REVIEW SUMMARY: The latest issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction contains one novella, two novelettes, and two short stories as well as poems, book reviews, a guest editorial and Robert Silverberg’s latest “Reflections”
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The June 2013 issue of Asimov’s is what every fan of short fiction hopes to find: a beautiful cover housing a handful of well-written, interesting and emotionally satisfying stories showcasing the strength of the medium.
PROS: Each story functions well within the parameters of its length; endings that satisfy and don’t leave the reader feeling cheated; characters that draw the reader in; wide variety of story type and setting.
CONS: Fans wishing for “science” in their “science fiction” may find little to excite their interest in the four shorter works.
BOTTOM LINE: This issue of Asimov’s is a study in genre-defying contrasts: aliens that come to Earth not to invade, but to negotiate for help; would-be assassins with well-reasoned morality concerns; the beauty to be found in a life filled with tragedy. My high expectations for authors Robert Reed and Kristine Kathyrn Rusch, long-time favorites, were mostly met and three new-to-me authors offered up equally effective stories. This was one issue of Asimov’s that was hard to put down, leading me to read it in one very enjoyable sitting. It is on shelves now and worth owning for the cover image alone.
“Precious Mental” by Robert Reed
A rogue captain on the run and hiding, his humanity a question due to the amount of machinery and technology used to extend his life indefinitely, is kidnapped by an alien and a small group of post-humans to resurrect an old alien space vessel for purposes as yet unknown. Robert Reed’s is the big “science-fiction-y” story in this month’s Asimov’s, building a world inside a Great Ship that takes a massive amount of imagination to render. He fills the story with an interesting, secretive protagonist leaving the reader wondering how much is really being shared with him/her as the story unfolds. Those interested in predicted future technology and the possibilities of mankind’s evolution involving mechanical means will find lots to contemplate while reading and those who enjoy a story that takes a little extra concentration will find this a worth-while adventure.
“The Fountain” by G. David Nordley
In a far distant future Earth’s Empress plays host to an unimaginably ancient, nomadic hive-race who have come to broker assistance in addressing a threat that will not approach Earth until well after the current long-lived humans are forgotten. Narrated through the collective consciousness of the alien visitors, Nordley’s story portrays the subtlety of diplomacy and the deft skill required to maneuver into a position in which one’s message will be heard and seriously considered. Nordley has created a fascinating race in the visiting Children of Light as well as a small cast of interesting human characters, most notably Empress Marie and her daughter, Princess Anne. The story’s length allows Nordley to draw sympathy from the reader not only for the hive-race’s plight but that of another unmet species whose existence is purportedly threatened. In addition, there are elements of mystery and tension brought about by the presence of a xenophobic element in Earth society. There is a thread of duty and sacrifice woven into the fabric of “The Fountain” that lends a feeling of gravity to the whole affair, giving the reader an opportunity for emotional engagement. Nordley does not shy away from including a number of interesting science fictional props and concepts and yet they fit so well into the overall picture that no effort seems wasted. There is no window dressing here, everything serves the story.
I was immensely pleased with this, my first experience of G. David Nordley’s fiction.
“Skylight” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
At a young age Skye was unceremoniously dropped on the steps of the Assassin’s Guild by the man she knew as “uncle”, though she doubted the veracity of his blood relationship with her absent parents. Much to her surprise she was taken in, and even more surprisingly she continued to pass the tests given to her despite her oft-stated reluctance to practice their particular trade. When a simulated assassination leaves Skye perplexed about her long-held anger, she must decide how honest to be with her handler and how far she can push the luck that has kept her alive thus far. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has created both a compelling protagonist and an equally compelling setting. Rusch writes the world in which Skye finds herself as an insular place filled with mystery, revelations appearing slowly and carefully as the reader learns more about Skye, her past, and her present. While “Skylight” feels as if it could be the first chapter of an ongoing new series it also works well as a stand-alone story.
“Hypervigilant” by Eric Del Carlo
Bob Galley is an empath, a Vigil, “blessed” with the ability to sense the potential for violence in individuals and call in the necessary protective forces to defuse situations destined to result in the destruction of lives. When a lady walks into the hospital where Bob is working and touches off all his sensors, he should call in the cavalry, but something about this woman, and the quick disappearance of any hint of violent intentions, draws Bob into her orbit. As Bob and Daphne get to know each other, the reader becomes acquainted with the acts of terrorism that created people like Bob and the violence in humanity that his skill is meant to prevent.
Del Carlo’s story is skillfully wrought, making the most of the short story format in unfolding an interesting and layered story focused on characterization while also revealing world-building elements that blend seamlessly into the overall work. In the wake of the recent events in Boston and their current classification as “terrorist” activities and the accusations being leveled at the Syrian government, “Hypervigilant” takes on a life-imitating-art timing that the publisher could not have foreseen.
“A Love Song Concerning His Vineyard” by Megan Arkenberg
Inspired by a number of seemingly incongruent sources, Megan Arkenberg’s tale sings of beauty in a life of prejudice and trauma and loss. Using wine as a many-faceted metaphor for life, the protagonist of the story reflects on her childhood, unmet expectations, love and grief in a future in which she and the man she loves set out to make good wine from the rough terrain of Mars. It could be seen as a contradiction of terms to describe a story as a “beautiful tragedy”, but if you have experienced a story like “A Love Song Concerning His Vineyards” then you will be nodding your head in agreement as you come to the end of the story. Megan Arkenberg gives good sentence; there were numerous lines I felt compelled to go back and read again because of the effectiveness of her voice.
The cover for this issue of Asimov’s is a piece by digital artist Melanie Delon. Delon creates gorgeous, life-like images with fantastical elements. This is one of her rare science fiction images and you can see the entire image as well as other examples of her work by clicking on her name above. I highly recommend a visit, her work is stunning.