fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe September 2011 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction is a mixed bag, with a couple of amazing stories and a few not so amazing. One of the former is “The Observation Post,” by Allen M. Steele. A recurring motif in science fiction is visitors from the future watching hot points in history, and for this story that hot point is the Cuban Missile Crisis. The story begins with a voyage in a blimp that seems fictional, like something out of a steampunk story, until one realizes that the Navy really did use a few blimps until November 1962, one month after this story takes place. Placed up against this reality that feels fictional, Steele puts something fictional that feels real: observers watching how events play out in alternative universes, and pinpointing precisely what action causes what reaction.

“The Odor of Sanctity,” by Ian Creasey, posits the existence of a device called the Olvac, which can record and disperse scents. The dispersal doesn’t make the device sound much different from a Glade air freshener, but a recorder of scents is something new. Creasey doesn’t make as much of the evocative nature of scent as he might, but then, that’s not what he’s after here. His story is more about the intersection of religion and money, commerce and charity, and how doing the right thing can sometimes mean doing the wrong thing as well. It’s an interesting commentary that made me think about Mother Teresa and the controversy about whether she was a shrewd manipulator and even blackmailer of businesses, or a saintly figure who merely pushed business leaders to be their better selves. This story gives the reader a lot more to think about than a new invention.

An espionage story by Alan Wall, “Burning Bibles,” plays on fears of Islamist violence combined with our continuing fascination with extra — well, here, intrasensory perception, but really, they amount to the same thing. In a world like ours, where everything that goes wrong is chalked up to terrorism, it’s sometimes the quotidian that goes unnoticed.

I liked “Grandma Said,” R. Neube’s story about a teenage delinquent on a planet that’s not Earth in a future that seems distant, though the human condition seems much like today’s. The law includes a Delinquency Act that requires teenagers to work for three hours a day to keep them out of trouble — and that’s on top of school. The first-person narrator of this tale has chosen to work with the Plague House, fighting the highly contagious cholly plague, much to his mother’s dismay (which seems to be one of the very reasons he chose that type of work — again, much like teenagers everywhere, in every time). His adventures with the plague, other depressed teenagers, and a helicopter parent oddly combine to make for a story that will have you chuckling, just as prescribed by Grandma.

Robert Reed’s “Stalker” is a chilling story about robotic support for a budding serial killer. It’s a nice example of how to use the second person voice to make a story dark enough to linger in the reader’s imagination at midnight. I thought this an excellent combination of a thriller with a science fictional concept.

“Shadow Angel” is confusing and chaotic, but its author, Erick Melton, seems to want it that way to convey the experience of piloting through space-time. I found the story difficult to follow even after several readings. One cannot tell the dive-dream from the hallucination from the actual experience of piloting (“diving”), much less past from present from future. I suspect Melton’s forthcoming novel set in this universe will not be for me.

Carol Emshwiller’s “Danilo” is a sad, strange story of two women looking for men to love. They are not women from our world, though they seem much like us in many ways. They seem to be poor, at best one step above homeless; perhaps that is why they dream of finding happiness. One woman pretends she has, that a man is coming for her in the spring, and she sets out to meet him. Another woman follows her, ostensibly to protect her from herself, but ultimately, it seems, because she, too, wants the happiness the other woman has found in her dream. It is a sad story about loneliness, poverty and the strength of hope.

This issue also contains plenty of poetry. Two of the six poems are quite fine. Bruce Boston’s “The Music of Robots” has some lovely imagery — a strange word to describe writing about sound, but still apt.  The final two stanzas will stay with me like a tune. “Stone Roach,” by Fiona Moore, is a sturdy tribute to a species that will probably outlive the human race.

Finally, Robert Silverberg’s customary “Reflections” column describes a bit of Japanese history that was entirely new to me, about a method of government in place for a time that seems mostly unique. Oddly enough, though, Silverberg used a very similar design in his Majipoor books, without knowing the history. Paul di Filippo contributes an informative review column about publishers who are working to preserve the heritage of science fiction and fantasy, looking at books that are unlikely to be reviewed in any depth elsewhere. If this column introduces even a handful of new readers to Theodore Sturgeon, it will have done its job; he is one of the finest short story writers ever to work in the genre.

Asimov’s is available in traditional paper, as well as in just about any downloadable format you might require, be it as a download to your desktop, laptop, tablet or telephone; or for Kindle, Nook or Sony eReader.


  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.