Asimov’s for December 2012 (2 of 2)
Picking up from yesterday…
“The Black Feminist’s Guide to Science Fiction Film Editing,” by Sandra McDonald. First person past tense. Around 6000 words.
It’s a catchy title, I’ve got to admit, but I’m not sure I picked up what this story laid down. About two, maybe three generations down the line, the government has a Red List of banned classic movies and has Minervadiane, protagonist, recut classic SF films to overcome the oppression inherent in their structure. Star Wars becomes the story of Leia Skywalker, who must rescue Prince Luke from the Death Star; Back to the Future features Lea Thompson heroically saving her son from a time-traveling mad scientist. It feels like a satire where the jokes aren’t quite landing, all the more so when Samueldarrin the reactionary pro-patriarchy rival editor shows up with Captain Chakotay Saves the Universe and the Handman’s Tale and Xander Harris, Superhero.
Where it fails for me is in that no one seems remotely likable and the future is hella bleak. Minervadiane presents her job as a necessary, even heroic act, to rescue the eye candy of yesteryear and create positive role models for the girls of the future. That’d be swell, except that the fascist government bans the original works, which Minervadiane doesn’t have a problem with. Meanwhile, Samueldarrin is exactly as much an asshole as anyone who made something called Captain Chakotay Saves the Universe would have to be. Meanwhile Alzheimer’s is still around, a tremendous amount was lost in global-warming-caused floods, and nobody’s seen Blazing Saddles on account of it’s on the forbidden Red List. The reference to Harlan Ellison™ suggests the story is meant as a comedy, and this description makes it sound like one, but I’m not feeling the humor. Conversely, the story and characters are too broad for me to take them seriously.
“The Pipes of Pan,” by Robert Reed. Third person omniscient, or maybe third person objective. What’s the POV of the narrator of a nature documentary? Around 6000 words.
Another middling dystopian view of the rest of this century, told through Lawrence Goldman, an academic biologist and television pundit who leads a successful movement to get humanity reclassified: homo sapiens sapiens becomes pan sapiens foetus. This solves zero of the major problems facing civilization. Climate change and nuclear wars take their toll, and eventually Lawrence ends up in a situation reminiscent of the Katrina aftermath. Are people monkeys, or are people better than monkeys? What does that question even mean?
It’s not bad. The structure of it has the story moving quickly over at least fifty years, with snippets of Lawrence’s life interspersed with expository narration about how the world changes. Lawrence is something of a dick, but he means well, mostly. I wouldn’t say it sticks with me, but that’s true of most stories.
“Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected,” by Steven Popkes. First person past tense. Long, I dunno, it’s a novella.
A washed-up singer-songerwriter/one-hit wonder best known for his spectacular flameout gets recruited by his ex, still an agent, to work with a teen idol on her new material. You can tell it’s SF because the teen idol is an AI. Like last issue’s “the Mongolian Book of the Dead,” it feels padded compared to the short stories; perhaps that’s an occupational hazard of the novella format. I feel more kindly towards “Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected,” however. Though I’d like it better if it were shorter it’s got plenty going for it. The technology (AIs and synthesizers and such) is a reasonable extrapolation, the discussion of how the new AI works is engaging, the characters have sufficient heft to them and a decent arc, with a well-considered backstory. The end feels a little anticlimactic, but only because it comes at the end of so may pages of buildup.
So to sum up, I mostly liked the mix. My least-favorite of the issue was “the Black Feminist’s Guide to Science Fiction Film Editing,” but I’ll readily concede that the fault is probably on my end. My assumption that any story published in Asimov’s must be at least a B, bare minimum, seems to be holding up.
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