Hot Times in Magma City (1995)

Hartwell’s Year’s Best SF 1996 3/14

If you’ve read science fiction for some time, you know the terminology and the concepts. Stuff that may feel fantastic to the less well-read genre reader is just mundane now. But once in a while you find something that makes you go, is that even possible despite that you read about time and space travel all day long.

My first reaction to Robert Silverberg’s Hot Times in Magma City was WTF, my second I have no idea if that is even possible, my third hmm, maybe not so crazy at all. It’s about small lava outbreaks all over LA and members of the Citizen Service house (not quite a jail and not quite a recovery center) who fight the lava by cooling it with water and trying to stop it from going anywhere further.

The lava fighters all have their own problems, mostly addictions of various kinds and the entire recovery process and don’t get along all that well even on the best of days. Well written and pretty convincing characters, but then that has always been one of Silverberg’s major strengths.

I don’t really like the story, mostly because I don’t really care about the concept of fighting lava outbreaks in LA (probably very near-future), but it’s a well written and well done. Just not my cup of coffee.