The Waiting Room: The Pedia’s Story by James Gunn, Asmov’s Science Fiction, Mar/Apr 2018

I’ve become accustomed to Mr. Gunn’s stories. They’re heavy on explanation, which is to say, much exposition, but this is not to say they are always dull. On the contrary, I’ve enjoyed most of his stories to a moderate degree, not falling head over heels for them, but often ending each with a feeling that I was glad to have read it, even if I wasn’t blown away.

This story continues a long series for Mr. Gunn in Asimov’s pages. The most amazing aspect of this story, this series, is that the author is 94 years old and will turn 95 this year. That he is still writing and still publishing and still using words in meaningful ways is really wonderful. That might not be delicate, but my grandmother died last year at 93, and it wasn’t pretty. Context is everything. I believe that.

Anyway, this story. Like all the parts of this series I’ve read this piece is about how a character comes to the planet Terminus. It is mostly a summary of Pedia, a biological computer fitted in the back of a young man’s brain. A pedia is what a computer is called in this world when it becomes an encyclopedia that humans can use to know a staggering amount of facts. This pedia, on the other hand–Pedia–has something that could be taken as sentients. It is along for the ride in this young man, and this story is about how it came to be there and how and why it is interesting to go on an exploration for the Transcendental Machine (which is what Gunn has written a novel about). All in all, this isn’t my favorite part of this series thus far, as there isn’t really a plot–it’s only 2 pages, but the other stories I’ve read from this series have certainly peaked my interest enough to keep turning to these pages when I see James Gunn in the table of contents. (C-)

Jan 27th, 2018, The Final Commandment: Trey’s Story by James Gunn, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2018

James Gunn continues and finishes his series of back stories for characters in his Transcendental space opera series with this story. Instead of a story, however, this strikes me as a fictional history. The whole thing is told in summary–there are no scenes–and since Trey is a machine, it spans hundreds, if not thousands of years.

The piece is about a planet in which intelligent life formed both on land and water simultaneously resulting in a planet-wide war. While the land civilization created machine weapons, the sea civilization created bioweapons. When both civilizations wipe each other out, the machines that land civilization left behind, reach up to the stars to explore the solar system only to find there is a galactic federation they can become a part of.

Unlike the last installment by Gunn, which had some interesting ideas in terms of alien life, the whole A.I., nonorganic sentience, is so tried and true I found little of interest here. The summary wasn’t immersive and the doomed civilizations¬†weren’t particularly sympathetic in their striving for power. Hate to say it, but rather forgettable for me. Gunn has written things I’ve enjoyed, but I wouldn’t put him in the same league as some of the other writers that have been featured this month. (D)

Jan 22nd, 2018, The Seeds of Consciousness: 4701’s Story by James Gunn, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2018

James Gunn’s recent work has been expository space opera. Asimov’s has published a running series of back stories for characters in his Transcendental series, and this story is a back story to a sentient plant character.

But it’s not really about that sentient plant. It’s more a history lesson about how this plant and its species came into being. One of the main issues I have with narratives told from a non-human PoV, is that humanness invariably seeps into the alien’s way of thinking, feeling, and acting. This isn’t surprising, but it does make me stop and wonder things like,¬†why is this very human emotion being attributed to this thing that is so far beyond our ideas of sentience? i.e. this sentient plant thing-creature.

However, this narrative is different. There aren’t “main” characters in it like much of the other installments along this vein Gunn has published, and surprisingly, this one worked for me. It was an education of how these plant things became sentient and how they overcame adversity, and that was all pretty cool. Was it a heart-wrenching piece? No. But it was interesting in its imaginativeness. It kept me there and reading a sub-genre I typically get lost in or lose interest in. So we’ll call this one a win for Mr. Gunn. (B)