1984 in Science Fiction Short Stories
Asimov's January 1984 (ed. McCarthy)
Connie Willis: Blued Moon 2/5
This story tries too hard for what it does. If it were not so
laborious, it might be a light, funny romance with a sprinkling of science
fiction over it. As it is, it's a clumsy mess.
Ian MacDonald: The Catherine Wheel
Paul Witcover: The Red Shift by Judith Lessing
Tanith Lee: Bright Burning Tiger 2/5
Not much of a thing, this.
Juleen Brantingham: The Laughter of Elves 2/5
Over-wraught hysteria, dragged on for ten pages. And a changeling.
George Alec Effinger: Mars Needs Beatniks 2/5
The language clicks. Effinger's beat-hipster narrative is actually a
pleasure to read, rhythmically (except when there's an attempt at poetry, which
is probably part of the joke). The story, though, isn't worthy of the language.
Warren Salomon: As Time Goes By 4/5
A good time travel paradox story, with a Chandler feel and a suitably
Chandlerian ending. A freelance paradox preventer finds himself involved in a
Lee Killough: The Leopard's Daughter 3/5
A somewhat better than average adventure/coming of age/coming to terms with
self story. Nothing much to be said about it, most of the story is pretty
obvious, but well made.
Lillian Stewart Carl: The Rim of the Wheel 2/5
A relationship story wrapped in a mystic reincarnation story. Not much story
Gregg Keizer: What Seen But the Wolf 4/5
Perhaps a bit too generous of a rating, but this is definitely worth reading,
perhaps worth seeking out. A ghost story, with Vikings.
Isaac Asimov: A Matter Of Principle 2/5
Another George and Azazel story, same as all of the others.
Farber, Killus, Jacobson, & Stout: Post Haste 3/5
A writer begins to get rejection slips for his stories before he writes them. A
fun bit of fluff.
David Brin: Cyclops
Sharon N. Farber: A Surfeit of Melancholic Humours 4/5
A London doctor during the plague becomes a vampire in order to carry
on treating the sick.
Ian Watson: Ghost Lecturer 2/5
The ghost of Lucretius is summoned up by researchers and brings with
him the physics and biology he described, including all manner of odd facts,
all of which becomes very inconvenient for the researchers.
Kristi Oleson: Galatea
Ron Goulart: Street Magic 3/5
Not a bad little story. A writer suffering from a curse has it removed
by a magician, and then makes a mistake.
Robert F. Young: The Princess of Akkir 3/5
A sword-and-blaster sci/fantasy. The roving adventurer who resuces the
princess gets there by starship, otherwise this is a basic fantasy setting with
a good noir twist to it.
George Zebrowski: The City of Thought and Steel 2/5
A grim little post-apocalyptic tale. Sure were a lotof 'em in the '80s.
Fantasy & Science Fiction April 1984
Hilbert Schenk: Steam Bird (1 of 2)
Brad Strickland: The Herders of Grimm
Lucius Shepard: Salvador 4/5
One of Shepard's early pieces, in his battle-suit/Central American
vein. I owe myself an extended study of Shepard's work; at the moment I feel
anything I could say about this story would be trivial and incomplete.
Definitely worth reading, if you're me at least.
Ron Goulart: Me and the Devil 3/5
Not great, but fun, which counts for something. Worth reading, not much
worth talking about. Goulart's second story about magic and publishing in two
months (see Asimov's March issue) - write what you know seems to have worked
Chet Williamson: Rosinante (1/5)
A valiant effort, spoiled by a horribly clumsy resolution. The author
sets up a doomed love scenario, rings some changes on it, and then fumbles it
beyond repair at the last minute. A word to the wise: if you are about to
recycle your protagonist, do not ask me to think she'll be pleased that her One
True Love will live on with her clone. Leaving alone the idea that a clone of
Rosinante would have none of the qualities that developed, in the story's
logic, through their shared experiences.
Robert F. Young: Divine Wind (1/5)
Um gottes willen - space kamikazes? Teleporting temptresses into enemy
ships? With bombs built into them? No, no, a thousand times no, I won't have
Jennifer Swift: The Children's Teeth Are Set On Edge 2/5
A young man has daddy issues and tells his therapist about them, and
feels better when he sees his daddy taken down a peg. But get this - the kid's
a clone! Feh.
Lewis Shiner: Twilight Time 3/5
The best in this volume, easily (the scoring system's lack of fine
gradaations shows up here - all of the 3/5 stories in this issue are "worth
reading" and none are,
I think, particularly noteworthy, but the Shiner story is by far the most lucid
and well-crafted story, and I'd keep it over Kessel or Randall without
question). A time travel story (sub-division of genre will be addressed on
another occasion) which embraces and uses the well-known limitations of the
form to tell a story, and tells it well.
John Kessel: The Big Dream 3/5
This one falls between all the horses. Is it an entertainment? A "think
piece"? A pastiche? An homage? The lack of focus makes it less than great, but
it's still a likeable story.
George Alec Effinger: White Hats 2/5
Some clever bits don't salvage this forgettable little turd of a story.
Marta Randall: On Cannon Beach 3/5
A story which shows promise, but doesn't live up to it, is sometimes
more disappointing than a simply mediocre story.
Michael Ward: Wednesday Night Group 2/5
Not a story from which I expected much, and thus not a disappointment.
The group therapy setting and the therapy talk have aged poorly, obscuring he
quite legitimate point of the story. (That being, as I read it, that such
therapies can be as isolating or more so than the day to day life they are
meant to remedy)
John Varley: Press Enter
One of Carl's favorites, I think, or at least one he has recomended
highly. A man receives a phone call from his neighbor's computer, asking him to
come over and offering a reward. He does, and finds the neighbor dead. This is
the catalyst for a story which meanders a little, and does not entirely satisfy
in its conclusions, but is nevertheless well worth reading through. Even the
obsolescence of the computing technology doesn't interfere with the pleasures
the story offers, which are substantial. 3/5, maybe 4/5
Isaac Asimov: The Evil that Drink Does
Not one of the Doctor's finest hours, this George-and-Azazel tale is a
biology lesson looking
for a punchline. Unfortunately, those likely to get it got it long before he
sprang it. 2/5
Marc Laidlaw: Buzzy Gone Blue
I'll probably remember where I know Marc Laidlaw's name at some point
and feel sort of stupid for forgetting, but I've forgotten, and this story
doesn't do much to remind me. Like the Castell tale (below) it stays close to
realism until it makes a transformation, and like the Castell story one is not
convinced by the transformation, or convinced that it matters. 1/5
Daphne Castell: Close Of Night
I might like this story on another reading, on another day, but it
seemed a somewhat tedious exercise to me. A woman wanders through Edinburgh,
thinks a lot, learns about some history, and is transported there - or perhaps
was always there. Or something. That I don't know exactly what happened is
clumsy. That I don't much care is unforgiveable. 1/5
Jane Yolen: Salvage
What Yolen does here is what she does well: using the trappings of the
genre story, she presents a very spiritual udnerstanding of what makes
humanity. In this she may touch on Harrison's Grand Theme, in so far as she
extends the potential range of "humanity" to "those who can understand this
story, this poem" and at the same time uses the biologically alien beings to
show the commonalities of human beings generally. In tis case, aliens learn
something of mankind from a dying poet, and decide they like our poetry.
Scott Baker: Still Life With Scorpion
Baker's story shares much with Shepard: the realistic, somewhat seedy
characterization, the ruthless unwillingness to plead for the narrator's cause,
the ability to elicit sympathy (in the old sense despite this. Also, the exotic
locale, the stereotypical fellow-travellers, the fantastic deliverance of an
undeserved revenge. I'll give this one a tentative 3/5, but I intend to revisit
Ronald Anthony Cross: A Citizen of 3V
Cross identifies the acceleration of the process by which nations are
receding in our consciousness in this satire, in which one's "nationality"
signifies primarily what set of channels are available on one's television.
Octavia Butler: Bloodchild 3/5
I admit the the 3/5 rating is a courtesy. I'm not sure I get this one,
and it didn't excite me the way her previous (Speech Sounds) did, but I can
tell it's good. I just don't know why yet.
James Patrick Kelly: St. Theresa Of the Aliens 2/5
An interesting idea, but Kelly's style does it in. The exposition
doesn't work, too much internal monologue, so by the time the climactic scene
arrives I was already in a bit of stupor.
James Killus: Sun Smoke 3/5
This story had no business being as good as it was. Which is only
pretty good, I should say, but it's still pretty good in a world ruled by
Sturgeon's law. The idea of summoning up a demon via a computer program is not
novel, and sets the teeth on edge initially, but the story carries it off
pretty well. Not deep, but certainly a good entertainment. Dated now, of
course, terribly, but that means nothing much.
Tanith Lee: Medra 2/5
Lee plays with fairy tales and science fiction. Again. Sigh.
Paul J. McAuley: Wagon, Passing 2/5
Another post-apocalyptic, where has all the civilization gone story.
This one a post-apocalyptic western, a trader comes to town and reminds us of
Shakespeare. Not especially bad, but it feels a bit like playing tee-ball in
Fenway park. If you're here to hit, swing at something real.
Jere Cunningham: The Poolof Manhead Song 1/5
Either I missed something or this wasn't very good at all. I'm not
convinced of the latter, but I didn't see much to convince me of the former.
Perhaps I should revisit it another time. For now, though, thumbs down.
Lucius Shepard: A Traveler's Tale 4/5
I suppose I should at least try to give some sense of the plot of some
of these. Of course, for a Shepard story, this will put anyone off reading it.
Roughly speaking, this is the story of a guy, told by another guy, whose story
it more properly is, except it's really about an alien, or, looked at another
way, it's about the land on which the alien resides and everyone is drawn to
that land and the other guys I didn't mention yet also have stories too, Got
that? A traveler, settled down in his island not-quite-paradise in the
Caribbean, tells of a strange man who came to town and the things that
happened, which included the reincarnation of a "duppy", which turns out to be
a space alien which promptly possesses the strange man and tells his story.
Sort of an Ancient Mariner thing, in a way. Only not.
As always, Shepard takes you through it in good form. Although you're
never quite sure what's going on, you always have a feeling he knows.
Michael Cassutt: A Star Is Born 2/5
A jaded movie-maker in the age of high-tech remakes meets a young
would-be star/director, who inspires him to mke the movie he's had in his
drawer all this time. Everyone loves it, but things turn out lousy anyway.
Clever, the style is entertaining, but the story is purely by-the-numbers.
Isaac Asimov: Writing Time 2/5
By the numbers? Yes, the Azazel stories are a formula. George makes a
wish on someone else's behalf in order to get them more money to buy him lunch
with, and things don't quite work out. In this one, he gets a writer more time
to write (by eliminating inconveniences like busses that don't show up when he
wants them, waiters who don't bring the check when he's ready, etc.). It turns
out that the inconveniences were what gave him time to thiink of his stories.
Waren Wagar: Heart's Desire 3/5
A mildly spooky story, this. A mild professor takes up with a
ferociously too-good-for-him woman, beautiful and romantic. Later we see them
together in wedded bliss - or do we?
James Morrow: The Assemblage Of Kristin 3/5
The recipients of the various organs of a young woman ("so full of
life") find that they are compelled to practice her favorite passtimes for one
week a year. Creepy and fun. Morrow, of course, is responsible for a number of
novels which are, to some degree, creepy and fun, although that doesn't come
close to doing justice to his style, which is very much his own, and very much
worth a closer look. I hereby add Morrow to my list of Authors To Consider In
Depth at Some Future Time.
Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 1984 (ed. Ferman)
Frederick Pohl: The Greening of Bed-Stuy 3/5
When Pohl is on, he's on. This is one of those. A big story, with
multiple characters drawn in detail, characters with contrary motivations are
expressed sympathetically but not romanticized, social issues are present but
not banged on, the plot builds to a non-gratuitous thrilling climax which is in
fact fairly gripping - all in all, Pohl has done quite a masterful job of
Nancy Kress: Explanations, Inc. 2/5
A man passes by a store called "Explanations, Inc." Gradually, it all
becomes clear to him.
Edward P. Hughes: Thicker than Ichor 2/5
A coming-of-age story of a sort. A father in the colonial service on a
distant planet finds his daughter has taken up with - and married! - one of the
wogs. A child is produced, and he - sigh - learns to love the child.
Neither of these stories (Kress nor Hughes) really moved me
sufficiently to write anything about them, but I really should select a
sampling of the great mediocrities of early 1980s science fiction and discuss
exactly the quallities that delimit that particular flavor of mediocrity - so
distinct from the mediocrities of the late 1960s New Wave, or the Campbellian
Golden Era mediocrities.
Hal Hill: Quicksilver Day 3/5
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to find a sense of deja vu when
reading another story about a guy whose long-term memory has been damaged, for
whom each day is a new lifetime. I feel I've been through this before... and I
have. Not badly done here, but not better than in Memento, for example.
Edward Wellen: Pattern 1/5
A puzzle disguised as a story. Not a clever disguise, not an
interesting puzzle, not an interesting story.
Richard Purtill: By The Dragon's Cave 4?/5
Another puzzle story, of a sort. This one is in story-teller format,
with the narrator addressing the reader as a story-teller. The puzzle unfolds
smoothly, the plot is, as in the beststories, surprisingly inevitable, and the
conclusion is satisfying. And yet... I'm not sure about the 4/5 rating. Maybe
it's just a bit too pat? Hell, I liked it, let that be enough.
Cooper McLaughlin: The Smyler
Gene O'Neill: 300 S. Montgomery
Asimov's, August 1984 (ed. McCarthy)
George Alec Effinger: How F. Scott Fitzgerald Became Beloved in Springfield 3/5
Gladys Prebhalla & Daniel Keys Moran: Realtime 3/5
Possibly one of the first stories to use the phrase "the web" in the
current sense. A rather charming story: the computers get books, and stage a
Frederick Pohl: Sitting Around the Pool, Soaking up the Rays 3/5
A nicely dark notion of the alien-contact theme. The aliens come, but
rather than travelling through space they simply take over some humans by
remote control to communicate for them. They just want the stuff we don't want
- nuclear waste, stuff like that, and they're willing to pay for it. The story
is told from the view of one of the remotely-controlled communicators.
Characterization is well done, the plot unfolds nicely, all in all a well-made
piece, although it doesn't have the mad genius that only a mad genius can put
Damien Broderick: Resurrection 3/5
A philosophy problem turned into a story, and done fairly well. A man
is killed in a mugging and frozen for future resurrection. In the far, far
future, his body is discovered, and he is revived. A number of questions are
discussed. There is no final exam, but there could be: Broderick has
clearly been reading a number of philosophers of mind. Pick three and
discuss their work in relation to Broderick's story.
Barbara Owens: Blue Crick Holler Folks 2/5
I suppose I should be more generous. She means well, and it's nice to
have a story where things work out in the end.
A spaceship lands for repairs in the Holler, and the hicks don't quite
get it that these are space aliens, not guys from across the way. Their
ignorance, unlike in other stories of this sub-genre, does not kill the aliens.
Their innocence allows them to get to like the nice aliens who like them back
and everybody's happy. Except the reader - conflict, people, can I get some
Lillian Stewart Carl: From the Labyrinth Of Night 3/5
Somewhat old-school: three explorers on the distant world, one of them
a robot. One dies. Robot learns that it's somewhat human. They play chess. But
Daniel Gilbert:In the Specimen Jar 3/5
One for Dennett, or perhaps Hofstadter: who is the narrator, after all?
Robert Thurston: The Fire at Sarah Siddons 2/5
Not much to say about this one. A bit of a muddle. Perhaps on a more
charitable day I might find something in it, but not today.
Asimov's, September 1984 (ed. McCarthy)
Stephanie A. Smith: The Amber Frog 2/5
Paul Cook: Report on the Descent of Commander Lentz 2/5
Thomas Wylde: The Oncology Of Hope 3/5
Jack McDevitt: Translations From the Colossian 3/5+
A classics professor discovers the poet that Sophocles cribbes from,
and it's an alien. A surprisingly good story with this material.
Charles L. Grant A Voice Not Heard 2/5
Does anyone really care about artists and their "process"? Sure, when
Brust writes about them. Do they care enough to put up with stories like this?
I'm thinking... no. At least, I don't.
John M. Ford: Heat Of Fusion 3/5
A thriller in diary form about a new discovery in physics. A hard sell
for the movie, but the story works.
James Patrick Kelly: Crow 2/5
A double-header, the nuclear holocaust and the Indians. Too stentorian
to mean anything.
Lucius Shepard: The Storming Of Annie Kinsale 2/5
An early Shepard story, and it shows. His command of the Irish accent is
laughable, as is Annie Kinsale's - she seems to put it on when the moment
strikes her, a bad habit in a character.
Worth noticing that Shepard's theme - the main character constrained by fate
and events to act within prescribed boundaries, usually a soldier or other
traveller - is present, but in this case she's Annie Kinsale.
Asimov's, October 1984 (ed. McCarthy)
Nancy Kress: Trinity 3/5
Summary: two sisters, one starving herself looking for a scientific
revelation and the other an actual scientist. There's also a clone of the mad
sister, and they find God. Summary sounds a little silly, and it is a little
silly, but not really bad, as such. Just average.
Ian MacDonald: Christian 4/5
A boy on a beach meets a man flying kites. Yes, of course there's more
to it than that - go read it. Now. How often do you find a writer you've never
heard of who reminds you of Bradbury on a good day? Go. Read. Now.
Jack Dann: Bad Medicine 2/5
This might be an example of a Shepard story gone horribly wrong - or,
to spare Mr. Shepard any association with it, it might called simply a bad
story. A Jewish nebbish looking for something spiritual (he can't find a
rabbi?) goes on a real Indian
sweat lodge(tm). The story tarts out with the sort of characterization that
like a parody of bad writing, and continues, perhaps getting back to simply
"bad" over time. The plot involves a grudge between various Indians, settled by
"the spirits" in the sweat lodge. You're wondering, Jon, Is there a symbolic
battle between the Indians' totem animals somewhere in here, and is it by
chance near the end, right where a resolution would go in a good story? I hear
you wondering, and at the risk of spoiling the story, the answer is, yes, there
is that, and it is there. Now you need not read.
Tanith Lee: Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur de Feu 3/5
A vampire romance, set in a fairly Gothic cursed kingdom, with the
requisite scullery maid raised to princessitude by kind fortune - until she
trots off with the bitey winged demon and lives happily ever after. Well above
Lee's usual quality, and a fun read.
Andrew Weiner: The Alien Station 4/5
Finally, someone has written about the end of the internet and the
beginning of the advernet. It only took ... negative twenty years or so. Good
Ronald Anthony Cross: 3/5
A thrilling farce (translated from the Farsi). A rich kid goes to the
moon and learns about life during a riot between Christians and Hare Krishnas.