Asimov’s – April / May 2011

In what turned out to be a very even outing for the magazine, there we no “OH MY GOSH” stories published in the April /May 2011 issue of Asimov’s.

The stand-out story though was  Smoke City by Christopher Barzak.  It’s not easy pulling off surreal fiction, but Barzak does it without a hitch.  A woman (both wife and mother) slips from our world into the world where she was born.  It’s a highly industrialised environment, a soot soaked hell where the woman’s children from the belowground world are ready to work at the Mill.  The poetic and dream-like feeling of the writing never betrays how angry this story is.  I might have the wrong end of the stick here, but Barzak’s depiction of this disturbing fatalistic world seems to be an attack on capitalism in how it abuses the innocent.

While not surreal in presentation, Nick Mamatas’ North Shore Friday is an innovative piece of writing, displaying some neat narrative tricks.  It’s 1965 and George is working for the FBI, tasked to administer their mind reading computers, streaked with dark magic.  When he can, George also helps out his family who happen to be bringing illegal Greek immigrants into America.  George’s assistance might also have led to the Northeast Blackout of 1965.  The mixture of George’s first person narrative and the stray thoughts being monitored by the computers means it took me two goes to really get the full impact of the piece.  But it’s the fact that Mamatas has actually considered how best to tell the story, rather than just write a bland linear narrative, that means a second read is definitely worth your while.

Mike Resnick’s The Homecoming was probably the most emotionally engaging piece in the issue and the sort of story that I’m a sucker for.  Jordan spends his days caring for his wife Julia who has dementia.  When their son Philip returns home after a number of years Jordan is less than pleased.  Philip has been away exploring an alien world and to adapt to his new environment has undergone a transformation so radical that he no longer looks human.  Jordan sees his son’s transformation as a betrayal to himself and his wife who now no longer remembers she has a son.

While I know there’s a manipulative element to Resnick’s story, I can’t deny the sensitive and heartfelt way he writes about dementia, but also the relationship between a son and a father who no longer see eye to eye.  I didn’t shed a tear this time, but yes… I did come close.

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