I’m not one to make a New Years resolution but this year I decided to try one out and so I’m going to attempt reviewing this year’s run of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazines for this blog.
Before beginning I need to mention a couple of items about the grading scale I’ll be using for the shorter length works found in Asimov’s. I won’t be using my standard 12 point scale because it has a higher number of gradations then what is needed for this task. (I probably couldn’t even decide if I wanted to what difference would constitute giving a story a 10.5/12 vs. only a 10/12.)
Instead, I’ll be using a 10 point scale weighted as follows. A completely average story – the type that would earn a “C” – will earn a score of 5/10. One that is slightly better then average will get a 6/10. A “good” story will earn a 7/10 and a “great” work will earn an 8/10. A “masterpiece” story will receive a 9/10 and a perfect 10/10 will be reserved for those works that still will be memorable years from now and have the potential to become classics of the field. On the other side of the coin, a story that falls a bit shy of being average will score a 4/10. For a story that does everything a story is supposed to do but has major problems with it a score of 3/10 will be awarded – think earning a D-. A 2/10 will awarded for a story that falls at the basic parameter of telling a story or one that does tell a story but with profound problems to it. A 1/10 is reserved for those stories that are a complete and total failure or in the hip vernacular of these times an “epic fail”.
Being that Asimov’s is a professional publication and Sheila Williams is a great editor I don’t see myself handing out too many sub 5/10 scores.
Now onto the review.
First up is the novelette, They Shall Salt the Earth With Seeds of Glass, by Alaya Dawn Johnson and I really wish it wasn’t because it forces me to talk about a subject I’d rather not. All reviews are subjective to some degree and any reviewer that says otherwise is lying. Some are more honest about it which is why I’m going to mention that I’m a very pro-life person and that makes it hard not to feel contempt for this story because it is about a woman living in a world where a mysterious alien race has conquered Earth who wants an abortion but must take a dangerous journey to get one. I often read stories that have ideas or choices made that I don’t agree with so a long time ago I developed a tolerance for this type of thing and I tried very hard to set aside the fact that I found this woman to be very self-centered, immature, and selfish. What I didn’t like about this story was the pieces of the alien’s behavior that the author mentions don’t make logical sense when they’re put together. They felt like they were merely a hodge-podge of traits the author needed to lay the story out like she wanted to. Also I found the complete and total pessimism displayed to be way over the top and uncalled for, especially since the author failed in making the aliens feel like a credible malicious foe. Once again, it felt like the author wanted to force the story in a specific direction and lacked the skills in making it flow naturally in that direction. A very disappointing way to start the year. 3/10
One of the perks of being a subscriber to a magazine like Asimov’s is that one can develop so many wonderful literary relationships with the various contributing writers. One of the warmest of these literary relationships I have is with the author James Van Pelt. The introduction says that he’s a high school English teacher but to me he’s that cool traveling uncle that you only occasionally see but each time you do he has a thrilling tale from his travels to tell and as you fall asleep that night you find yourself thinking when you grow up you want to be just like him. The Family Rocket is no different. A short story about a man introducing his girlfriend to his family; in a few pages, it deftly tackles the power of imagination, growing older, family bonds, love, and the duties of a parent with the practiced ease of a master storyteller that almost makes The Family Rocket seem like a mere cute little story. 9/10
How does one follow up James Van Pelt? By placing rising star Will McIntosh next with a story of the highest caliber – Over There. Like all of the very best science fiction, Over There uses the SF framework, here a science experiment that has unforeseen consequences, to tell an emotional evocative story that will linger long after finish reading it. I won’t lie; I had more then a couple tears in my eyes by the end. I hope the author of the first story reads this story closely because this is how you organically create a story where despair and pessimism would be a natural fit and yet Will McIntosh doesn’t settle for that low-hanging fruit; he finds a way to infuse a sense of optimism to Over There and creates a memorable masterpiece as a result. 10/10
With Mithridates, He Died Old by the always great Nancy Kress completing the three hit combo, I’m completely knocked out at this point and Sheila Williams you’re forgiven for starting this issue off like you did. To say Nancy Kress is good with writing short stories is about as obvious as saying the sky is blue or that water is wet and this latest story is no different. On top of being a great SF story about a drug that forces a woman to confront the consequences of a lifetime of being a dried-up, overly precise, cold English teacher – Mithridates also doubles as an appreciation by the author for a favorite poem. She writes with such a genuine love for this poem that I find myself actually wanting to go read this poem, when I don’t particularly like reading poetry. I can’t help but compare my desire to seek this poem out because of this story with the almost assured dislike for this poem I would have if I had been forced to read it in the class of the main character of this story. 8/10
The Legend of Troop 13 by Kit Reed is a novelette about a group of people connected to an urban legend about a troop of girl scouts that went feral and live by themselves, cut off from society by choice, on a forested mountain. Overall, it was a good story but it was afflicted with one of the most common maladies of short length fiction – a weak ending – in part because the surprise twist lacked true punch. Also, I’m very loose with what I consider science fiction and how much SF content needs to be in a story before it can be considered science fiction but this story didn’t belong in Asimov’s because it completely lacked even a smidgen of SF (or even Fantasy). There were so many cute touches that I still enjoyed The Legend of Troop 13, though. 7/10
One of the fallacies people have with SF is that it’s just robots, space and aliens. I’m thankful for the wide variety of ways to build a SF story but I will always love my robot space alien stories and we finally get a story in this issue set off the Earth with Hotel by Suzanne Palmer. Hotel takes place in a run down hotel on Mars that through a fluke of the law is independent of every single government and political entity with a cast of characters that all have something to hide and a secret agenda propelling their actions. As one can easily imagine, a place beyond the reach of any law is a very attractive place for many different people and this hotel’s continued existence is a thorn in so many different groups’ side. This hotel faces it’s biggest challenge when a rumor spreads that a guest there has something worth so much it’s worth destroying the hotel to get it. This was a very fun read and a great way to close this issue but I couldn’t help but wish it would have been expanded to novella size from novelette size to allow space to flesh everyone and everything out a little more. 8/10