“Going Deep”, by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s, June 2009)
This is a somewhat depressing entry from the usually positive Kelly, who has somehow managed to get a story into every June issue of Asimov’s for 25 years in a row. A young girl named Mariska lives on the moon, going through the last year of her schooling with a small group of actual people and interacting with some AI mentors and teachers. It sounds like these kids have their destiny already determined as “spacers”, making years-long trips to explore distant planets. In fact her clone-mother is off on just such a trip during the time of the story. Mariska has a natural teenage rebellion to having her future prescribed for her and rebels the only way she knows how. At the end, her mother comes back and they have a very inconclusive conversation, but basically Mariska has no free will because her mother has already manifested the traits that make her ultimately want to devote her life to traveling through space. We’ve seen previous Kelly stories of people living in isolation dealing with the revelation of their role in the cosmos, so some of this is familiar ground. There are some interesting themes at work here, but in this short space I don’t get the feeling that enough attention is paid to them to make the story stand on its own.
“Before My Last Breath”, by Robert Reed (Asimov’s, October/November 2009)
Reed uses multiple viewpoint characters in short sections to evoke a first-contact story right in our backyard, where long-dead aliens are discovered buried in a coal mining area, first one, then several, and ultimately thousands. As each succeeding character comes into contact with this ongoing event, they naturally question the motives and circumstances surrounding such a mass burial, and correlate that with their own vision of mortality, including a doctor who is dying of cancer and the US president who is involved in a breaking scandal. At one point you get the sense that these people’s lives might have been materially affected by their relationship to the aliens, but that doesn’t seem to be on purpose and Reed doesn’t make anything special of it. The last section goes back to the aliens themselves, giving some insight into what their thought-processes were and how they got to that point, how they kept moving forward with their lives even as their Earth-bound colony was dying away. A nicely evocative story, made more interesting by the narrative technique Reed employs and ultimately allowing the reader to draw his own conclusions.
“Colliding Branes”, by Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling (Asimov’s, February 2009)
This story by two SF heavyweights promotes the rapture of the bloggers, that two popular website writers named Angelo and Rabbiteen, who have never previously met, are not only the first to be given information that the universe is about to end but then actually manage to survive it. The blog stuff would seem to come from Sterling while the whole brane business is more up Rucker’s alley, in general this story tends to bear more of the stamp of the latter, in that these two characters team up to go on the road in search of a rumored escape through something called the Black Egg, at the mysterious Area 52. The reader isn’t sure for a while whether the whole thing is made up, but as the story goes on the signs do point to the imminent destruction of the universe through the collision of two branes. In the meantime, the two protagonists have some pre-apocalypse sex and end up encoutering the mysterious Cody, a commenter who had originally given them the information. The imagery of humanity as spermatozoa all heading towards this one “egg” is not exactly subtle, but still amusing. This story’s combination of gonzo plot and end of the universe setting seems to be a popular combination in Hugo-nominated stories recently, making it a good candidate for this year’s ballot.