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Wed, May. 4th, 2005, 11:57 am
greengolux: Asimov's January - May 2005

This is an overview of some of the stories from recent issues of Asimov's. It's not a complete overview because I read haphazardly and haven't finished reading all the stories in any single issue, but hopefully it will cover some general trends and point out some highlights and lowlights of the past few months.

Overall, a positive pattern in the last three issues has been angels. The January issue features a poignant little story called 'Water Angel' (short story) by Bruce McAllister. 'Water Angel' is more of a vignette than a story; it's an event, a memory, rather than a narrative. As such it's ambiguous: it feels meaningful, but the precise meaning is opaque. The February issue, meanwhile, delivers 'Angel Kills' (novelette) by William Sanders. This a fusion of boys' own aircraft adventure story and poignant fantasy of the 'Water Angel' type. Pilots are employed to kill the angels (officially called Hostile Unidentified Entities or hueys) that have begun to mysteriously appear in the air and rip aeroplanes to shreds. As in 'Water Angel', the precise nature and meaning of the angels is not known - there is much debate about what they are and where they come from - and the powers we as humans have are explored in the alternately destructive or protective responses people are shown to have towards the things they don't understand.

A more disappointing theme of the last few issues has been a Flowers for Algernon riff. Susan Palwick's 'The Fate of Mice' (short story) in the January issue and Mike Resnick's 'Down Memory Lane' (short story) in the April/May double issue both owe a debt to Daniel Keyes' famous story. And they both feel disappointingly derivative because of it. 'The Fate of Mice' is about a super-intelligent lab-mouse named Algernon, and as well as featuring this cutesy talking animal it also features a cutesy little girl who befriends him. As a whole it just seems insipid and uninspired, and the combination of talking animal and small child gives it a faintly juvenile feel too. 'Down Memory Lane' is slightly better, but it's still a bit too sickly to work for me. This story is about a pensioner who deliberately gets himself 'dumbed down' so that he can once again relate to his elderly wife whose mind has degenerated due to Alzheimers. Despite the fact that this story is obviously supposed to be sympathetic towards those suffering senile dementia and their families, in the end it only ends up trivialising real people's experiences of this condition. The sentimental thought that true love will win through and that a senile old couple will still fall romantically in love with each other whenever they meet, despite the fact that they can't even remember who they are any more, seems unrealistic and cloyingly patronising.

My pick of the rest of the stories I've read so far from these issues is Kage Baker's 'The Two Old Women' (short story) from the February issue. Like 'Down Memory Lane', 'The Two Old Women' also places elderly characters at centre stage, and in my opinion it does a better job of evoking the loss and loneliness that a person might feel at the end of their life when the people who have been most important to them are dead and gone. Baker does a good job too, of exploring the whole range of different and vitally important relationships we all develop throughout life. Like 'Down Memory Lane', 'The Two Old Women' seems to focus on the romantic sort of relationship that is central to most people's lives, the relationship, in this case, between a wife and her husband. It starts with an elderly widow calling her long dead husband out of the sea to come back to her. But over the course of the story the widow's other relationships make themselves felt, until she comes to realise that she has responsibilities to people other than her husband, and that she has a whole range of different family commitments that mean she is not as alone as she perhaps thought she was.