Today is Tom Purdom's 83rd birthday, and what better time for a compilation of my reviews of stories from his exceptional late career outpouring.
Locus, June 2003
The two longest stories in the June Asimov's, Tom Purdom's "The Path of the Transgressor" and John Varley's "The Bellman", both feature riveting chase scenes, with their respective protagonists coming within a whisker of death. And they embed these chase scenes in unambiguously SFnal settings, and they use the SFnal nature of the settings to drive the stories, rather than as simply window-dressing or local color. I would hope these stories would satisfy most any adventure-starved reader. ... Even better is "The Path of the Transgressor". Davin Sam is a researcher on another planet, studying the habits of some unusual alien social animals. His wife Lizera is a former "geisha" -- genetically engineered to be predisposed toward pleasing her customers -- and now Davin is her "customer". They face considerable prejudice, which comes to a head when some of the alien animals alter their habits and attack the couple. When Lizera is injured it becomes clear that Davin could save himself by abandoning her. Shockingly, this is exactly what the bigots expect. The action sequences, as the two struggle for survival, are very well done, but the meat of the story is the exploration of the nature of their relationship, and the social context of it, which leads to a surprising and thought-provoking conclusion. This is one of the best stories to date in 2003.
Locus, February 2004
DAW's "monthly magazine" of themed anthologies offers a reliable if seldom exciting source of new SF and Fantasy. 2003 closes with Mike Resnick's New Voices in Science Fiction: 20 short stories by new writers (variably defined: from complete unknowns like Paul Crilley to well-established writers like Kage Baker and Susan R. Mathews). For the most part the stories seem more promising than outstanding. My favorite story here is "Palace Resolution" by Tom Purdom, about a civil war between rival factions in an asteroid habitat over the way to deal with an alien probe.
Locus, March 2004
Tom Purdom's latest story of a future Casanova (prosaically named Joe) is "Romance for Augmented Trio" (Asimov's, February). The protagonist, as in several previous stories, is engaged in an affair with a younger and thus (due to improvements in the human genome) much more intelligent woman, this time named Ganmei. They are journeying to the Kuiper Belt where they are attacked by a mentally unbalanced man, and Joe and Ganmei must use their different talents to try to outwit this psychotic individual, and his AI augmentations.
Guest Review of October-November 2005 Asimov's for Tangent Online
Tom Purdom’s “Bank Run” is my favorite story of this double issue. It appears to be set in the same future as his excellent story “The Path of the Transgressor”. Like that story it features a man on another planet with a genetically-engineered female companion – a woman tailored not only to delight him but also to be loyal to him. The protagonist, Sabor, is one of the leading bankers on the planet Fernheim. This planet has a rather anarchistic social setup, with a few bankers, a number of “Possessors” (major landowners, I suppose), some providers of such services as mercenaries, and presumably a large underclass of genetically-engineered servants: guards, concubines, and everything in between, one assumes. And no particular laws, just social pressure and financial pressure.
Sabor has just refused a loan to Possessor Kenzan Khan, partly on the grounds of the man’s irresponsibility. Khan responds by engaging a mercenary force to try to kidnap Sabor. Sabor’s defense strategy is a combination of flight, physical resistance, and financial negotiations with other banks, with Khan’s rivals, and with the mercenaries. The financial and small-scale political negotiations may sound dry – but I didn’t find them so at all. The story examines the ways in which financial pressure, and self-interest based both on financial opportunity and concern for one’s reputation, might substitute for laws. But this is no libertarian tract – the entire setup raises questions about its feasibility and stability, and does not insist on answers. Behind everything there are lurking questions about Sabor’s own character, and particularly the rather unpleasant implied economy of this future, with what seems to be essentially slavery a main aspect. Finally, much of the emotional center of the story (as with “The Path of the Transgressor”) concerns the question of relationships with people engineered to love you, and engineered for you to desire – how “real” are the feelings on either side of such a relationship?
Locus, October 2005
Best from the Asimov’s Double Issue is “Bank Run”, by Tom Purdom. This story appears to be set in the same future as his excellent story “The Path of the Transgressor”, and like that story it features a man on another planet with a genetically-engineered female companion – a woman tailored not only to delight him but also to be loyal to him. This is a disquieting background note in a story that in the foreground is a clever adventure story, featuring both futuristic technology and futuristic financial manipulation. Sabor is one of the leading bankers on the planet Fernheim. He has just refused a loan to Possessor Kenzan Khan, partly on the grounds of the man’s irresponsibility. Khan’s response is to engage a mercenary force and attack Sabor. The defense strategy is a combination of flight, physical resistance, and financial negotiations with other banks, with Khan’s rivals, and with the mercenaries. It’s not dry in the least – rather, I was in the edge of my seat. And behind everything lurk questions about Sabor’s character, about the rather unpleasant implied economy of this future, with what seems to be essentially slavery a main aspect, and about the emotional aspects of relationships with people engineered to love you, and engineered for you to desire.
Locus, February 2008
Tom Purdom is one of my favorites, and he does not disappoint with “Sepoy Fidelities” (Asimov's, March), about two people who have been given beautiful and strong new bodies by the Earth’s alien rulers. They fall in love, but their new bodies come at a price – their first loyalty is to their job.
Locus, July 2010
In the July Asimov’s Tom Purdom, is in fine form in “Haggle Chips”, which once again examines the collision of economic manipulation and emotional manipulation. A man selling valuable eyes to a powerful woman is kidnapped by an opponent of the woman – he becomes, straightforwardly, a pawn in a power game. Then he falls in love with an associate of his kidnapper – but was she mentally altered to fall for him? And does that matter?
Locus, December 2010
Also in the December Asimov's, I enjoyed Tom Purdom’s “Warfriends”, a sequel to his mid-60s Ace Double The Tree Lord of Imeten, concerning the balky attempts of a couple of very different species to cooperate.
Locus, April 2011
Tom Purdom’s “A Response from EST17” (Asimov's, April-May) is intelligent science fiction about rival expeditions to a distant planet, and particularly the response of the intelligent natives to the human explorers. It turns out such expeditions are common in interstellar history, and there is a way to deal with them. Purdom offers an interesting explanation for the Fermi Paradox, and a nice way out of it.
Locus, March 2012
In the March Asimov’s I quite enjoyed the cover story, “Golva’s Ascent”, by Tom Purdom. This is another of his Imeten stories (the first of which was the 1966 Ace Double The Tree Lord of Imeten, the second of which was the 2010 Asimov’s story “Warfriends”), set on a heavily forested planet occupied by two species: a tree-dwelling and tool-using people, and a ground dwelling species with considerable linguistic facility but no hands so no tools. This story concerns Golva, a highly intelligent itiji (one of the ground-dwellers), if a bit of a social misfit in his milieu (he is portrayed almost as if he has Asperger’s), who daringly sets out on a journey up the plateau where the small group of humans live. Once there he is captured and studied by a sympathetic researcher – but it turns out the humans are dominated by a rather sadistic leader, and Golva finds himself needing to escape with the help of the researcher. The action is exciting, and the depiction of an alien species is well done.
Locus, September 2013
Tom Purdom's “A Stranger from a Foreign Ship” (Asimov's, September) makes nice use of a familiar central idea: a character who can temporarily switch minds with other people. He uses it for somewhat small time crime – identity theft, basically. And then he wonders how this might affect one particular victim, a young woman … Things resolve, not quite cynically, but realistically, as no great romance is involved, and indeed the characters are not unlikeable exactly but no heroes either. Solid work.
Locus, September 2014
In the September Asimov's Tom Purdom brings to a close (it would seems) his latest sequence of stories, these set on Imeten, a planet he first visited in a 1966 Ace Double, The Tree Lord of Imeten. In this story, “Bogdavi's Dream”, an alliance between some members of the tree people of Imeten, others of the ground dwelling itiji, and a few humans exiled from the human colony mount an attack on the colony, hoping to depose the brutal usurper leading the colony and free the rest of the humans. It doesn't have quite the Sfnal zip of the previous entries – as fairly often with later stories in a series, the inventions and revelations are in the past, and what's left is resolution. That said it's an enjoyable adventure story, with nice battle scenes, and well-drawn characters from all three species, and making good use of the situation already established, particularly the characteristics of the two native intelligent species, in coming to a satisfying conclusion.