The first of three novelettes in the February 2014 issue of Asimov’s is Derek Künsken's “Schools of Clay,” a space opera that is almost incomprehensible. It concerns a race of beings that is modeled on bees, apparently, with queens, workers and new generations of princesses. These beings mine asteroid belts and seem to be partly machine and partly organic (though their nature is never spelled out, one of the serious shortcomings of this story). Some of these beings have souls, and some do not, though what “soul” means in this context is unclear. Diviya is the viewpoint character, a medic or mechanic or both, caught between castes. And he is a revolutionary, for the workers have become dissatisfied with their status. A need for the colony to migrate — a pod of predatory shaghāl has come after the colony, beings whose nature and aims are not explained — comes too early for the plans of the revolutionaries, but Diviya encourages them to rise up regar... Read More
The April/May 2013 issue of Asimov’s leads off with a difficult but exciting novella by Neal Asher entitled “The Other Gun.” It portrays a complicated universe in which humanity has found itself at war with a race called the prador, which is ruthless, merciless and completely uninterested in compromise. It has already exterminated several species when it runs into humans, and a survivor of one of those wars, a member of a hive species, has allied itself with humans. The narrator of this tale is a parasitologist and bio-synthesist who was working on a biological weapon to be used against the prador when he was reassigned to work for the Client, as he knows the survivor of another species. The Client has somehow managed to steal a prador cargo ship, and is using it to hunt down pieces of a doomsday weapon called a farcaster that had been broken up and scattered across the galaxy. The narrator no longer has a human body in any sense that we... Read More
The February 2013 issue of Asimov’s is a delight from cover to cover. This time around, it’s the longer pieces that really given it is heft.
“The Weight of the Sunrise” by Vylar Kaftan is a fascinating alternate history novella that offers a pointed perspective on American history, serving as a sort of bookend to the recent film, “Lincoln.” Slavery was an evil obvious even to those who practiced human sacrifice and saw nothing wrong with incestuous marriages of royalty, as did the Incas, as Kaftan makes clear. Kaftan envisions an Incan civilization that has escaped the ravages of Spanish conquistadors with military cunning. Smallpox still troubles the Incas, though they have learned in this tale, unlike in life, to manage it through quarantine, thanks to the insight of a great physician. This makes it a strong and wealthy civilization in the 18th century when the Americans are planning for revolution. The Americans send an ambassador to t... Read More
Today we're featuring a couple of stories that you can find free online.
“Taklamakan” by Bruce Sterling
Read for free online
Many years ago, Bruce Sterling wrote a short story called “Taklamakan” that won a Hugo award. I’ve been trying to read some past award winners, and since this one was handily available, I decided to start there. So, here’s my problem. “Taklamakan” won the Hugo Award for best short story in 1999 when it was published in the Oct/Nov 1998 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. That means the story is 13 or 14 years old. Do you know how badly near-future science fiction ages in 13 years?
“Taklamakan” is set in the Taklamakan Desert in 2052. Genetically modified N... Read More
Sheila Williams, the editor of Asimov’s, says that the annual October/November issue is “slightly spooky.” There are a few frights in the magazine, as well as some solid science fiction, but overall, I was generally disappointed in this double issue.
Alan Smale’s novella, “The Mongolian Book of the Dead,” was not one of the disappointments; to the contrary, it is a nicely imagined tale of what might happen if the Chinese decide to mount a military invasion of Mongolia — an independent landlocked country sandwiched between Russia and China. I enjoyed Smale’s use of folklore, fantasy and politics as seen through the eyes of an American caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, a man who serves as a linchpin for the plans of an ugdan, the female equivalent of a shaman. The shadow of Chinggis Khan and his fearsome band of Mon... Read More
Megan Lindholm’s “Old Paint” is the thoroughly enjoyable novelette about an old car beloved by a family that lets it roam free. The car comes from a time before cars were completely automated, when one could still actually drive them oneself instead of just programming in a destination. It’s so old that its nanotech paint is of a wood veneer on the side of a station wagon. The car is useful, if not exactly a favorite of the teenage boy in the family who’d like something a bit racier. At least, it’s useful up until the time it goes wild because of virus unleashed by a hacker group that did it just to prove they could. Lots of cars wrecked themselves in the days following the original infection, but Old Paint manages to behave itself sufficiently to live on, recharging himself when it needs it and traveling the country. The car tells the kids more about their mother than they’d ever known, in... Read More
For the second year in a row, Adam-Troy Castro has a short story nominated for the Nebula Award which I think the best of the nominees. “Her Husband’s Hands,” originally published in Lightspeed Magazine, posits a world in which medical technology is so advanced that virtually any bit of a soldier can be retrieved from the battleground and kept alive, complete with a memory recorded at some point before the attack that “killed” him or her. In Rebecca’s case, only her husband’s hands have survived. They have been fitted with light-sensitive apertures at the fingertips, which allow her husband to see; the wrists end in thick silver bands that house his life support and his “brain.” It’s at least as creepy as it sounds, particularly as Castro describes how the relationship between ... Read More
The April/May 2012 edition of Asimov’s Science Fiction is full of some of the best short fiction I’ve read in a while. The best story is a subtle novella by Rick Wilber called “Something Real.” It helps if you know a little bit about the baseball player and World War II spy named Moe Berg, an actual if little known historical figure who is brought vividly to life in this alternate world tale. The Moe Berg of this story is just as talented as the fellow who lived in our world, proficient in a number of languages and able to speak intelligently about cutting edge physics. Berg’s most important assignment, in life as well as in this story, was to attend a seminar Heisenberg ... Read More
The September 2011 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction is a mixed bag, with a couple of amazing stories and a few not so amazing. One of the former is “The Observation Post,” by Allen M. Steele. A recurring motif in science fiction is visitors from the future watching hot points in history, and for this story that hot point is the Cuban Missile Crisis. The story begins with a voyage in a blimp that seems fictional, like something out of a steampunk story, until one realizes that the Navy really did use a few blimps until November 1962, one month after this story takes place. Placed up against this reality that feels fictional, Steele puts something fictional that feels real: observers watching how events play out in alternative universes, and pinpointing precisely what action causes what reaction.
“The Odor of Sanctity,” by Ian Creasey Read More
The June 2011 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction has a beautiful cover of a woman who is partly constructed of a gold metallic weave. The artist, Jacques Barbey, poses her at the shore of a river or lake golden with the sunset, wearing a headdress that appears to be functional in some way, apparently as a weapon. It doesn’t seem to match up to any of the stories in this issue, but it is a lovely image all on its own. And who says fantastic paintings need to refer to anything but the artist’s own imagination, anyway?
Most of the issue is consumed by a new novella by Mary Robinette Kowal, “Kiss Me Twice.” This accomplished work is a true science fiction mystery, which is much harder to pull off than might be immediately apparent. The author can’t pull ... Read More
Apex Magazine is an online journal published on the first Monday of every month, edited by Catherynne M. Valente. Valente’s submission guidelines give you a clear idea of what to expect to read within Apex’s pixels: “What we want is sheer, unvarnished awesomeness.… We want stories full of marrow and passion, stories that are twisted, strange, and beautiful.” The January issue definitely meets those requirements.
“The Itaewon Eschatology Show” by Douglas F. Warrick is a story that cries out to be labeled “New Weird.” It’s about an American in Korea – though why he is there is a complete mystery – who is a “night clown.” This means that every night he, along with his friend Kidu, dresses up and mounts stilts to perform magic for the ex... Read More