Friday, 13 September 2013

The Ice War by Stephen Baxter - Asimov's Science Fiction, September 2008

Alternate History seems to fall into the mix of SF simply because it embodies that "sense of wonder" that is so important to the world of SF.  There was a time that SF stood for Science Fiction which rather limits the genre.  Personally I like boundaries, they help to form an expectation of the entertainment before the reader.  Say what you will about how borders limit creativity; it's those very borders that can help a person find a type of fiction they enjoy.  And what's wrong with that?

Lately SF now stands for speculative fiction which is so broad as to dilute the genre.  Now there is an overwhelming mix of mystic powers and creatures; revisionist history and plain old sword-and-sandals fantasy cluttering my old playground that used to include science and futurism.

NOTE: Steam Punk I like because it is still science fiction just set in the Victorian past.

This last story in the September issue is an alternative history tale where we follow Jack Hobbs a less than admirable narrator.  Set in England 1720 Hobbs is escaping the wrath of a young woman's father.  During his flight a meteor crashes right in front of him. This meteor is a fragment from a passing comet that harbors alien life forms who begin to terrorize the countryside.

While Hobbs is trying to escape this new threat he comes across an overturned carriage containing Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift and Issac Newton, of course. (Sigh.)  Together they go on to be instrumental for the conclusion of the story.

As a story goes it was fine.  It's just that its inclusion into a science fiction magazine disappoints me.

If it took place in the future or even the present day it would have made a better fit.  It's just the contrived notion of playing with history and the well-known players therein seems indulgent to me.

The problem I face with all these magazines is that they reflect the attitudes of authors and publishers of their time.  In 2008 SF - Science Fiction - was a bit of a mess.

Stephen Baxter

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