20 December 2009

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

[Part IPart IIPart III; Part IV]

7. Mike Resnick, "The Bride of Frankenstein" (pg. 80-87) ***
Read 20 Dec. 2009. I think of this kind of story as a stunt. Not an experiment, but a stunt: like trying to see if you can jump through a burning ring of fire on a motorcycle while, maybe, juggling chainsaws. Mind you, the story is not that absurd, but it's a stunt nonetheless -- one that I enjoyed a great deal, particularly for its cheeky re-imagining of Mary Shelley's characters in a mostly-tidy domestic arrangement, with the creature as a dedicated pacifist who devours tragic romances such as Anna Karenina and Romeo and Juliet. The wife is our narrator, through entries in her journal, and we learn about her daily frustration with the loneliness and strangeness of her domestic life, not to mention her open distaste for Igor, the hunchbacked servant, and her manifest discomfort with the creature. One key is Resnick's revision of the creature: "'I don't kill things. . . . I have been dead, Baroness . . .. It is not an experience I would wish upon anyone or anything else'" (83); "'Therefore, we must be here for a higher purpose -- and what higher purpose can there be than love?'" (86). The other key is the tone of the narrative, which remains steadfastly light, in the sort of knowing, wink-wink, self-conscious lightness that understands the story is playing around with very familiar expectations while ending up basically at the same place as the original, yet shifting the register of the original (i.e., the creature's demand that Victor make him a mate) from tragedy to romance. I like Resnick's inventiveness, perhaps especially because I am so familiar with Mary Shelley's novel: (re)telling the story from the Baroness' point of view nicely resets our impressions of the dynamics between the characters. Yet I can't shake the feeling that the story's a stunt, that it might have done more with a "what if?" revision of that novel's story.

8. Brian Stableford, "Some Like It Hot" (pg. 88-106) ***
Read 20 Dec. 2009. In the subgenre of post-apocalyptic, environmental dystopias, this story presents a potentially controversial ideological response to the threat and consequences of global warming: instead of trying either to maintain Earth as it is or to return it to some ideal ecological state, why not help the world keep warming up, because who really likes the cold and what of all the new economic opportunities that might result? Stableford metes out this perspective carefully as we learn and see more of Gerda Rosenhane's life, decisions, beliefs, motivations, and actions -- such that she disturbingly makes sense, to a point. Her foil is her childhood best friend and infatuation, Kelemen Kiss, who becomes the political head of what is known as the Gaia movement, working to contain and perhaps reverse the effects of the "Carbon Crisis" (89), which has resulted in an ecologically unstable and rapidly changing Earth. As Kelemen, or Kay, builds a life in politics, Gerda builds a life in science as a biologist and genetic engineer, carefully managing Kay's investment in new biotechnology such that, in the end, he helps forward her agenda. Stableford imagines a very plausible world post-environmental collapse, politically and ecologically and economically and culturally. The ideologies of Kay and Gerda form the central conflict, and Stableford smartly makes Gerda the story's focalizer. Her ideas would be radical even today, I suspect, and so identifying and sympathizing with her becomes a somewhat uncomfortable exercise (particularly because Kay not just fails to see her romantically, but proves unable to see anyone but himself as right and in charge). For example, she says to Kay at one point, "'The point, beloved, . . . is not to worship Gaia more devoutly, but to cast her idol down. She has held the world in icy thrall too long. Now that spring is here, the task at hand for humankind is . . . to make proper preparations for glorious summer. And whether you win or not, and however large your majority might be, you're backing the wrong horse'" (93). Gerda proves right, in the very long run, but such sentiments are difficult and discomfiting to hear. This story does what good SF is capable of doing: examining problematic possibilities, ideas, evolutions, opinions. Perhaps it is cynical, in the end -- a tragedy of the supposedly wrong side "winning"; it definitely is not satire or irony. Yet the narrative loses steam in a few spots, specifically stretches of exposition that seem too satisfied detailing Gerda's scientific rationale(s) for her anti-Gaia position. The narrative also loses the crispness and intrigue of the opening several paragraphs, which are recaptured only in spurts as the story progresses: a drawback in a story that offers few moments of concrete action.

Final Thoughts
• Overall, I would say that the Dec. 2009 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction rates as a fairly good collection of short fiction, but lacking at least one story of real, surprising brilliance and execution. The best story is Crowell's; the weakest story is Genge's.

• Surprisingly for me, as posted on SF Signal earlier this week, two upcoming Best of 2009 anthologies include Genge's story: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Vol., 4, edited by Jonathan Strahan; and, The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2010 Edition, edited by Rich Horton. (Go here and here, for the tables of contents.) I wonder why?

• Where the lesser stories come up short and the better stories succeed lies with tone and voice primarily. When inconsistent, they produce awkward hiccups in the style and the mood; when consistent, they hold the reader's interest, they reinforce the plausibility and (for lack of a better word) validity of the story's world, characters, and incidents. Crowell and Wolven do this best, making their pieces good models to follow.

• I'm not sure yet if I have a full and clear idea of what gets a story accepted at Asimov's. There must be a whole range of reasons. From the evidence of the Dec. 2009 stories, I would say inventive ideas are certainly important, for each story does at a minimum offer and explore an intriguing premise. Also, none of the stories is bad or awful, but some are definitely executed better as a whole than others, which suggests that in a top market such as Asimov's we can really see what separates simply good stories from truly excellent stories.

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