[SF] 2008 Yearly Review of Asimov’s + My Picks for the Reader’s Choice Award

science

I had planned on reviewing every edition of Asimov’s this year but it turned out that I only got to the January edition. So, what I’ll do is give a quick review of the year before moving onto my Reader’s Choice Award ballot.

There are 3 different length categories: (NA) – novella, (NT) – novelette, (SS) – short story. Novellas are the longest and can run around 50 pages and short stories are the shortest and can be at most several pages.

Best Stories in Asimov’s

January

  • (NT) Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders by Mike Resnick
  • (NT) The Beautiful and Damned By F.Scott Fitzgerald by Tanith Lee
  • (SS) Unlikely by Will McInTosh

February

  • (SS) From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled by Michael Swanwick
  • (NT) The Ray-Gun: A Love Story by James Alan Gardner

March

  • (NT) Following the Pharmers by Brian Stableford
  • (NT) Master of the Road to Nowhere by Carol Emshwiller

April / May

  • (NT) Memory Dog by Kathleen Ann Goonan
  • (NA) The Room of Lost Souls by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

June

  • (NA) Hob Carpet by Ian R. MacLeod

July

  • (NT) Vinegar Peace, Or, The Wrong-Way Used Orphanage by Michael Bishop
  • (SS) 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson

August

  • (NT) Divining Light by Ted Kosmatka

September

  • (SS) Horse Racing by Mary Rosenblum
  • (NT) Midnight Blue by Will McInTosh

October / November

  • (NA) Truth by Robert Reed

December

  • (NA) The Flowers of Nicosia by David Ira Cleary

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First off, I want to congratulate Sheila Williams, the editor, for another strong year of Asimov’s.

I continue to be amazed how a mere $32.97 a year gives me so much. It truly is one of the best ratios of entertainment / cost that can be found with at least 100 pages (200 for double issues) of fiction per issue. The stories listed above were the best of the best from Asimov’s this year – the stories that I’ll remember and talk about for years to come. I didn’t include the stories that were only excellent and above average because that would have made the list too long.

And let’s not forget the columns that are in Asimov’s. My favorites are the Editorial column that’s written Sheila Williams and the Reflections column by Robert Silverberg. Both Sheila Williams and Robert Silverberg have been lifelong fans of science fiction and this love pervades their columns. Even when many of Sheila’s columns deal with meta things like reporting on the results of the Reader’s Choice Award, what she’s looks for when buying a story, and why Asimov’s physical dimensions were slightly changed – She can still slip in interesting story. Like how for awhile Asimov’s had the same dimensions as the TV Guide magazine so it could be printed on the same presses as the TV Guide. On the other hand Robert Silverberg has free rein to talk about anything and he does. The topics he covered ranged from the high-tech toilets of Japan to how humanity is rapidly running out of certain elements like Gallium to talking about a story written in 1946 that actually predicted the home computer, the internet, and how society would become dependent on the computer.

The most memorable column, however, was written by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Among other things that she talked about was research she had done about America in the year 1969. That year, if you remember, was the year that American astronauts became the first people to land on the moon. During that same year there were over 3000 bombs that were detonated in America – mainly by domestic terrorists – so many that it was no longer national news when one went off. She also found that in the United States alone there were 37 airline hijackings during the same year. My brain has trouble even imagining what it must have been like to live through that and still be able to pull off the something so ambitious as a Moon landing.

The final thing I wanted to mention before moving to my picks was that I got my name mentioned in the September Asimov’s. Sheila Williams used my comment summing the 2007 year of Asimov’s in her Editorial column about the 2008 Reader’s Choice Awards. Seeing my name in print like that was really, really cool and makes me want to try to become a published author.

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2009 Reader’s Award Ballot

Novella

  1. Truth by Robert Reed
  2. The Room of Lost Souls by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  3. Hob Carpet by Ian R. MacLeod

One of the certitudes in reading short form science fiction is that a Robert Reed story is always good, sometimes great, and occasionally sublime. Truth falls into the sublime category. Set a few years in the future, it recasts (as only science fiction can) current events in a totally different light. It gripped the reader from the start and held us on the edge of our seats to the very ending. It was also supremely imaginative and thought-provoking as great science fiction should be.

Truth squeaks past the sole story that takes place in space, Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s The Room of Lost Souls. The story takes place in the far future where humanity has colonized the universe and has had time to learn and forget many technologies. This makes wreck diving popular because some fantastic technology might be hiding on a long abandoned star ship. One such technology is perfect stealth which is what drives the events around this story and an early story set in the same universe. Rusch has a talent at creating characters that feel like real people and making the reader care about what happens to them. I hope that Rusch will revisit this interesting universe in the near future.

Novelette

  1. Memory Dog by Kathleen Ann Goonan
  2. Divining Light by Ted Kosmatka
  3. The Beautiful and Damned By F.Scott Fitzgerald by Tanith Lee

Much like Truth, Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Memory Dog takes place in a near future that feels plausible and connected to our world. It examines one person’s extreme feeling of loss and regret and how it personally drives him to insanity but also gives humanity the chance to start acting sane. This one packs a emotionally wallop as well as featuring some great technology.

In any other year, Divining Light by Ted Kosmatka would probably have easily win this award but it had to come out this year. That doesn’t detract from the fact that this story was one of the few times that reading or watching something has produced a feeling of vertigo in me. It was further unsettling when I went online and found that much of the quantum mechanics used in this story was true and the fictional parts are only fictional because no one has tested to see if their true or not. From a story standpoint, I picked Memory Dog over this story because of slightly better characterization among the characters.

Short Story

  1. From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled by Michael Swanwick
  2. 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson
  3. Unlikely by Will McInTosh

I’ve been enjoying Michael Swanwick’s well crafted stories for a long time now and his latest, From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled, is no different. The story is told by an AI inhabiting a space suit and takes place on an alien planet where a delegation of humans look to trade with the inhabiting alien race. The story is well written with good characterization and the aliens felt realistically alien and it’s all the more amazing that Swanwick was able to do this in such a short story.

The other two stories: 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss and Unlikely, are more lighthearted but still very well written. 26 Monkeys is about a traveling circus act that involves 26 monkeys and a bathtub that has some sort of portal attached to it that allows the monkeys to disappear at the end of their performance. And Unlikely is a story about how injuries and accidents are decreased within a community when a certain guy and girl are in close proximity with each other. Is it fate or is it a statistical anomaly? Many of Asimov’s stories are serious, melancholy or downright depressing and it’s stories like these two that help balance it out the reading experience.

Poem

  1. Classic of Science Fiction: “The Cold Equations” by Jack O’Brien
  2. Where Seelie Shop by Greg Beatty
  3. Return of Zombie Teen Angst by Mike Allen

I’m not a good judge of what makes a good poem but all three that I picked, I remember reading even months later so I figure that means they’re the good ones.

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Cover

  1. March
  2. December
  3. January

One of the weakest elements of Asimov’s is the covers. Most of them make me think that they were done 50 years ago – hardly the image a SF magazine should have. Sometimes there’s a decent cover like the second and third pick but only very rarely is there a good cover like my top pick. I’ve often thought that they should run a contest looking new cover art and it would target college art students and art professionals just starting out who would love the chance to get their work shown nationally and even internationally.

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