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Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine 30th Anniversary Anthology, by Sheila Williams (ed.)

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine 30th Anniversary Anthology
by Sheila Williams (ed.)
349 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/SF

I'm going to just record my personal reader-thoughts on each of the stories, since short stories are very much a matter of taste anyway and this is outside my usual genre. Hopefully you know me well enough to be able to judge disparities. Recommended stories are marked with a *.

*"Air Raid" by John Varley, writing as Herb Boehm
At first I was skeptical of the gimmick, but this is a fast-paced and interesting story with clear SF (and very reminisciently post-apocalyptic) indications right from the first page. The language is rough in a polished way and the author's skill surprised me into an emotional attachment.

*"The Time of the Burning" by Robert Silverberg
This has ironic parallels with history, regarding heroes and sacrifices. Quietly suspenseful, but the ending feels incomplete.

*"Speech Sounds" by Octavia E. Butler
My favorite story of the anthology. Definitely post-apocalyptic; the title is apt, but I won't hint toward the plot because part of the joy is slowly finding out exactly what has happened to humanity. The emotions aroused by the characters are stunning.

"Dinner in Audoghast" by Bruce Sterling
The prose flowed weirdly, simultaneously choppy and elegant; omniscient POV has a good tendency toward annoyance. But, what is the point of this story? It just starts, continues, and ends. I'm left asking myself confusedly, "So what?"

*"Robot Dreams" by Isaac Asimov
A short and succient style that works wonderfully. I've never read any Asimov before, but this story certainly lives up to his reputation. Dr. Calvin is chillingly ruthless and pragmatic. I would even compare Asimov to Hemingway; their styles are both minimalistic but powerful.

"Glacier" by Kim Stanley Robinson
My second experience with Kim Stanley Robinson--the first being The Years of Rice and Salt, which I did not finish--and I still don't see the attraction of his work. In fact, I had pretty much the same issues with this story than I did with his novel: the descriptions are boring, and I don't care about any of the characters. The glacier was mildly interesting at first, but it quickly became tiring after the first multi-paragraph sensory overload. And the ending is pointless.

"Cibola" by Connie Willis
Is this some sort of recurrent theme in SF that repels me? Another pointless story that operates on a mediocre gimmick for suspense--to prove it, I can't remember anything about the plot, theme, or characters. My notes say that the voice was interesting, though. I know Willis is another big name in SF, so... I just don't understand what I'm not getting.

"The Happy Man" by Jonathan Lethem
I actually liked this premise and the characters, though I may be a bit biased after two terrible stories. But as the tale progressed, I found myself disbelieving more and more. Tom's motivations--especially in Hell--made no sense, and I didn't buy the "this is how Hell works" explanation. The Hell sections suffered from overdescription as well, though not on the level of Robinson's offense.

"Over There" by Mike Resnick
I will preface this by saying: in general, I do not like historical military fiction. Especially historical military fiction without a single female character (that I remember; admittedly it took generous skimming to get through the story). I felt absolutely no compulsion to read past the first page, but I forced myself to and then deemed it a waste of time. The ending reads like it's supposed to be profound, but it inevitably falls flat. (My reaction is so strongly negative to this story that I think it has to be genre conflict.)

"Ether, OR" by Ursula K. Le Guin
The title is a pun, and I didn't mind. This had a cool concept but I stlll ended up skimming--the voices were again cool in concept but difficult to differentiate in execution. I don't understand the story, but at least it wasn't painful to get through. Oh, and there were way too many characters for the length.

*"Flying Lessons" by Kelly Link
In my opinion, this is a mythological fantasy story. I'm not quite sure how in the world it ended up in Asimov's. But it was lovely and creative and controlled the form instead of vice versa. The twist hit me like a pillow, soft but stunning. This reminds me of tarancalime's pre-Alpha story, "Orpheus and the Witch," which was also mythological and wonderful.

*"Itsy Bitsy Spider" by James Patrick Kelly
A sweet story about family and reconciliation, with the futuristic setting only incidental. A nice change, that, from all the world-building infodump I tend to encounter in SF.

"Ancient Engines" by Michael Swanwick
I don't understand this. At all. The story is saying something about immortality, but it went straight over my head. And I didn't care about any of the characters, which is becoming something of a trend.

"Lobsters" by Charles Stross
Interesting, even intriguing; but in the end, it doesn't work for me in a way I can't quite name. I did care about the characters and Stross's style is delightfully quirky, so I'm amenable to reading more of his work. (Whereas, KSR? Um, no. You've already had your second chance.)

"Only Partly Here" by Lucius Shepard
Another story that I didn't quite get and ended up skimming, though due to no technical fault of the author. I just wasn't engaged with the characters or the setting (and I have no clue how this is science fiction).

"The Children of Time" by Stephen Baxter
Better, but far from perfect. On one hand, I enjoyed the form experiment; on hte other hand, omniscient infodump is irritating.

"Eight Episodes" by Robert Reed
I like the concept of parodying dullness, but the parody part didn't really work. I ended up skimming because the descriptions of the amazingly dull show was becoming, hey!, dull in itself. Also, the climax had no punch or clear delination.

Overall, I liked 6 stories, half-liked 2 stories ("The Happy Man" and "The Children of Time"), either hated or was indifferent toward the other 7. Not bad stats, although the organization is skewed with most of the good stories toward the beginning. My favorites were Octavia Butler's "Street Sounds" for emotional impact and Kelly Link's "Flying Lessons" for creativity.

Reading this anthology has taught me what my limits are regarding hard SF; there was more than one story that I appreciated on a technical level but just couldn't become engaged enough to care. (I also confirmed that Kim Stanley Robinson's writing and I do not get along.) Although I wouldn't ever subscribe to Asimov's, it was worth reading for my first glimpse of Butler and Link, plus testing the waters of hardcore SF.

If anyone has also read this anthology or any of the individual stories, I'd very much like to know your thoughts.


Oh, do follow up on the Butler and Link! You will not be the least little bit disappointed; they both write at really consistent levels of wonderful.

I haven't read that particular Willis story, but in general I'm a big fan of her work. She is a bit polarizing, though; people tend to either love or hate her stuff, without a whole lot of in-between. She does a lot of stuff that's kind of screwball and a lot of other stuff that involves wacky academics. She's capable of a lovely turn of melancholy, though--see "Last of the Winnebagos" and her gorgeous first novel Lincoln's Dreams--and that's when I think she's at her best.

I get the impression from her work that she really likes people, and that goes a long way with me.

>I like the concept of parodying dullness, but the parody part didn't really work.

I suspect that I may be on the negative end of the Willis spectrum, but I did get the impression of writerly skill, so I'll give her another try. Do you have any non-historical-miltary recs? It is very, very hard for historical military stories to work for me; I still can't get past the first twenty pages of TEMERAIRE, and that's fantasy.
I don't really read military stuff, alas. The Hornblower series is an exception.
No no, I meant non-military/historical military recs. XD Straight historical is fine.
Wait...I'm confused. What are you asking for, exactly? Maybe without the non- bit; I think that's where I'm getting stuck.

(Sorry to be so dense!)
Hee, sorry for being confusing! What I mean is: I'd like a rec of Willis's work (preferably a novel or a short story available online, since it's easier to find) that doesn't involve military themes.
Oh! That makes sense. Somehow I forgot we were talking about Willis...all becomes clear.


My favorite of her novels, as I said, is Lincoln's Dreams, which is a slender, melancholy, gorgeous little thing. It is very much concerned with the Civil War, but I wouldn't call it a military book, if that makes any sense.

Other than that, I'd suggest either Doomsday Book or To Say Nothing of the Dog, depending on your tastes and what you feel like at the moment. They're actually set in the same universe, with time-traveling historians going back to study the past, but Doomsday Book (set during the Black Death) is about as sad and impressive as you'd imagine whereas To Say Nothing... (post-WWII) is a pretty hilarious romp.

The Impossible Things collection has "The Last of the Winnebagos," that story I mentioned above, which is definitely one of the polarizing ones; it's about the end of the world as demonstrated by the extinction of dogs. The range of stories in that one is impressive and I think it's a better collection overall than Fire Watch.

Um. I'm not actually sure I can do you any good here, since I am _such_ a fan. I even like her Christmas stories (she seems to do one every year for Asimov's and I find them tremendously charming) and her admittedly-slight collaborative novels. So I'm not sure I can give useful advice? But if there's one Willis book that I hardly ever hear unkind words about, it's To Say Nothing of the Dog.
I am also very iffy about the Civil War, so I will pass on LINCOLN'S DREAMS, but TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG sounds amusing. Have added DOOMSDAY BOOK to my list, as well.
I like Willis and do not like military novels, but adored Lincoln Dreams. In general, though, I prefer her short fiction, so I'd recommend starting with Fire Watch or Impossible Things.
Thanks for the recs!

January 2011



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