Monday, April 29, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Alexander Jablokov

I was really impressed with Alexander Jablokov's early work, in the '90s, particularly "Fragments of a Painted Eggshell", from 1995, which I thought an obvious Hugo contender, except that it appeared in one of the great years for SF novelettes -- that was the year that Greg Egan published "Wang's Carpets", and Ian MacLeod published "Starship Day", and James Patrick Kelly published "Think Like a Dinosaur". Then, around 1998, Jablokov stopped publishing, for about 8 years. Thankfully, his return has been similarly impressive. Today is his birthday, so here's a selection of my Locus reviews of his stories since that return to the field.

Locus, July 2006

There are good stories in the August Asimov's ... Finally, a very welcome return: Alexander Jablokov’s “Dead Man”. An investigator is hunting down a dead man – more properly, a man who has been uploaded into a computer but still survived by accident. Apparently this isn’t allowed. We slowly learn a little bit about the “dead man” and what drives him, and rather more about the investigator and what drives him – particularly his relationship with his mother. Strong work, very nicely using the SF idea purely in the service of looking at human character.

Locus, March 2007

Elsewhere in these two issues there is plenty further fine work. Alexander Jablokov’s return to the field continues in fine form with “Brain Raid” (F&SF, February). A small team from a struggling cognitive repossession firm is sent to recover a rogue AI that has formed in a minimall. But problems arise – it seems the AI is a bit more powerful than they are equipped to handle. The story twists a bit from there, turning on the motivations of the narrator’s supposed friend who tipped them to this job. It’s a nicely plotted piece, and nicely furnished with SFnal detail – and its central idea reminds me that the same idea, AIs becoming too intelligent for the good of humans, certainly of ancient vintage in the field, seems suddenly very fashionable again.

Locus, September 2007

There’s plenty more fine stuff this issue (F&SF, September). Alexander Jablokov’s “Wrong Number” tells engagingly enough of repairing regret over missed opportunities while repairing cars – it sounds odd, and is, but matter of factly so.

Locus, March 2008

The March F&SF has another in a recent mini-genre of stories that aren’t quite SF but that in their retelling of aspects of the Space Race readily satisfy our SF Jones. (Other examples being the film Apollo 13 and Andy Duncan’s “The Chief Designer”.) In “The Boarder”, Alexander Jablokov tells of a Russian immigrant family who take in another immigrant as a boarder: a man who was a minor cog in the Russian space program. Through the eyes of the family’s American-born son we see this curious and obsessed man, and we learn not only something of Russia’s sometimes tragic space adventures, but something of the conflicted experience of the immigrant.

Locus, March 2010

At Asimov’s for March two stories stood out. Alexander Jablokov, one of my favorite new writers of the ‘90s who had mostly gone silent until recently, offers “Blind Cat Dance”, about two things: a strange project to restore habitats to wildlife by engineering them to be blind to humans, so that they live among us; and also about a woman who want to learn to do that sort of work, and her husband’s project to help her, and another man with a different view entirely of the woman and that project. 

Locus, April 2011

The April-May Asimov’s is their first big Double Issue of the new year, and there is a lot of good stuff to be found in it. The cover story is “The Day the Wires Came Down”, a steampunk-flavored story by Alexander Jablokov. Arabella and Andrew are twins, and they take a ride on the “telpher” system on its last day before it will close. The telphers are suspended trains running on wires. The two are looking for a light for their father’s birthday, but they end up with a curious electrode wrapped in a piece of newspaper that tells of a long ago disaster, the sabotage of an old telpher station. They end up following the telpher system to the end of its line, out of the city, still looking for a light while learning in bits and pieces the story of that past disaster, as the telpherman running their car seems to be engaged in his own romantic adventure. The angle of the telling of the story is a bit odd – a necessary choice, perhaps, to maintain mystery and to allow the whole story to unspool, but it does distract the reader, as well, as Arabella and Andrew turn out to be more observers than central to the story. So while I enjoyed it I felt kept a bit at a distance.

Locus, July 2014

The cover story in the July Asimov's is Alexander Jablokov's “The Instructive Tale of the Archaeologist and His Wife”, and it's a very good one. It's set in what seems to be perhaps the far future, after the “technological era” has collapsed. The story turns subtly on the title archaeologist's slow accumulation of unexplainable artifacts, on his difficult relationship with his wife, who joins a crackpottish sect called the Obliviators, on certain mysteries about the past “technological age”, and on his own descent – or ascent – into a brand of what his colleagues would also call crackpottery. And in the end a striking revelation comes to us, about how we can know the past (and, perhaps, at some level about SF and Fantasy writers).

Locus, December 2016

And perhaps the best piece this issue (Asimov's, October-November) is “The Forgotten Taste of Honey”, by Alexander Jablokov, set on a Norsish island controlled by Gods who insist that the corpses of people from their territories be returned if they die in another place. This seems to reduce social mobility a lot, and so traders are viewed with suspicion, and pay for their passage, in a sense, by transporting misplaced corpses to their homes. Tromvi is a middle-aged trader who took up her profession after her husband died in one of the wars/feuds that plague this land. On her current trip she has the corpse of a mountain woman who died by the sea, and this corpse, or its God, seems quite insistent about its journey, particularly when the vagaries of her trip, influenced by more fighting, lead her to a rather suspicious-acting Passkeeper, who seems to want to steal the corpse; and then to a feral young woman. The landscape, again, is well-captured, and the fantastical background struck me as quite original, while the main character gives it all a believable sensible grounding.

Locus, February 2019

In the January-February Asimov's, Alexander Jablokov has another story about Sere, investigating things in the baroque multi-species city of Tempest. In “How Sere Looked for a Pair of Boots” she begins by trying to free her cousin’s boyfriend from prison, and ends up stumbling on something much more significant. The best part of the story, as with its predecessor, is the gleeful description of the odd configurations and habits of the various alien species. Fun stuff.

No comments:

Post a Comment