Monday, December 05, 2011

REVIEW: Aurora in Four Voices

Author: Catherine Asaro
Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy
Price: $30
Publisher: Isfic Press
ISBN: 978-0-9759156-9-1
Point of Sale: publishers site
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I am a regular attendee at Windycon, my local science fiction convention. Since I’ve been attending, Isfic Press, which is owned by the same organization as the con, has been putting out a book. This year’s edition was Aurora in Four Voices, a collection of five novellas by the convention Guest of Honor, Catherine Asaro. Isfic Press has a tradition of putting out fine quality books, and this year they kept up the tradition.

Catherine Asaro is a true Renaissance woman – her day job is as a PhD in mathematics, but she dances, sings and writes wonderful stories. All five of the stories in this book were previously published, but are collected here for the first time. They are each a gem, well worth reading. The stories are:

Aurora in Four Voices – drawing on Catherine’s mathematical background, this story involves a convicted murderer, not terribly math-literate, who is trapped in a city that revolves around math. In a pleasant switch from the same-old-same-old, he is rescued by a woman.

Ave de Paso – this story is a straight-ahead fantasy, set in contemporary New Mexico. I found it very haunting, with strong emotions and complex characters.

The Spacetime Pool – this story won Catherine the Nebula Award, and it’s easy to see why. It appears to be a fantasy, involving a woman being magically transported from the Appalachian Trail to a realm of castles and armored men on horseback. But Janelle, the woman so transported, is smart and too active to wait for rescue. Unfortunately, Janelle’s understanding of mathematics allows her to discover that returning to her own world is not possible.

Light and Shadow - this story is based in part on a scene in the great space movie “The Right Stuff.” In that scene, Chuck Yeager is seen walking away from his plane, crashed during a test flight. Here, Catherine puts Kelric, the hero of several of her Skolian Empire series, in the Chuck Yeager role. Mathematics also figures prominently, as Catherine uses imaginary numbers (such as the square root of -1) to build a faster-than-light engine.

The City of Cries – this long novella was written on commission for Mike Resnick, who included it in his anthology Down These Dark Spaceways. The novella is a hard-boiled crime / space opera set in Catherine’s Skolian Empire. There’s not much math involved in this story, but Catherine has a lot of fun inverting the tradition of cloistered women.

The book is rounded out by a non-fiction essay in which Catherine attempts to explain some of the mathematical concepts introduced in the other stories. She proves to be a good teacher as well as writer. Overall, I found Aurora in Four Voices highly entertaining. You should order a copy today.


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