16 December 2009

Reading Asimov's Science Fiction (Dec. 2009), Part III

[Part I; Part II.]

4. Nick Wolven, "Angie's Errand" (pg. 44-54) ***
Read 16 Dec. 2009. A very strong story, from the craft of the words to the strength and complexity of the main character Angie to the plotting and resolution. This is the sort of quality writing I expect to find in a top market such as Asimov's. Wolven presents a distinct voice in the narrator and demonstrates an attentive ear for sound and rhythm: "The sheer waste of it made her stomach knot, but afterward her blonde hair fell in feathery masses that softened the severity of her starved cheeks" (45); "Vestiges of glass in the frames of townhouse windows glistened in the afternoon light like unshed tears" (50). There's crispness in the language, and poetry. Angie encourages the reader's sympathy: the older sister turned single mother to her sisters and brother after the "Crisis" (a deliberately vague recent apocalyptic event); she is at a point of crisis herself, believing she needs a man for help and support; she faces a nearly predictable danger because of this belief, and comes through changed with an inner conviction, "patience," and "confidence" (54) -- a change that develops plausibly, naturally from the story's incidents. Those incidents are measured carefully, generating and never quite fully releasing a tension that infuses everything in the story (characters, setting, events, words). On the cusp of giving in to the cliché consequences of a lone, vulnerable woman in a threatening world of lawless men, Wolven throws a couple of twists at the reader that bring relief but also pathos. This story treats gender roles and stereotypes in a more neutral, thoughtful way than Genge, as people revert to old, primal needs yet also find new sources of strength because of the "Crisis." A few moments of awkwardness set the story back a tad, though ("At the word spoil a sob rose in her throat. She swallowed it hastily, releasing Emily's collar" [44]).

5. Jim Aikin, "Leaving the Station" (pg. 56-65) ** 1/2
Read 16 Dec. 2009. A change of pace here, with a supernatural fantasy, in which Joan, now forty, assumes ownership of her uncle's antique shop and rediscovers that she can see ghosts. Perhaps predictably, she starts noticing odd changes in the store: some items get moved, some items appear in spots where they were not before, and the like. Formerly a train station, the antique store makes for a credible site to have and attract ghosts from the past -- a place of transition, of moving from and between one place to another. And Joan is at a point of transition in her life, divorced and laid off and needing to redefine herself. Perhaps predictably, she meets a new man and wants to sell the store; the latter doesn't happen for various reasons, until she decides to keep the store after the unpredictable climax. The key to the story is how Aikin handles the climax and dénouement, for Joan's character shifts into being more rounded and surprising than the reader has so far seen: "Out there, just beyond the doors, was an ocean of joy so deep she had never imagined such joy could exist, and she had tasted it, it had filled her, and now it was gone and the doors were sealed shut again" (64). There is catharsis here, for Joan and the reader; there is comfort, and an opening up of a yearning. Death as the "joy" of a journey on train to a new destination? I like this idea. It is tempting; it makes a kind of sense, if you have dealt with death.

6. Benjamin Crowell, "A Large Bucket, and Accidental Godlike Mastery of Spacetime"

7. Mike Resnick, "The Bride of Frankenstein"

8. Brian Stableford, "Some Like it Hot"

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