Review: Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, August 2016

25 01 2017

The August issue has three novelettes and four short stories. (Plus, of course, poetry and nonfic, which I’ll exclude from review.)

asimovssfaugust2016

Sean Monaghan’s story ‘Wakers’ takes place on a shipful of sleeping colonists on a hundred-and-fifty year voyage to the planet Eden. But a problem damages the ship’s systems, throwing it off course and forcing the ship’s AI to rouse some of the sleepers so as to maintain life support and other essentials: bound for a much more distant star as the resources dwindle, it becomes, in effect, an accidental generation ship. The most recent generation has been the lonely and aging Grayson. When it comes time to waken his replacement, he’s faced with a choice: should he revive someone with the ideal technical skills to handle the situation, or should he waken his beloved Patty, now forty years his junior after that much more coldsleep? I liked the setup in this one, and I’m a fan of Monaghan’s writing—I chose his novelette ‘Double Team’ for ASIM 61—but I wasn’t ultimately convinced by the denouement, for which I felt the case hadn’t properly been made.

‘Toppers’, a novelette by Jason Sanford, plays out in a New York City rendered almost unrecognisable by urban decay and the pall of soul-stealing mist that hugs the ground. Hanger is a scout, willing to brave the mists to journey between the skyscrapers that are now the city’s sole refuges, but wherever she goes she hears the words of her dead mother calling from the mist. This is an imaginative piece, with plausible characterisation, but I just wasn’t able to buy into its underlying pretext.

James Alan Gardner’s ‘The Mutants Men Don’t See’ is a delightful riff on the genesis of superheroes, as concerned mother Ellie Lee tries to save her teenage son Liam from the recklessness he believes will trigger the dormant superpowers that he’s convinced he possesses. This is the second time I’ve encountered Gardner in the pages of an Asimov’s issue; the other occasion, his Feb. 2008 story ‘The Ray-Gun: A Love Story’, was also a highlight of its issue.

‘Kit: Some Assembly Required’, by Kathe Koja and Carter Sholz, is a dense and descriptive story in which Christopher Marlowe—or an AI believing itself to be he—awakens within the confines of a powerful computer. The evocation of the machine intellect is effective, as is the channelling of Marlowe, but it didn’t strike that much of a chord with me.

Matthew Claxton’s novelette ‘Patience Lake’ follows cyborg ex-soldier Casey as he seeks to find a way north through unfriendly countryside to the comparative safety of Saskatoon. He’s helped by widow Sandra, who gives him shelter on her farm for a few days while he repairs himself from injury, but not all of the locals are so accommodating. This is a well-told story of optimism in the most difficult circumstances.

In ‘Kairos’, by Sieren Damsgaard Ernst, the protagonist finds herself caught between history and science, as she strives to reconcile her former husband’s appreciation of Charlemagne’s relics with her present husband’s endeavours to foster indefinite life extension. This is a thoughtful riff on one of SF’s archetropes, all the more impressive since it’s apparently Ernst’s first published story.

Sandra McDonald’s intriguingly-titled novelette, ‘President John F Kennedy, Astronaut’, does what it says on the tin. This alternate future history (or should that be future alternate history?) doesn’t take itself too seriously, but manages at the appropriate times to be busy, and funny, and poignant.

The standout, for me, in this issue is Gardner’s story, though I enjoyed most of the rest as well.