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Asimov's Science Fiction #373 (February 2007)
editor: Sheila Williams
Dell www.asimovs.com $3.99

review by Jim Steel

This is a very mixed issue. The first story we come to is Alex Wilson's novelette, Outgoing. This is his first sale, so it seems a bit harsh to be having a go at it. However, when a story takes up this much of a magazine, it would be unfair not to warn the reader of what to expect. Wilson's writing style is fine; there is no problem there. It is the research that has let it down badly. The problems lie inside the parenthesises. Tara Jones is an introverted poet who has been selected (despite her brittle bones) to become an astronaut-poet aboard the ISS (although America stopped putting citizens in space after the Challenger disaster). The 'so-called' International Space Station has apparently been left to the USA to run alone (despite the fact that it is America who is planning to abandon both it and the shuttles after completion, leaving Europe, Russia and the others to run it). The three-man shuttle crew (there hasn't been a crew that numbered that low since the first two test flights in 1981) reaches an empty ISS (which has been continually inhabited since 2000, and is due to have a crew of six when fully operational as it can do little useful work with a crew of only three). The poet is there merely to write poetry that is supposed to re-enthuse the American public over space-flight(!). While onboard, they notice that a missile has been launched at the ISS from Cuba. It is a privately owned, manned spaceship that makes it to the ISS with nothing to spare except echoes of Tom Godwin's The Cold Equations, and the reason that its astronaut launched from there is because of Cuba's proximity to the equator (um... excuse me while I dig out an atlas). The man from Cuba wants to refuel at the ISS in order to continue his journey. I won't reveal his intended destination, but I will point out that it manages to be both an astronomical impossibility and a pulp cliché that was old before the space age was born. And yet Wilson's prose style is fine. Someone who is not knowledgeable about space flight might enjoy this.

Contrast this with the cover story, Kristine Kathyrn Rusch's novella Recovering Apollo 8. In this alternate universe story, Apollo 8 missed its lunar trajectory and continued on into space. Richard Johansenn is eight years old at the time of the disaster, and he grows up obsessed with finding the missing capsule and the bodies of the astronauts. The fact that he grows up to be a billionaire venture capitalist ensures that he has the means to do so. The Apollo 8 flight proves to be the seed that starts this new timeline. The loss of the astronauts energises the space programme in the same way that the assassination of Kennedy did, and the Apollo missions don't fizzle out in the early 1970s. One nice touch that is mentioned but not dwelt upon (although the peace dividend must obviously have made a difference) is that the USSR collapsed in 1979. Johansenn finds out where the capsule is and goes after it in 2007. What he finds inside it won't surprise too many people (after all, there are very few variations that can be wrung from this set-up), but the story continues on for several more decades and develops into something truly engaging and believable, for all its operatic clothing.

Jack Skillingstead's hero is also toying with the idea of going into space, but he would have to have his implants removed in The Chimera Transit. They are responsible for controlling his emotions through his body chemistry. Tanith Lee's excellent Cold Fire is an advance guard from the horde of pirate-themed stories that is about to wash over us in 2007. Her crew have to tow an iceberg to the Arctic before it thaws and releases what it contains, and her use of language alone is enough to delight most readers. Charles Midwinter has a couple of good ideas in A Portrait Of The Artist (such as squirrels with opposable thumbs), but fails to tie them into the whole, and his fictional art-forms likewise fail to convince. William Preston's Close has a socially handicapped man digging inside himself to find the courage to turn up at a support group. The only problem is that when he does, he slowly realises that he has walked into the wrong group and is attending one for people who believe that they have been abducted by aliens. It's a warm and gentle story that is one of the highlights of the issue.

Both Brian Bieniowski's guest editorial and Robert Silverberg's column deal with Jack Vance. Paul Di Filippo has an in-depth review of Julie Philips' biography of James Tiptree Jr, which is also covered in Peter Heck's review column. And then there is an interesting article by Michael Cassutt about Deke Slayton and other early astronauts that he has known. One can't help but wonder what Deke would have made of some of the stories in this month's issue.
Asimov's Science Fiction #373

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