers– Jack Skillingstead:
    Sometimes it is very difficult to stay objective. This is one of those times. We all bring our own experiences and baggage along for the ride with anything we do. This story unnerved me because my family has had more than its share of age-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s victims. About the only thing I can really say is that if this story were poorly written, then it would not have upset me the way it has. What is merely a cautionary tale, for me is the stuff of nightmares. I’ll finish by adding that I have enjoyed Jack Skillingstead’s work in the past, and look forward to his future work. {ss4}
  • (novelette) The Mists of Time– Tom Purdom:
    Time travel stories don’t always work with me. Failure of the author to understand paradoxes, or the author’s use of time travel as if it were a trip to the grocery store are my two biggest turn offs. Purdom explains his time travel method in a way that makes it as believable as, say, a well thought out method for faster than light space travel. The story has a much deeper theme than most time travel stories, and that makes this story a winner for me. Just a note about the author bio for Tom Purdom. His name is one I recognize and associate with solid science fiction. I did not know that he has been publishing stories for fifty years. I can’t fault the use of a large font for this particular bio. I am looking forward to reading Mr. Purdom’s stories for many years to come. {nt6}
  • (poetry) When the Radar Aliens Come– Greg Beatty:
    To be quite frank, I am not sure how to review poetry. Perhaps it will suffice to say that I really enjoyed this poem. I tend to like poems that have enough meat to them to provoke the thought, what if this had been a story instead? As for its artistic style or merit I am not qualified to comment. I just know that I enjoyed it. {p5}
  • (column) On Books– Peter Heck:
    You have Mr. Heck to thank for my attempts at reviews. In my opinion Mr. Heck doesn’t review books, he provides a synopsis, and thus spoils the story. In fairness I read the first book he reviewed for this month’s column; it is indeed a synopsis and for me the story is spoiled. I tend not to read this column when it is written by Paul Di Filippo or Norman Spinrad either, although I do sometimes read Mr. Spinrad’s opening paragraphs because he seems to always have a provocative axe to grind. I enjoy both of the latter two when they write fiction instead of reviewing it. Is it hypocritical to pan reviewers from within a review? You bet it is!! But I thought that if I wanted reviews that did not spoil the story, maybe there are others that feel the same way. I figured I should explain this at least once. I will likely continue to ignore this column and will not be including it in future reviews.

Overall this was an above average issue of Asimov’s. Each story kept my interest and the columns were excellent.

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