REVIEW: “Assassin in the Clouds” by Robert R. Chase

Review of Robert R. Chase, “Assassin in the Clouds”, Asimov’s Science Fiction January/February 2018: 112-128 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

Phil Fogg is working undercover as a travel writer and attempting to prevent the assassination of Dr Takashi Kamiji on a cruise ship – the Francesco Lana de Terzi – floating through the clouds on no set course except the will of the winds. Fogg must keep tabs on Kamiji, try to find the would-be assassin who is resorting to increasingly more volatile methods, and figure out why anyone would want to kill Kamiji in the first place.

This novelette has a good sequence of action events and the setting is unique while still holding a classic ‘whodunnit’, closed room (or, in this case, boat) scenario. We spend a lot of time with Fogg trying to work the case throughout the ship and it keeps the narrative humming along nicely between assassination attempts and fight scenes. The one problem I had with it was that Fogg was almost too competent and I felt this weakened the threats to Kamiji’s safety.

 

REVIEW: “Solicited Discordance” by Matthew Hughes

Review of Matthew Hughes, “Solicited Discordance”, Asimov’s Science Fiction January/February (2018): 95- 110 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

Detective Erm Kaslo has been hired to find and bring back rich heir Delabond Shekhar, suspected of being seduced into a common scam to hunt for treasure on Bessarene – a continent on which nano and native organisms have been left to fuse and evolve into a dangerous wilderness. To make matters more interesting Delabond’s potential seducer practices ‘solicited discordance’ – an approach to living which challenges physical and intellectual comforts. However, as Kaslo follows the pair to Bessarene, he discovers that there is more going on than he initially suspected.

A neat space opera adventure story. The plot and world were interesting and the action sequences at the climax were fun. However, the narrative had a lot of dense paragraphs of description, historical context, and a lengthy section speculating on what was happening off-screen which I found slowed the pace.

The idea of solicited discordance is an interesting one – someone deliberately devoting their life to experiencing discomfort and difficulties. However, as the character in question wasn’t our perspective character, it was a bit more peripheral to the story than the title suggests.

 

REVIEW: “The Lost City of Leng” by Rudy Rucker and Paul Di Filippo

Review of Rudy Rucker and Paul Di Filippo, “The Lost City of Leng”, Asimov’s Science Fiction January/February (2018): 33-65 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

An adventurous sequel to At the Mountains of Madness. A journalist joins an eccentric group on an expedition to Antarctica to help the “cukes” face off against Shoggoths in exchange for loot and scientific knowledge.

I’m going to state this upfront – I didn’t particularly like this novella. I enjoy new Lovecraftian work, especially set in Antarctica and one thing Rucker and Di Filippo did really well in this piece was to capture the “Good ol’ boys” adventure tone. The crew and mission were fun, the description of the subterranean lake was evocative, and the Elder Gods’ activities and motivations were appropriately fascinating and unknowable to the protagonists.

However, I found the story problematic in some ways, particularly Vivi’s characterisation and Doug’s incessant sexualisation of her. I also had some problems with Doug’s motivations, the pacing through the middle, and the subplot introduced somewhat suddenly towards the end.

There may have been more mileage for people more well-versed in Lovecraft than me – there were lots of references, shout outs and tie-ins here. I’m also wondering if there was satire or humour that just didn’t come across for me in this piece.

Overall, this piece didn’t really resonate with me and I found this a bit lacking compared to some of the more progressive and innovative contemporary Lovecraft-inspired work.

 

REVIEW: “Sea of Dreams” by Cixin Liu

Review of Cixin Liu (Translated by John Chu), “Sea of Dreams”, Asimov’s Science Fiction January/February (2018): 75-93 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

This is a beautiful, strange story.

An alien being interrupts an ice and snow art exhibition and wants to create its own work on earth, using the earth’s seas as its medium. Yan Dong, the artist whose work the alien liked most out of the exhibition, strikes up a connection with the alien which changes as the alien’s artistic vision is realised and the earth has to live with the aftermath of its creation.

This is really a story about art and the place art has in a society. Through conversations between the alien and Yan Dong, Cixin Liu considers whether art is the most important thing for a society to be doing, whether society exists solely for the purposes of allowing art to be created, and whether sometimes there are more important things than art.

The alien’s artwork and the challenges it poses for the earth are original and compelling. This novelette covers a lot of ground in the short amount of words it’s working with – space travel, planet-wide experiences, and events that take place over decades. I liked Yan Dong as an emotional voice for humanity, too – his reactions and decisions felt satisfying and correct and happened in the right way at the right times. The science elements of the story are smart, too, and support the fictional story rather than driving it.

There’s a lot to think about here and it’s wonderfully told with images I’m certain will stick with me.

REVIEW: “The Rescue of the Renegat” by Kristine Katherine Rusch

Review of Kristine Katherine Rusch, “The Rescue of the Renegat”, Asimov’s Science Fiction January/February (2018): 154-192 — Read Excerpt Online or Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

This was a fun read and a highlight for me this issue. I read it in one sitting because I didn’t want to put it down. It’s like a solid episode of a sci-fi TV show you didn’t know you wanted to be watching.

The crew of the Aizsargs are in charge of closing off a Sector Base no longer in use by the Fleet – a giant flotilla of ships traversing space together (“always forward”). The Fleet takes 500 years to pass over any given point from start to finish, so they often occupy or associate with bases for a long time before shutting them down. Mid-closure, however, a strange ship – the Renegat – appears out of foldspace in distress. It looks to be over a hundred years old with questionable signs of life on board and the crew of the Aizsargs sets up a rescue mission, despite not knowing where or when the Renegat came from, who’s on board, or even how to conduct the rescue mission on a ship that old.

This novella is set in Rusch’s established Diving Universe, but even for someone not familiar with it Rusch sets up a world that feels full and established despite the short word length.

Despite the simple premise of the story, the pacing is fast and Rusch manages to give it a lot of character and emotional depth. There were multiple perspective characters throughout and each one, despite some of them only getting two or so scenes, had an arc and a place in the story. The cast felt full, with histories and futures that extended beyond the edges of the story told here. Fantastic stuff.

REVIEW: “I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land” by Connie Willis

Review of Connie Willis, “I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land”, Asimov’s Science Fiction November/December (2017): 168-197 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

I have to find Ozymandias’s first. It’s here someplace, on one of these endless, look-alike streets. It has to be.
Because otherwise all those endless shelves of books – all those histories and plays and adventures and sentimental novels and textbooks and teen star biographies are gone. And whatever fascinating or affecting or profound things were in them are as lost to us as that vanished kingdom of Ozymandias’s. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair indeed.

Jim is on a book publicity tour, based on his successful blog “Gone for Good” where he advocates for an end to nostalgia for things that no longer have a use disappearing: VHS tapes, payphones, telegrams. In Jim’s view, things being surpassed by better things and therefore being lost is part of the natural order of things. That is, until he stumbles into Ozymandius Books. Describing beyond this point would be giving away what makes this story special. This is a classic story of a protagonist falling into a strange world and then returning, not the same as they were when they started. Describing that world is the story and it’s done wonderfully here.

This novella was probably my favourite story this issue. It’s a lovely read for its own sake, but I enjoyed pausing while I read this to think about the questions it was raising: about the inherent value of books, whether updated knowledge invalidates the usefulness of the previous, and whether a book or a story loses its value when society moves away from it. At it’s core though, I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land asks two questions: Where does the last copy go? And does anyone care about it?

This story is necessarily a bit literary in tone and theme – being a meta-consideration of books and literature and their importance – but Willis’ narrative pacing and descriptions of Ozymandius were great and kept it from becoming too navel-gazey.

REVIEW: “The Nanny Bubble” by Norman Spinrad

Review of Norman Spinrad, “The Nanny Bubble”, Asimov’s Science Fiction November/December (2017): 160-166 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

Aunty Nanny knows when you are creeping

She knows when you’re a snake

She’ll keep you in her Bubble

Never gonna let you escape

Ted – who does not like being called Teddy – loves playing baseball and he’s pretty good at it. Or so he thinks. See, he’s only ever played structured Little League games in real time – everything else is simulations. He lives in a Nanny Bubble – a complete smartphone, 3D audio and Heads-Up Glasses system that monitors where he is and keeps him confined to a four-block radius. This doesn’t seem like such a constraint to Ted – he can go wherever he wants in virtual reality, unlike the poor kids. Except one day, when he accidentally ends up on the wrong side of the park he sees the poor kids playing a type of baseball he’s never seen before, played in real time. Ted sees an opportunity to test out whether he’s really good at baseball, if he could ever really think about playing the Major Leagues, and hatches a plan to find out.

This is a pretty simple story speculating on one idea – what if kids were so monitored that they couldn’t wander off, meet other kids, stay out close to dusk and make their own fun? Does that experience still have value in a technology-driven world? And if we don’t watch our kids every second of the day, what’s the worst that could happen?

I enjoyed this one. It’s got a nice nostalgia to it, despite the 20 minutes into the future setting. Spinrad really manages to capture that ‘late-summer hanging out at the park with your friends’ atmosphere. There’s also some nice food for thought about independence and the importance of being given room to figure things out for yourself. The parental villains fell a bit flat for me, but that element didn’t overly get in the way of a light, fun read.