association-list a veritable mint for dunning-kruggerands

Asimov's, September 2006

Three down, fourteen to go. I think. This time, we mostly have stuff from people that I’ve read before. There are two standouts in this issue, John Kessel’s “Sunlight or Rock” and Jack Skillingstead’s “The Girl in the Empty Apartment”. Rucker’s “Postsingular” is entertaining, but there’s something that I just don’t get about Rucker. Perhaps we’re coming at SF from two entirely different angles. I mean, we’re both computer people, both, from what I’ve read of his non-fiction on guestblogging at various places, interested in much the same things. But there are two things that bother me about him, really. For Rucker, a story seems to be a string upon which to hang shiny bright ideas. The ideas might be fascinating, but without a really solid narrtive to drive them, they just seem unrestrained. Plus, I think that he problablty writes too fast, without enough thought as to what’s actually going on with the story and paying far too little attention to the music of his language. I don’t know. The ideas are great, no doubt, and there’s no lack of them. He’s kind of a soft edged, stoned out Charlie Stross in that way, I guess, although Charlie is better, usually, at putting a story together.

“Sunlight or Rock” is a story set on the moon, in a kind of down and out little place where captial is king and life is a little cheap and seedy. It follows on a another moon story of his that I read so long ago that I don’t really remember it. Or maybe I just think that I’ve read it, beacuse looking back, it was in 2002 and I wasn’t reading the magazines then. Maybe it was in the years best? I’ll have to look it up, I remember reading it for some reason. I blather (writing too fast). It’s about a kid struggling to survive without enough money or work far from home and without any real friends. It doesn’t have a proper, satisfying ending, and for the most part it all swings around sports betting, which I couldn’t care less about. At the same time, it’s well written and the tone of the story is excellent. There’s something to be said for stories that don’t go anywhere. It’s like a pause in a novel where the author is doing nothing but moving the character from setting to setting and manages to make it beautiful anyway, just for the joy of writing good words.

“The Girl in the Empty Apartment” is something of a slipstream piece which isn’t usually my bag, honestly, but something about this one caught my attention. Since the action is more than a little surreal, it’s hard to say definitively what’s really going on here, especially as I don’t think that I’ve read any of Skillingstead’s other Harbinger stories. It’s felt, though, which is important. It’s a good read, and I’ll have to find more of his stuff.

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