Asimov’s, April/May 2015
“The New Mother” by Eugene Fischer
Reviewed by Bob Blough
Eugene Fischer’s “The New Mother” is an exemplary form of the “What if…” scenario in science fiction. He posits a medical condition called Gamete Diploidy Syndrome that causes women’s eggs to become diploid. This means that each woman as she ovulates will become the mother to a clone of herself. No father is needed. The twist is that men are the carriers of the disease. It is a sexually transmitted condition that does not destroy or kill but creates female clones while men are no longer able to become fathers. Mr. Fischer explains the situation through a very well realized character named Tess. Tess is a reporter doing an article on GDS. She is also pregnant through artificial insemination from a sperm bank that may be compromised. We follow the political fallout of GDS, through the lens of Tess, her wife, Judy, and Candace, the first woman who made headlines over the GDS scare.
This is a particularly effective story with a SFnal idea embedded right in its beating heart. Each character is excellently rendered – some in but a few strokes – but all seem real and alive. I was – and still am – impressed.
“The Marriage of the Sea” by Liz Williams is a vignette set in a very interesting fantasy world. The main character must become the bride of the sea by drowning herself. The religious belief in this world is that the sea must be placated by this sacrifice. The bride believes that she will be welcomed into the embrace of the sea in her form as a Watermaiden. The fantastical setting is lushly pictured and there is a good sense of the spiritual that hovers over the situation. But the situation itself (while dire) has no resonance. So it failed to get my attention. It is a flavorful appetizer but I would hope Ms. Williams will use this as a basis for a much longer narrative.
Coming home from war is difficult for Rick in “The Sentry” by Frank Smith. He has returned home to rebellious children, flashbacks, and uncertain about his parenting skills. We see him trying to handle one such parental situation. The story is fine and filled with some honest moments but despite some SF trappings – the war he returned from was in on Tethys and he lives on Titan – it could just as easily be set after any war you care to name. In my opinion it would have been more powerful related as a contemporary story.
Joe N. McDermott offers up an interesting take on the future of medicine in “Paul and His Son.” In this future America drugs are not freely given out by doctors, so that real black market drugs are for medicinal purposes. Paul’s son cannot focus. Paul had the same problems in his childhood but the drug Adderall is no longer available except through criminal means. Still, he desperately wants to help his child. This story is a mere glimpse of this world but the desperate love of a father for his son is passionately described. In a headnote we are told that this is part of a novel. I would like to read that novel.
Weight-loss in the future is not what we expect it to be. At least according to “Willing Flesh” by Jay O’Connell. The weight-loss gimmick here is the use of a personality implant that wants to exercise with your body. You turn it on with a trigger phrase and an hour or so later you wake up exhausted but with no memory of your workout. Unfortunately for fat schlub Garrison the implant begins taking over his life. This is a light and breezy story about a suspicious weight-loss program that indeed backfires – in unexpected ways. Light and enjoyable.
Robert Reed’s, “What I Intend” concerns a multi-billionaire who desires to find alien civilizations using an untried method of astronomy and computer power. It is another twist on Fermi’s paradox and as that it works well but lightly decked out as fiction.
A journalist is given deeply implanted visual augmentation and sent to journal a war sometime in the near future. “How to Walk through a Graveyard in the Post-Digital Age” by Fran Wilde begins after that journalist has been sent home. The journalist’s brain becomes inextricably meshed with her augmentation due to a war trauma not clearly understood. Portions of her brain are fused to the augmentation. Due to this, she now has ghosts in her head of the trauma that she is not allowed to remember due to its classified nature. These ghosts actually turn into something a bit more than memory after she begins to see the ghost of Tallulah Bankhead in the graveyard near her small town. If this sounds like a bit of a farrago you are right. It is an interesting premise but needs much more expansion to make it all believable.
Michael Swanwick and Gregory Frost have a lot of fun with “Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters – H’ard and Andy Are Coming to Town.” This is a light-hearted romp about two slightly magical con-men who go to great lengths to prove that a dust giant is causing the drought in some alternate version of the American Dust Bowl during the 1930s. Unfortunately they wake up something much more real than the con they plan to pull. As a lagniappe, if you know your short fiction you can tell who these two men are by what they talk about. It’s a fun if innocuous ride.
The second novella in this double issue is the fourth in a series of stories that will eventually become a “fix-up” novel. Usually by this time in a series there is too much back-story. The reader can feel lost or info-dumped to death. Allen M. Steele, in “The Children of Gal” handles that problem with aplomb. Each story is told a generation or more ahead of the previous. So, this can be read without any knowledge of the other linked stories. It is a story that is common to SF – a lost colony with no communication from earth for 300 years. The colonists live on an island where they hid during a great storm that destroyed all their electronics. They have come to believe in a repressive religion based around a god called Gal. At the opening, Aara is declared a heretic and sent off to “Purgatory” on the mainland. Much of the tale follows her son Sanjay and his life on the island after his traitorous mother has been exiled. Eventually, through various situations he finds himself going to Purgatory as well. What he finds there is the meat of these kind of tales. How did this specific culture arise? Are the colonists still human? Mr. Steele is not a prose stylist here, nor does the story require such. He follows in the lines of Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke. But like those three, he is a fine storyteller. And the story here is a great ride. Again, I plan to read the full novel.
The situation of Tom Purdom’s “Day Job” is a future when the computer has taken over much of the psychiatric care in this country, with one psychiatrist able to handle hundreds of cases with the help of people who have three months training. After that training this becomes Rafe’s day job – being the face and spokesperson for Dr. Shinwalai. Rafe and his five co-workers write up reports on their clients. The doctor makes the decisions based on these reports. The story involves a man by the name of Len who may or may not have anger issues. It follows Rafe as he works with Len and Len’s relationship with his new girlfriend. Very cannily written. Can this new form of performing psychiatry work? It’s a fascinating subject quite well worked out.
“The Gun between the Veryush and the Cloud Mothers” by Anna Tambour does not work for me. The writing is opaque and confusing. I found myself bouncing off of it again and again. The story is a simple one – the rulers and workers and the inevitable rebellion. But the world building is murky at best. In the end I didn’t believe it. However, if you enjoy wildly inventive worlds this may be just your ticket.
Asimov’s once again proves that it is one of the premier purveyors of short science fiction. Anyone interested in the form should read it.
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