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Asimov's Science Fiction #372 (January 2007)
editor: Sheila Williams
Dell www.asimovs.com $3.99

review by Jim Steel

Wow - 30 years already. How did that happen? Since the start of the 1980s, Asimov's SF magazine has been widely acknowledged as one of the heavyweights, and for much of that time it has been the undisputed frontrunner. However, since Gardner Dozois retired as editor it has wobbled. Sheila Williams still puts together a consistently interesting magazine but these days too many of the stories just seem to miss that killer spark. Maybe this anniversary year will add a little zest to things.

Three novelettes make up the bulk of the fiction in this issue. First up is Nancy Kress' Safeguard, which tells of four children who have been brought up since a very early age in a hermetically sealed dome somewhere in America's western desert. The children are genetically engineered to be race-specific plague carriers and were found during the invasion of an enemy nation. As well as the obvious WMD parallels, this story reminds one of the (possibly) apocryphal tales of kings who ordered children to be brought up in isolation to discover what the natural language of humanity was. In this case, the children do have a person - from the outside world - who talks to them, albeit from a sealed suit. She is a researcher called Taney. When an earthquake cracks the dome, these children reach the outside for the first time and go in search of the nearest person they have to a mother. Unfortunately everyone who meets them dies within six hours. It's great set-up, with superbly crafted characters, and is not overly sentimental. And don't forget that there is the aftermath of a major earthquake mixed in with this as well.

The Hikikomuri's Cartoon Kimono, by A.R. Morlan, on the other hand, seems to be extrapolation in search of a story. Tattooing is taken a stage further than today, with moving tattoos and carbon nanotubes inserted beneath the skin as body armour. The story of the evolution of the kimono is used as a metaphor for the evolution of body art in a story of a struggling tattooer in a low-rent part of town.

Gone are the days when Charles Stross used to prop up the bottom of the Interzone reader's poll. Now the happy owner of a Hugo, he has hauled his way to the top through pure will power. Trunk And Disorderly is a light-hearted story of wit and verve in a post-human society with a hero, a heroine, a villain and escapades... and a miniature mammoth. Fun.

Bruce McAllister's Poison is one of the strongest stories in this issue. In this wonderful piece of magical realism, a boy goes forth to confront the witch who lives in the woods who may be responsible for the death of his cat. Jack Dann's Battlefield Games probably matches it for sheer pleasure, if not originality. A soldier in a foxhole has to try and outwit an intelligent cruise missile, which of course wants to play him at chess to pass the time. The new type of war features in Jack Dann's Café Culture which tries, with some success, to get into the minds of suicide bombers, but doesn't really add much new to the debate, well written as it is.

Gunfight At The Sugarloaf Pet Food & Taxidermy is set a few years into the future and is a vaguely unsatisfying adventure story about a rural cop who uses android animals to entrap illegal hunters. Then there are four poems, one of which, by John Morressy, has the cover illustration and an elegiac introduction by Williams. It doesn't quite live up to that, but then not many things could. The issue is rounded off by Robert Silverberg's column, James Patrick Kelly's column on science fiction on the net, Paul Di Filippo on books, and an index for the issues published in 2006.
Asimov's Science Fiction #372

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