Asimov’s Science Fiction, August 2016, by Sheila Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The August 2016 (I’m a little behind) issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction is a really good collection of stories, poems, and essays.
The essays include “Discovering Women of Wonder” by editor Sheila Williams, “The Software of Magic” by Robert Silverberg, “Thinking About Dinosaurs” by James Patrick Kelly, and “On Books” by Paul Di Filippo. All of them are fascinating and I’ve now got a huge list of new books I want to read.
The poetry was a little less interesting to me, a little too cute and a little too focused on science in poetic form rather than being poetry of the science fiction genre. “On the Death of Classical Physics” by Michael Meyerhofer nicely jumps scale from trees to the quantum world before being domesticated, in my opinion, by nevertheless interesting observations about the rigors and stress of daily life. “Your Clone Excels at You” by Robert Frazier has an imaginative form that leads to a too-clever, in my opinion, final line that I’m not sure achieves the poem’s aims. “SETI” by Andrew Paul Wood is nicely yearning but the poetry of it didn’t really, in my opinion, add anything to the questions asked. “The Martian Air Merchants” by Ken Poyner also makes me wonder what is gained by positioning these facts and questions in poetic form. But perhaps I’m being too harsh; I’ve been spoiled by my recent exposure to some of the poetry I’ve read in association with the Science Fiction Poetry Association, where the craft of poetry is always top-notch and science fiction and fantasy are just different genres poetry can explore. That is, I seem to prefer what’s important to poets writing the poetry collected by SFPA to what the poets emphasize in this issue of Asimov’s. Feel free to ignore my ramblings.
I’m much more comfortable in recommending the many great short stories and novelettes in this issue. “Wakers” by Sean Monaghan is about unlucky colonists awakened from hibernation on board a starship after an accident makes it impossible to reach their destination exoplanet. The latest person helping the ship’s damaged A.I. has gotten old and he needs to awaken someone else to replace him. That’s a tough choice to make for someone. The relationship between him and the A.I. and the expectations he has about who he wakes up next are really fascinating. The story takes a turn that was unexpected and a little opaque to me but it explores ethical dilemmas that I hadn’t realized I held positions on until the final choices of the story are made.
“Toppers” by Jason Sanford has secondary world fantasy tendencies despite it’s hard science fiction premise, and I really enjoyed it. Time and journeys are involved and they nicely loop in satisfying ways throughout the story.
“The Mutants Men Don’t See” by James Alan Gardner is one of my favorites in this issue. It has superheroes, the inception of superheroes (one of my favorite things about the genre), danger, angst, and surprise, with a wonderfully satisfying turn I didn’t see coming.
“Kit: Some Assembly Required” by Kathe Koja & Carter Scholz is another favorite. I did not expect one of my favorite playwrights, Christopher Marlowe, to show up in a story about an emergent A.I. That history, Doctor Faustus, and A.I. should combine in such wondrous fashion seems like a miracle, but really demonstrates the creativity and talent of the authors. The final line gives me chills. If you are a fan of Doctor Faustus and the subversive way Marlowe crafts his anti-hero, then you are in for a treat.
“Patience Lake” by Matthew Claxton is straight-up bad-ass science fiction western and it might remind you of Cormac McCarthy’s work and noir fiction. In a dystopian future of bionic people struggling to survive, Casey Kim, former military, badly mutilated in a chemical attack and now outwardly more machine than man, just wants to make it to a town where there might be work for him. A request for water leads to friendship and then much worse. The story is bleak, the characters are sharply drawn, the world is vivid, and oh my goodness that ending.
“Kairos” by Sieren Damsgaard Ernst challenged me in ways I didn’t expect. I happen to be hopeful for radical life extension someday, but Ernst’s protagonist takes a decidedly dim view of the prospect soon after her second husband tells her that he and his research company have developed the technology and he wants her to join him as one of the first immortals. What follows is her grappling with the prospect while visiting Aachen, Germany and remembering her first husband. I was absolutely fascinated by the character’s process of thinking through her issues with life extension and her husband’s request. At the end she approaches the issue in her own unique way and it leads to some really fascinating and unexpected if open-ended final thoughts. I’m really happy I stayed with the story and it gave me a lot to think about concerning my own rationale for immortality.
“President John F. Kennedy, Astronaut” by Sandra McDonald was both what I expected and not what I expected. He is indeed an astronaut in this story, there is some alternative history at play, but the main protagonists are other characters on their own unique journey. The story is a little silly, funny, a lot of fun, and leads to a satisfying and hopeful ending.
All in all, the August 2016 issue of Asimov’s is very enjoyable with some particularly well-done stories.
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