No, I didn’t forget about my pledge to review Asimov’s SF magazine this year. I wanted to finish my look back to the 2012 year of anime first but that’s done now and I can get to the other posts I’ve had cooking in my head.
Now onto the review of what just might end up being the strongest month of Asimov’s this year.
The February edition of Asimov’s starts off with a novelette from Matthew Hughes, And Then Some. Set in the author’s Ten Thousand Worlds universe, this story follows a licensed operative sent to another world to arrest a man wanted for fraud. The arrest doesn’t go as smoothly as hoped and the licensed operative gets the opportunity to learn first hand what the fraudster has been up to and what’s gotten him worried. This was a likeable story; however, even without the helpful introduction text, it was apparent that this story takes place in a larger body of work – one I’m not familiar with. The author did a good enough job supplying the needed background information that I could enjoy this story but several times throughout the story I felt like I was expected to know some detail related to what was going on and didn’t. Also, the ending gave the story a feeling of being a bridging chapter from a book where our hero learned some important piece of information that sets him onto the next story arc which, as someone unfamiliar with this universe, was a disappointing way to end the story. In the future, if Asimov’s runs further stories centered around this character then much of my criticism of this story can be thrown out. 7/10
Every issue of Asimov’s has the potentiality to contain a story that truly blindsides the reader and leaves their mental equilibrium unbalanced for days which is why, when a new one is delivered in my mailbox, I love just holding it and wondering what new wonder is contained inside. Not every issue contains such a story but the next story The New Guys Always Work Overtime by David Erik Nelson sucker-punched my brain and, even a month after I first read it, the title still sends chills down my spine. In this short story the author finds a novel, if slightly depressing, way to use time travel to help American manufacturing keep pace with overseas companies. Leavened with a good deal of humor at the expense of the new guys I was already mentally deciding on a score of an 8 as I approached the end when the author signaled he wasn’t done creating yet. Beyond the subject matter, the attention to building the character of viewpoint character and the solid writing ensured the success of this story and makes me want to read more from David Erik Nelson. 10/10
M. Bennardo’s short story Outbound From Put-In-Bay got my attention with it’s title. Born and raised in N.E. Ohio meant, among other things, that I’ve developed a love for Lake Erie and I was excited to see how it was featured in the story. Outbound did not disappoint. With the current consensus for man-made global warming, nearly all of near future SF features a warming planet as the back drop and I find this either lazy on the part of SF writers or an example of group-think. Even if one could peer into the future 50 or 100 years to see that global warming has occurred, from a creative standpoint, there should be variety in the futures shown. M. Bennardo breaks from the herd with this story which supposes that by 1915 it becomes apparent that the world is sliding into an ice age and over the next century the United States splinters into regional countries and the level of the Great Lakes drops to the point that the shallow western part of Lake Erie has nearly totally filled in. This opens a route for smugglers to take crude oil out of Canada and send it to the refineries south in the former US and avoid the steep tariffs. With this as the backdrop we follow our main character trying to find a path in life that wouldn’t end in starvation. Needless to say, I loved the setting and all the little touches made me feel like I was there. I hope the author returns this universe because it feels like there’s untapped potential. 8/10
The stories that Robert Reed write are always, at a minimum, good stories and most are excellent. Roughly once a year, however, Asimov’s will carry a Robert Reed story that is phenomenal, a haunting piece of literature that sends a chill down one’s spine and leaves the mind feeling off-kilter. The Golden Age of Story is this year’s example of how exceptional Robert Reed is as an author. (Though I certainly wouldn’t mind a second story of this caliber :) .) The introduction frames the story perfectly by giving the real life connection that is the genesis behind this short story of a drug that can improve the brain in every way with the sole side-effect being a compulsive need to creatively lie and the price one man has to pay when the truth becomes a rare commodity. 10/10
I suspect one’s knowledge of a work entitled Candide will play into how well John Chu’s short short story Best of All Possible Worlds is received by the reader. I have no clue what it is and the short length of the story does not allow the uninitiated, like myself, to feel included. The rest of the story is a cute, lightweight story about a guy in grad school that befriends an alien who wants to help him get through school. I think if this story had been longer it would have been more effective. 6/10
While I might be a little fussy about fantasy appearing in Asimov’s, I love to see the occasional well-written and different alternative history story appearing in this magazine’s pages. The Weight of the Sunrise by Vylar Kaftan fits wonderful that criteria. Sunrise takes place in a world where the American colonies stand on the cusp of rebellion from England and seek funds from an Incan Empire that has slowly rebuilt itself after it was severely crippled by the Spanish but never conquered. The Americans offer something that the Incans would dearly love to have but their request for gold, and not silver, is troublesome because the Incans believe gold comes from and belongs to their god. So the question is will the Incans agree to the deal and what will the ramifications be, however they answer, for the Incan empire? The set-up was very interesting and different by itself but this story also featured strong, clear writing that created and developed an interesting cast of characters with real depth to them. I want to read more from Vylar Kaftan and hope she can return to the pages of Asimov’s quickly. 9/10