The Last Judgment, James Patrick Kelly
The setting of this story is perhaps the first thing to catch the attention: all the men are dead. They've been eliminated by an alien species of bird which found the men to be simply too violent. Eliminating men essentially stopped all the wars and murders, as was hoped. But, naturally, such a change in demographics, not to mention population, caused a serious disruption to the remaining inhabitants.
Subsequently, all romantic relationships are now lesbian. Robots have taken over the roles which men usually dominated and which women have been quite content to leave to the men. For example, garbage collection, construction, etc. Also, the tasks usually allotted to women that women did not appreciate, have been picked up by the robots: cleaning the house, dishes, though cooking still seems to be a human task. Thus, the surviving trades are picked up by the surviving women. Despite the help of the bots, the economy is weak. The protagonist uses a bicycle to get from point-A to point-B. Certain vegetables, like asparagus, are so expensive that even for a family of a doctor and a private investigator, it's a rare treat.
The protagonist sounds like a butch dyke. Well, I say that but really she sounds like a man. Maybe that's because it was written by a man. Rather than try to disguise that fact, he goes the other way by inserting a macho voice into the inner and outer dialogue of Fay Hardaway.
What gets things started is that a painting has gone missing. One of the most politically powerful grannies has had a Bosch go missing. She believes her granddaughter has stolen it, and she's tasked Hardaway with finding it and her daughter. Before she finds the painting, she finds a dead body. Then it's revealed that the painting may have been stolen to raise the money needed to change the gender of one woman into a man. This belief is uncovered as untrue. The Bosch may have been stolen by one of the robots. Apparently the picture of the devil was painted over another picture of a devil (does that make sense?) which looks like the devils that fly about the earth and caused the near extinction of the male.
The devils, it's suggested, may regret having caused the extinction of the males. Perhaps it's caused more harm than they'd expected or wanted. However, nothing is ever conclusively uncovered.
The voice of this story was fun, even if it was more macho man rather than macho dyke. I can't help but wonder how extreme feminists would have reinvented the characters in Kelly's novella. I would think it would have been more utopia than dystopia. An end to the wars? It's only been forty years that the women have had a chance at getting used to the change in the world. There's an optimistic uptick towards the end as well that, once all the memories of the missing men had died with all the grannies that the new generations wouldn't be depressed over something that they didn't feel was missing.
Living in the Eighties, David Ira Cleary
This is another time travel story. I've never been a big fan of them. They never quite seem to work all that well. Well, this one has a funny quirk whereby the effect of time travel is achieved through a website and music.
I seem to remember reading a story like this: Boy meets girl. Boy loves girl. Girl dies. Boy finds time machine. Boy uses time machine to rescue girl from her untimely death. The twist to this is that the older man this boy becomes to use the time machine as a vehicle to rescue her causes her death before the relationship has the chance to mature to the point where he will do anything and everything he can to save her. In effect, the significance of her life fades away from him as the memories he had of her disappear from the elderly version of him never had the youth spent with her.
I guess I find this to be a bit of an overused plot line. And, as I said before, I'm not the biggest fan of time travel stories.
Something Real, Rick Wilber
Adolf Hitler in Yugoslavia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Another time-travel story, but this time told from the perspective of a man who is used by a woman to achieve a preferable outcome in history. In this we are revisited with the epic struggle between Nazi Germany, America and England. The number one issue here is the big bomb. This is the one which the US used on Japan. But in this timeline, Einstein has been killed. He is not able to assist the Americans get to it first, and instead, the Germans are going to get there first. That is if the protagonist, Moe Berg, cannot find a way to kill the lead Nazi scientist on the project.
A girl travels back in time several times in order to alter history to make sure that he kills the scientist in several different realities. He's the only man who can do it consistently throughout all of the variables.
There are some funny inconsistencies with history throughout this piece that I believe are standard run-of-the-mill revisionist American pseudo history that is common amongst the political right wing and righter wing which make up the Democrats and Republicans respectively. For instance, the stance that the US and England declared war against Germany on the same day is not correct. It took Japan's invitation to the war for the US to get involved. England went to war in 1939 while the US involved itself in 1941. It's pseudo history where American involvement signifies the start of the war.
It's also pseudo history to write that it required the atom bomb by the US to stop the war in Europe. Germany had fallen on its knees in supplication to the superior forces of the allied nations while Japan was desperately trying to keep the US off of the Japanese homeland that the atomic bomb was deployed. It had nothing to do with Germany's surrender.
I suppose the fact that the story follows in third person limited along with the baseball player/super intellect who doesn't travel the time line on his on volition somewhat makes this story unique. But not enough to make up for the author's lack of historical or political knowledge. In this case, it was a simple case of American narcissistic literary trash.
Bonding with Morry, Tom Purdom
These next two stories involved robotic nurses. This first one revolves around the character of Morry. He's an elderly man who had made it through the 70s with computer card programs and the like as a programmer. He's at the end of his life, and he's got a robotic assistant who is helping him.
It is many things to him: a nurse, a companion, and to an extent, a friend. Even though he calls him a toaster on several occasions, it is clear that he prefers his company to that of the human variety. However, as time progresses, the superficial aspects of the robot end up offending people. They want the robot to have a pleasing appearance and arms, and even a name, rather than the mechanical name of clank, like that of the sound of metal striking metal. It is deemed dehumanizing and inhumane for the robot. Gaining anthropomorphic attributes, humans wanted and demanded that these robots be given human rights. This is despite the fact that the robot does not care or even understand.
Morry, himself, is more concerned with what is under the surface. He often says that no matter what one does to change the appearance of the robot, inside it's still the same thing. Towards the end of Morry's life, where Purdom writes, "He (Morry) didn't have to raise his voice. Clark could adjust his hearing. Clark had routines that could enhance garbled words." It reminded me of Terminator II where the cyborg is being praised for its excellent attributes as a father:
The terminator, would never stop. It would never leave him, and it would never hurt him, never shout at him, or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there.Essentially, that's what Clank (later renamed to Clark after being pressured by pro-roborights lawyers looking for a fight) is to Morry. He does everything, 24h a day, to make the best of Morry's remaining days in a way that no human nurse could.
But, does Clank/Clark have feelings? That's a little up in the air. When Morry is about to die, he says to Clark:
"Tell the programmers... and the... engineers... they did a great job. All of them. Everywhere. All my life."Clearly Morry knows that his life was enhanced by the companionship and help of the tireless nurse. But Clark's reaction is a little open for interpretation:
Clark's face froze. Morry stared at him through a haze that seemed to be darkening by the second. The smile that ended the freeze was a thin Clark smile, but he could still see it through the fog.Now, why is his face frozen? It's the first time his face freezes, and the smile itself is 'thin,' suggesting a forced smile that is not genuine. Is the author suggesting an emotional reaction? And then finally:
"They said to tell you thank you. They appreciate the thought."Was his face frozen because he was contacting the programmers, or was he reacting in a way that would not cause any stress to his client/friend/master(?). That is to say, a few moments would not be time enough for a human to get that kind of input and then issue a response. Or, perhaps it was more like the query of a database followed by a standard reply. But, the thin lipped smile makes me lean towards the idea that the author was hinting at the robot having human feelings. In a way, being hurt by still being thought of as nothing more than an impersonal toaster.
I enjoyed this story. It had a lot of political commentaries on the nature of humanity and politics without a clear sense from the author of what we're supposed to think. That's actually the way I prefer it, so I mean that as a compliment to the author.
Sexy Robot Mom, Sandra McDonald
This was the second robot story. I also enjoyed it. It made me think of the Surrogate Womb, which is a Korean story about a young girl who is impregnated by a noble whose wife cannot bear a child. When she has to give up the child to the nobles, it depresses her and she kills herself. The sexy robot mom is a surrogate mother. Donors give their egg and sperm to the robot, it is planted in its womb, and the result is a baby. The robot, unlike the movie version, has no feelings about losing the baby. But she is programmed. Then, the unexpected happens.
Rather than global warming, there came instead a sudden global cooling. I can't picture things happening in quite the way they were written: snow permanently on the ground, like a new Ice Age. However, during an Ice Age where snow permanently hits the ground, ice builds up: snow compacts, new layers are added, and it grows. Glaciers also grow and eat up countryside. That aside...
Despite fifty years of housing the same fetus, it's still alive and can be borne. This we find out after she/it is dug out by a gender conflicted person (top half female, bottom half male) who happens to be her grandchild. The robot disagrees and says that she merely housed her. Despite being told that the clients whom she served were likely dead and gone, she cannot alter her course. She has an override code, but no one knows that code since all those people are dead.
She's also like a terminator: programmed to fight, doesn't have a problem with 'cannibalism' in order to maintain nutritional requirements to enable the child to grow within its 'womb.' However, we are only shown its thoughts, not the action of it.
I thought this was an interesting twist on the robot as a parent/caregiver. It had the same coldness as the previous story by Tom Purdom, but without the lingering, unanswerable question at the end. It's clear she has no feelings, only confusions caused by circumstances for which she was not programmed and adherence to the mandate set before her, despite the fact that she cannot meet them.
Sensitive, Compartmented, Gray Rinehart
In this story, the psychic abilities to read people's thoughts and feelings can be implanted by a doctor. I think the premise is somewhat funny. How would a machine be able to give someone the ability to read people's feelings, but not be able to feed the same data to a computer to be read by a dispassionate audience. What's more, the doc forgot to include an on-off switch. That means that she's got to be placed inside of cages which absorb the high numbers of personnel who would otherwise overwhelm her mind. Well, a part of enjoying a story is to accept the illogical to an extent. I don't know if these problems I've listed caused me to not enjoy this story, or if I brought them up because I didn't enjoy this story.
In any case, this is the story of a girl, Holly, who has the implant who is sent on a special spy mission. Her plane has a problem, and she has to eject. The Soviets manage to pick her up before the Americans can. On board their ship, she meets a man who has had the implants since he was a boy, and is better able to focus his abilities. He goes so far as to 'rape' her by forcing his mind into hers and basically undressing her, or stripping away the facade that is our external or 'public' selves.
She manages to break free from her prison, and at the height of the action, kills the man who had raped her. The crew onboard the ship did little to stop her. Perhaps they had grown weary or fearful of their medically enabled psychic and wanted him dead as much as she did. Having killed him, they gladly hand her over to her own government.
As I said before, this story is kind of funky on a logical level that I wasn't able to endure well.
Souvenirs, Ian Creasey
On another planet, far far away, in a period of time, far far from now, a lowly trinket seller sells an item to a passerby. The passerby gives her a counterfeit bill--a big one. As a result, she hunts down the criminal (it's a small port with a very small number of transients passing through), so there's not too much she needs to do to track down the criminals. The port authorities fine the merchants whose sailors had broken the law and she gets a cut.
There's not too much to the plot. I think it suffers from being a little too short. I enjoyed the setting he created, as well as the character, but I think he stopped too soon and the result came too easily. I liked the idea of synthetically manufactured meat (like artificial flavouring, the cell from an animal is multiplied until it forms a steak for consumption).
Greener, Josh Roseman
This is one of those stories that makes me shake my head. There's very little sci-fi here. It's just about a man who marries a woman on contract. When that contract expires, he doesn't renew and wants to enjoy the single life. Finding that life not nearly as great as he'd remembered, he goes crawling back to his love interest. The only thing that was science fiction was the fact that they had a gadget that could scan a person to see if they were infected with a virus or disease. That would be a nifty item. The other thing was the moving sidewalks elevated above the ground. But, these are not the main compelling parts of the story. It's just this kind of lame drama.
Riding Red Ted and Breathing Fire, Carol Emshwiller
This lady, the author I mean, is 90 years old with a respectable career behind her. She's still churning out stories. That's got to be worth something right there--worth a lot of respect to say the least. I hope I'm so energetic when I hit her age, not to mention with a few awards in my ancient history (and recent, too).
Well, this is the story of a man who is going to a village to collect a volunteer. He calls it the tithe. He rides a dragon to bring back with him a woman whom, I believe, is set to be a sacrifice. The sacrifices don't need to come often. He mentions that once his dragon has eaten, it is fine for nutrition for a few months. This might work for the crocodile who mostly sleeps with his little brain and electrical system always on the alert for an opportunity, gets his energy from the sun to warm his body, etc., but it's not logical for an animal that flies. Animals that fly can consume their own weight in food daily just to have enough energy to fly. They also have small brains which require few calories.
OK, that gripe aside, the warrior who enters the village is met by the sacrifice. But, she is too old for him. He expects a young and beautiful sacrifice. He decides to raid the village to find a more suitable candidate. While doing so, he thinks he's allowing himself to be overpowered and captured. However, I'm a little skeptical. There is this idea that maybe he, a mighty and manly macho warrior, just isn't comfortable with the idea that he is overcome by and mastered by women.
The women like him, though. And though they had set him up to be a sacrifice himself, his dragon actually cares for him as he cares for her. As a result, she does not eat him (of course, maybe she's just not that hungry, as he mentions earlier). They also decide to adopt him as one of their own, and he keeps subsequent tithes from being extracted or even attempted.
This was a fantasy tale, which is something I don't really like about Asimov's magazine. I expect it to be a sci-fi magazine, not a blend of the two. There is an article later on that debates that sci-fi and fantasy are mostly married to each other, but I don't agree with his analysis. I'll get into that later when I talk about his or her essay.
On Books, Norman Spinrad
Normally I don't comment on what appears in 'On Books." However, in this case, I feel that I want to caramelize my thoughts concerning the mixture of fantasy into science fiction. I do that by writing this reading journal. Following a listing of some rather expensive books, he gets into an essay on fantasy and science fiction.
He writes about an old argument over "whether or not 'science fiction' and 'fantasy' were really aspects of the same thing, or whether lumping them together as 'SF' was actually a shotgun marriage for the marketing convenience of the publishers holding the said marketing weapons." I think straight off I can say that it is not unusual for readers who enjoy science fiction might also enjoy fantasy, or vice versa. Both genres require the ability to imagine what does not really exist: not yet, or maybe never. But, in the case of science fiction, it can often be a matter of 'not yet' vs fantasy 'not ever.' Also, it might be said that the author of some fantastical fantasy story might also have an imagination for a fantastical science fiction. However, I think that this is short sighted.
The canon of vocabulary for science fiction comes from a distinctly different canon of literature than fantasy. Fantasy has an old and direct lineage: it is a child of the myth, the legend, the religion (in the mythical sense), and the fairy tale (I'm sure I'm missing a canon somewhere, but my drift ought to make sense). Where does science fiction come from? Well, I would say it comes from the advance and speculation of science, which in itself has some aspects of religion but distinguishes itself by aiding in the technological advancement of first world, second world, and hopefully, one day, third world nations.
One notion that Spinrad brings up is the idea that the idea of faster-than-light travel is impossible, and therefore if a story incorporates that type of idea into the story, then that is an aspect of fantasy because it's not science. Well, that's what I call the science of myth, or the mythical or religious side of science. Because we cannot see what moves faster than light, it does not exist. It's as if what we cannot see is a clue as to it not existing at all. But, speaking in terms of relativity, we already know that a wavelength changes in intensity with the relative speed of a given object. If an object is travelling at the speed of light relative to you, then the light will only reach you as it passes you, and only for an infinitesimal period of time (like that of the length of a single photon), and as it moves away at that same speed, the wave would be so weakened as to make it entirely invisible. This is all assuming that the travelling object is all that visible. A black rocket would not reflect light at all in any event. The whole notion that we know enough about the universe to discount the possibility of it existing, to me, is a fool's superstition, and a popular one held by many modern physicists.
With that said,
Spinrad interprets the definition of science fiction as literature that speculates within the bounds of the known laws of mass and energy, the reality in which the readers find themselves, and fantasy is the literature that lives outside the boundaries of the scientifically possible...But, consider that science is only an interpretation of the known universe, and that the actual properties of the universe, we're relatively ignorant of. Consider that Lord Kelvin said, "Heavier than air flying machines are impossible." So, being one of the greatest minds of his time, this was science. How foolish that idea seems to us now! Many ideas were postulated by scientists that have later been proved incorrect. So, for an author to assume that one day science will find a way to make the impossible possible does not mean he is speculating about fantasy rather than science fiction. The 'known laws of mass and energy' are moving goal posts. That's not about to change any time soon.
I'm not about to write that fantasy and science fiction cannot mix. Of course they may. But my point is that fiction, science fiction, which challenges or ignores the scientific myths or laws of today may be speculative and hard science fiction rather than what the author purports. In my estimation, pointing again at faster-than-light theory, believing this idea might make us feel safer from invasions and put ourselves on the pedestal that only narrow minds and ignorance allows us to.
|Méliès, viaggio nella luna (1902) 12 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
One funny thing that the author of this article came out with is the idea that China Miéville is a 'much better and more subtle literary artist than Lovecraft.' That, of course, is an idiotic statement. Also, what point is there that he's trying to make about the definition or mapping of the genre of science fiction and its sub-genres? How about saving such smelly opinions for an essay comparing a legendary author to a moderately successful modern author? I find unlikely that China would have made such a moronic observation. Quite frankly, where the previous arguments he made were arguable, his opinion on this matter seriously undermines his credibility.
In any case, I was less interested in his analysis of the books he reviewed than in the outline and definition of science fiction.
I cannot complain about the value of this particular volume of the magazine. It was a short novel. Most of the stories were real science fiction. Some were fantasy. I do wish they'd stick to sci-fi and leave fantasy to fantasy magazines.
You know, what would be more interesting than these ads for the books that they're pushing is an analysis of the stories which are printed in Asimov's Science Fiction. That way, the reviewer can put in his or her thoughts in the fiction and the meaning of the fiction in the stories we have at hand.