While I found Asimov’s Feb 2011 issue to be very ordinary, there was one stand-out story that I can see appearing in a number of Best of collections later this year.
Paul McAuley’s novella, The Choice, takes the now fashionable route of setting the story in a near future dystopia where humanity has fucked up the environment and where aliens have come along to offer humanity with a way of cleaning up the problems they’ve created. With that backdrop, McAuley tells the story of two young men who take a journey by boat to check out a damaged “dragon”, an alien space-craft that’s washed up on shore like a beached whale. Damian wants to see the dragon because he dreams of escaping his abusive father and setting out on adventures in space. Lucas, though, is conflicted. He’s curious to see the dragon but he’s also concerned about his bed-ridden activist mother who relies on him to look after her.
The Choice starts off as a coming of age piece, a story where the two young protagonists become aware of their place in the wider world. But rather than stop there, McAuley actually explores the choices made by these young boys – Damian who sees an opportunity to escape his father after they come across the dragon and Lucas, who inspite of Damian’s nudging, decides to be responsible and stay home to look after his mother. Like all major decisions, especially one involving alien technology (Damien steals a shard of the damaged dragon), the choice made by the two boys has consequences for themselves and the people around them.
McAuley’s no stylist. But there’s a clarity to his writing that brings into sharp relief the dystopian setting. That makes it feel real and tangible. More importantly, though, the character work is strong. Lucas – who’s the main point of view character – is sympathetic, forced into a position to defend himself and his mother when the outside world viciously intrudes.
As much as I enjoyed McAuley’s story, there was very little else in the issue that raised my interest levels. I liked Bill Pronzini’s and Barry N Malzberg’s piece, Eve of Beyond, which though very slight, is a disturbing take on corporate greed and how it divides families and friends. Aliette De Bodard’s Ship Birth is also an interesting read. As Lois Tilton says in her Locus review it’s “Aztecs in space.” The idea is that Aztec women have the ability to give birth to cybernetic Minds that form the “computers” for their space-craft. While I found the core idea intriguing, I I didn’t really care about the ethical plight of the main character.
Hopefully things will pick up with March’s issue.