Review: Asimov’s Magazine, December 2016

27 02 2017

This issue contains three novelettes, two short stories, and one novella—and that, curiously enough, is the order in which they occur in the magazine. My reactions to them follow.


First, the novelettes:

In ‘They All Have One Breath’, by Karl Bunker, the singularity has arrived, which means that by the time James and Lisa get around to thinking it would be nice to have a baby, the Powers-That-Be—ostensibly benign, all-powerful AIs—might have other priorities. This is an effective and moving piece that makes its quietly chilling point without too much tubthumping.

‘Empty Shoes by the Lake’, by Gay Partington Terry, is so short—just seven pages—that I very strongly suspect it’s been miscategorised and is, in fact, a short story (i.e., < 7500 words). It’s an appealing enough coming-of-age story of two Appalacian loners whose paths seem a little too obviously destined to reconverge.

Gregory Norman Bossert’s ‘HigherWorks’ is a cyberpunkish tale which sees Dyer, onetime Oakland nano designer, a fugitive in London, looking to escape her past while creating a future for techno ravers. This one didn’t work for me at all—while it’s impressively detailed and riffs off a couple of intriguing ideas, it’s the detail and the busy-ness that drags it nearly to a standstill while it should be crackling with cyberpunk fizz.

The two short stories:

‘How the Damned Live On’, by James Sallis, is a dreamlike, deceptive flash piece that springs a quiet surprise.

In Kali Wallace’s ‘The Cold Side of the Island’ (which at eleven magazine pages might in truth, I suspect, be the issue’s third novelette), Lacie misses the funeral of Jesse, the childhood friend with whom, twenty-five years ago, she discovered a mysterious body—not a human body, but not exactly animal either—in the cold Massachusetts woods. This is an intriguing character study that deals effectively with the unknowable.

The novella, ‘Where There Is Nothing, There Is God’, by David Erik Nelson, sees Paul, an ex-meth-user and struggling actor, co-opted into a time-travel scheme that involves travelling two-and-a-half centuries into the past to trade crystal meth for rare silverware. It’s obvious that, somewhere along the line, this is going to cross into train-wreck territory, but Nelson keeps us guessing as to how in a story that strikes just the right line between ‘serious’ and ‘unhinged’.

The strongest stories here are those by Bunker, Nelson, and Wallace.