Asimov’s for April/May 2013 (2 of 3)
Privilege theory comes up again, briefly, in “Julian of Earth,” by Colin P. Davies (third person past tense, ~14 pages). Tarn Erstbauer, native of an impoverished colony world, has parleyed the one major event of his youth into a wan tour-guide business. As a child, Tarn encountered the legendary Julian, a sort of Tarzan figure who put down an anticolonial rebellion on Tarn’s homeworld, then disappeared into the jungle, where he lived among the “primes,” uncivilized alien natives. Tarn makes his money, when he makes it, shuttling around offworld tourists come to hear about the legends of Julian. The arrival of Julian’s Earth-born descendant and her documentary crew, however, threatens to upset his small apple-cart. The issues of class and wealth are presented much more obliquely in “Julian of Earth” than in “Gray Wings” or “Through Your Eyes,” but ultimately all the stories are of a piece. “Julian of Earth” has a larger wordcount, and can afford to unpack its ideas more slowly and against a less on-the-nose backdrop.
Unlike all but one of the preceding stories, “The Wall,” by Naomi Kritzer (first person past tense, ~10 pages) doesn’t examine questions of class, inequality, and privilege. Which is not to say it doesn’t have a moral beneath its gaiety! Maggie, a college student in 1989, suffers a series of encounters with a woman who claims a) to be her, Maggie, from twenty-five or so years in the future, and b) that the Berlin Wall will fall that autumn. Maggie’s understandably skeptical: both of these claims seem equally implausible. The older woman’s iPhone undermines the argument that she’s merely a crazy person, however. Kritzer does an excellent job of painting the political situation just prior to the Berlin Wall’s fall, and the incredible, miraculous nature of the event. The ending lacks heft (there’s rarely enough space in a short story for that, unless it’s all about a twist ending), but I’m a softie; it worked for me.
“Spider God and the Periodic Table,” by Alan Wall (third person past tense, so limited as to be nearly objective, ~27 pages) is the only story of this issue that didn’t work for me. The summary sounds like the sort of thing I’d like: a noir-ish murder mystery, academics turning up dead in ways inexplicable to modern science, references to Rimbaud, Freud, Fort (indirectly) and string theory. But that baffled science strikes dissonant notes (the downside to a doctorate in bioinorganic chemistry; my disbelief-suspenders are very weak in that area) and the ultimate resolution seems better suited to a poem than a novella. The story doesn’t hold your hand in establishing the environment; I was halfway through before I grasped that the setting was modern London, rather than a near-future USA or anyplace else. Add to that some inexplicable references to Mossad, and I’m lost. Some good imagery, but not for me. Which is a shame; it’s well-written, with characters clearly sketched in and engaging exposition.
“Distant Like the Stars,” by Leah Cypress (first person past and present tenses, ~7 pages) manages the unenviable task of outlining vast generational social changes while telling a small human story. Sylvana inherited a rare knack for operating Doors, fast-travel Stargate devices. It’s made her family rich, but as Doors proliferate and everywhere on Earth becomes just a few steps away, the shrinking horizon fills her with claustrophobia. She flees to an offworld colony, but in just a few years they’re building a Door to connect to Earth and the travel network, too; there’s nowhere she can escape to. Sylvana’s solution to her problem follows logically and is extremely satisfying. The blurb at the start of the story indicates that Cypress reworked “Distant Like the Stars” many, many times to get it to work, and it shows. I mean that in the best possible way; most stories this short barely have time to present one coherent idea, and here Cypress squeezes in both Sylvana’s personal story and the broader tale of a world with Doors.
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