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Asimov's Science Fiction December 2012 Vol. 36 No. 12 (Whole Number 443)
Edited by Sheila Williams
Cover Artist: Laura Diehl for The Caramel Forest
Review by Sam Tomaino
Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine  ISBN/ITEM#: 1065-2698
Date: 27 September 2012

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

The December 2012 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction has stories by Steven Popkes, Ken Liu, Chris Beckett, Mike Resnick, Sandra McDonald, and Robert Reed, along with the usual poetry and columns.

Asimov's Science Fiction's December 2012 issue is here and it's the best of the year, with THREE stories Hugo-worthy, one in each category. That's never happened before.

The fiction in the issue begins with "The Caramel Forest" by Chris Beckett, which, we are told, is set in the same world as his "Day 29" in the July 2011 issue, but that's not important. Cassie lives with her family on a world with "caramel" forests where "the trees are yellow, grey, or pink, with trunks, branches, and leaves all made out of the same smooth mushroomy flesh". She likes it and she is fascinated by the indigenous peoples of the world whom the original colonists hate and call goblins. Cassie's father is an Agency man who wants to protect the indigenes. Her mother hates them and wants to leave the planet. She hears them arguing every night. The indigenes are not just harmless. They project thoughts into people's minds. They encourage Cassie to run away with her brother, Peter, and she does. This was an interesting story but I did not care much for the ending.

Well, you always know you're going to get a great story from Mike Resnick and "The Wizard of 34th Street" is no exception. Our narrator is a guy named Jake who has an unexceptional job at an import/export company. When his friend, Milton, runs into financial difficulty and gets a good stock tip from a man who calls himself The Wiz, he strikes up a friendship with this character. He is the only friend of the Wiz, the rest are supplicants. Having an absolute predictive ability is not entirely a good thing and the conversations between Jake and the Wiz are quite poignant and touching. You might see where this story is going, but the last word puts a different perspective on it and that's why this will be on my Hugo short list for short story.

In "The Waves" by Ken Liu, Maggie and her husband are passengers on a generational ship, headed on a 400-year journey to a distant star. She tells their children creation myths as bedtime stories. The plan had been that their descendants would be the ones to walk on that distant colony planet. That changes when a message from Earth gives them the secret of eternal youth and life. The catch is that, because of the cold equations of their voyage, both parents and children could not be immortal. Two out of the four would age normally and the other two age and die. This happens for the next 400 years, with Maggie and her son, Bobby, choosing immortality. Bobby remains a ten-year old. But when they reach their destination, there are people waiting for them, changing further the concept of humanity. This all results in a beautifully told story, with the creation myths really adding to it. I think this will be a nominee for next year's awards and I will put it on my Hugo short list for novelette.

You might expect that "The Black Feminist's Guide to Science Fiction Film Editing" by Sandra McDonald is satirical and you would be right. It's set in a somewhat near future (Keanu Reeves has been dead for decades) in which a government agency employs women to use existing footage and computer technology to re-do classic movies to correct gender and racial stereotypes. Leia Skywalker saves Prince Luke from the Empire, for instance. We get many examples like that that will make you laugh, or wince. Minervadiane is currently re-doing The Matrix when her boss orders her to check out footage from a lost, uncompleted film from the 1970s called The Ginger Star. It was being made from a script by Leigh Brackett from her own novel, directed by Irving Kershner with special effects by Douglas Trumbull. (Note: That probably should be Irvin Kershner, if she it talking about the director of The Empire Strikes Back in our universe, but lost the opportunity to do so in hers. Later in the story, Trumbull is referred to as Turnbull. But those are minor glitches). She flies out to talk to the granddaughter of the editor of the movie who has the perfectly preserved footage and ancient editing equipment only to be confronted by an old nemesis/lover named Samueldarrin who calls himself Ringo Cross. He has been re-doing films to make men the heroes (like The Handman's Tale) but his efforts have been underground. When they get to the location, they encounter a semi-senile old lady, the only one with rights to this movie and what, in less enlightened days, we would call a 'battle of the sexes' is on. It all makes for a delightful and well-made story that I enjoyed thoroughly.

"The Pipes of Pan" by Robert Reed is another of his great stories. At the start, we are told that three strangers would try to kill Lawrence Goldman "because of his superior understanding of primate evolution". It starts when he is a graduate student teacher telling a class that men are really apes and not a separate species at all. He says that when they accept this, they will act better. A student tries to kill him right there. Over the years, his ideas are accepted, but the world is wracked by massive wars and a billion die. It's what happens after the third assassination attempt that really makes this story.

The issue concludes with the novella, "Sudden, Broken and Unexpected" by Steven Popkes. I did not know what to expect when I started reading this story. I got more than I bargained for. Jake Mulcahey is an aging rocker. He had his big day, twelve years ago, with his band Persons Unknown, a one-hit wonder song called "Don't Make Me Cry" and a lady friend named Rosie. On a big tour, he threw it all away, first Rosie and then, the band. Since then, he's earned a living releasing the occasional solo album and 'fixing' songs for other people. When his ex, Rosie, comes calling and wants him to fix a song, he actually finds it a pleasurable experience. Rosie introduces him to the original writer of the music, an artificial construct named Dot. Dot is a divaloid, a really complicated computer program that can become a visual appearance in stage and play music. Dot looks like a young girl and plays the very young crowd. Rosie, a software engineer, has developed a "Dot 2.0" and wants to do something special with it. I won't say more, the story really grows in telling. Some of it grows in expected ways, some surprises you. I loved this story and read it slowly, savoring it. You do that, too. Needless to say this will be on my Best Novella Hugo short list for next year.

What a great way to end the year! Subscribe to Asimov's!

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