Sunday, March 3, 2013

Review - Asimov's Science Fiction: Vol. 34, No. 1 (January 2010) by Sheila Williams (editor)

Stories included:
Marya and the Pirate by Geoffrey A. Landis
The Good Hand by Robert Reed
The Jekyll Island Horror by Allen M. Steele
Conditional Love by Felicity Shoulders
A Letter from the Emperor by Steve Rasnic Tem
Wonder House by Chris Roberson
Wilds by Carol Emshwiller

Poems included:
DoT Acolytes by Ruth Berman
Louisa Drifting by Mark Rich

Full review: 2010 starts off with a lacklustre issue for Asimov's Science Fiction, with a collection of decent but not great stories, plus a couple limp and listless ones. Further exacerbating the tepid nature of the issue, the editors once again elected to include a non-genre story in the issue. This editorial decision is made all the more mystifying when one considers that the non-genre story in question seems to be merely ordinary at best. When Asimov's hits on all cylinders, it is great. This issue, unfortunately, seems to be marred by misfires.

Marya and the Pirate by Geoffrey A. Landis is a decent hard science space travel story somewhat reminiscient of the classic The Cold Equations. Instead of a stowaway, the ship is boarded by a charismatic pirate and he and the ship's lone crewmember find themselves struggling to survive against the harsh physics of space travel. On the other end of the space travel genre is Steve Rasnic Tem's A Letter from the Emperor centered on the doings of the inhabitants on the fringe of an interstellar empire so vast that they have to have ships in the void hunting endlessly for wisps of transmissions from their superiors. Anders, the central character learns the value of fiction, and how it can be used to stave off the terrible isolation he and the others on the fringe feel at their apparent abandonment by their nation.

Felicity Shoulders' Conditional Love was my favorite story of the issue, a near future science fiction story that is equal parts sad and terrifying, as a woman working at a clinic with a child genetically programmed to imprint his affection on the last person he sees decides to make a terrible choice out of love. Another near future story (actually, to be perfectly honest, there is nothing in the story that requires it to be set in the future at all) is Robert Reed's The Good Hand that posts an alternate reality in which the United States enforces a nuclear ban on the entire world, enforcing its will with its own threat of nuclear judgment. Set in a resentful France, the story follows the travails of a despised American nuclear inspector as he deals with a seething population.

Wonder House by Chris Roberson is a humorous quasi-alternate history in which "Ysraeli" publishing agents desperate for a new gimmick invent an alternate version of superman. It is a silly, somewhat lighthearted tale, which serves to leaven the seriousness of most of the rest of the issue. The Jekyll Island Horror by Allen M. Steele is also an alternate history story, though much more serious in tone. The story is told from the perspective of a manservant to a member of the wealthy class that avoided losing everything in the 1930s and takes place on (approrpiately enough) Jekyll Island, the isolated retreat for the rich of the era. The story's "surprise" ending isn't very well-disguised, and the 1930s setting makes the narrative seem somewhat stilted. Although there wasn't anything really obviously wrong with the story, I found myself having to push my way through it. But for the completely out of place non-genre story, I would tag this one as the least enjoyable of the issue.

In many issues of Asimov's there is one story that just doesn't seem to fit. In this issue that story is Wilds by Carol Emswhiller. The story focuses on an individual who has abandoned civilization to live like a wild animal and his interactions with an unexpected and unwelcome interloper. Though the story is decent, there isn't any kind of science fiction or even fantasy element that would make me think it belongs in a genre magazine. These sorts of stories always make me wonder what actual science fiction story was left in the submission pile to make room for such a clearly out of place one.

Overall, even though this issue contained its share of good stories, the weaknesses of The Jekyll Island Horror and Wilds drag this issue down to just below average. With nothing truly outstanding about the issue, this one gets only the most lukewarm of recommendations.

Previous issue reviewed: December 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: February 2010

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