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Asimov's Science Fiction December 2011 - Vol. 35 Nos. 12 - (Whole Numbers 431)
Edited by Sheila Williams
Cover Artist: Duncan Long
Review by Sam Tomaino
Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine  ISBN/ITEM#: 1065-2698
Date: 24 October 2011

Links: Asimov's Science Fiction / Pub Info / Table of Contents /

The December 2011 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction has stories by Connie Willis, Suzanne Palmer, Pamela Sargent, Steve Rasnic Tem, Tim McDaniel, Ken Liu, and Ferrett Steinmetz along with the usual columns.

Asimov's Science Fiction's December 2011 issue is an excellent one with two Hugo-worthy stories.

The issue begins with "Surf" by Suzanne Palmer. Bari is part of a scientific project to study a group of aliens called the Rooan. The other scientists are openly hostile to her but that is not important. She has her own mission and they are unimportant. In a story that seems way to complex for its length she completes her mission but the story really fails to elicit any interest in what is going on.

Pamela Sargent shows why she has been successful for so long in "Strawberry Birdies". An American family in the 1950s is struggling. Dad is still a graduate student and mom is unhappy. They have four children: Addie, Cyril, and infant twins. Cyril has developmental problems and might not be ready to go to kindergarten in the fall. Enter Maerleen Loegins, "as if blown in on a strong wind" who started late in life in her graduate studies and will work as a nanny to the children. Sound familiar? The references to Mary Poppins (the book) are unmistakable and deliberate but things go in a different direction. This nanny, however, is on a mission which we find out about as the story progresses to a very good conclusion.

"The List" in the story by Tim McDaniel is what Kurt has with him. He can get a lot from people whose names were on the list. He's holed up in a barricaded house worrying that Big Red or anyone else in the gang might come for him. More I can't say because this two-pager is really made by its ending.

I always know I'm going to get something special by Steve Rasnic Tem and "Ephemera" is all that. Daniel lives in a future in which pandemics have made people very conscious of possible disease and infection. Physical objects are rarely used and virtual items like books are preferred. Daniel is friends with a man named Antonio Ascher who collects all kinds of paper items, not just books, but old everyday items like theater tickets and restaurant menus. Ascher feels these ephemeral things really tell you something about the people that used them. Daniel's son Lex is a modern child, deathly afraid to touch anything with ungloved hands. A visit to Ascher's cluttered house changes all of them. That just summarizes the plot. What makes this story great is the mood and atmosphere. Some of it seems all too real for me. This novelette will make my Hugo short list for next year and is a good reason to buy this issue.

"The Countable" by Ken Liu is the story of David, an autistic boy with an abusive stepfather. He prefers the world of rational things but he realizes, through numbers, that the rational is not in the majority. "The irrational is the rule, and not the exception" and this realization results in David taking action. The story is heavily loaded with numerical theory, but don't let that bother you. The story is very rich in its telling and another worthy one for this issue.

In "'Run', Bakri Says" by Ferrett Steinmetz, Irena is caught in a perpetually recurring video game, training to give her what she needs to rescue her brother, Sammi. The title is what is endlessly repeated throughout the game. The game trains her well. But don't think of this just as a game story, it has a real chiller at the end. Steinmetz puts together a perfect little story.

Well, now that Connie Willis won the Hugo for her brilliant two novels, Blackout and All Clear, she has time for her annual Christmas story with "All About Emily". The actual Christmas content of this novella is a bit light, but it certainly has the spirit of the season. It takes place in a near-future in which New York City still has Broadway plays, the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, Radio City Music Hall, and the Rockettes. It's in the future enough that there is a play called Forbidden Planet which stars Shiloh Jolie Pitt and Justin Bieber, Jr. and life-like robots (called artificials) that can do things that humans can do. Our narrator is a Broadway actress called Claire Havilland who won a Tony for playing Margo Channing in the second musical based on the movie All About Eve, called Bumpy Night. As a publicity stunt, Claire is introduced to a charming, star-struck young woman named Emily, who she immediately suspects is an Eve Harrington wannabe. However, she eventually realizes that Emily is an artificial. While she is assured by her creator that Emily cannot show human ambition, Claire is skeptical. She is mostly right to be. The good thing is that Emily doesn't want to replace Claire. She wants to be a Rockette. This sets up one of Willis' patent charming, amusing stories, the kinds she's won a bucket of Hugos for. You know what? This story is so good, it deserves one, too. It will be on my Hugo short list next year! One thing though, the film nerd in me has a few quibbles. All About Eve is NOT Marilyn Monroe's first movie, not even close. I don't think Monroe's character in the movie could be called "the producer's girlfriend". It wasn't Eve who siphoned the gas in Margo's car making her miss a performance. But those are quibbles. This is a great story.

This was a great issue! Subscribe to Asimov's!

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