Asimovs December 2015


M. Bennardo. We Jump Down Into the Dark.

Short, tense drama as an orbiting space-station gets knocked out of orbit, and a rescue is attempted.

The space-station is a specially designed eco system for a group of gorillas, and that background, as with the relationship between one of the rescuers an one on the hab, looks at the need to keep trying things, even when the odds are not in favour.

Robert Reed. Empty.

Reed continues to be happy to take on big picture stories, and editor Sheila Williams continues to be happy to give away much too much in her editor’s intros to stories in the magazine.

She gives away the whole point of the story in her intro, which is a shame. (This review is going to do that BTW, so don’t read on if you don’t want a spoiler from me..)

Reed starts with an intriguing opening sentence – “The Cleansing was predicted”. The narrator then used the opening paragraph to describe how humanity has come very close to eradicating itself from our Solar System, the only system we have spread out through.

Exactly who the narrator is is revealed – an AI machine, one of the Data clan, one of the younger AI machines. We gain his perspective on what has happened (he’s not an entirely reliable narrator) and then the story progresses, and there is drama around Data’s actions, those of other AIs, and then the bigger picture is revealed, with plot twists, towards the end. (OK, I’ve kept from mentioning that, so you will have to read the story in a Year’s Best anthology next year.)

It’s a clever story and I’m putting it onto the shortlist of the Best SF Short Story of the Year Award 2016.

Garrett Ashley. Riding the Waves of Leviathan.

A story by an author new to me, on account of his previous story appearing in an issue of Asimovs I didn’t get my hands on.

It’s a short, bittersweet story of love, and loss, and family, and growing up, and surfing. I won’t give too much, just to say that the leviathan in question is an enormous sea creature that has appeared off the coast of a small fishing town, and it’s frequent breaching in the sea, and the resultant tsunami, has wreaked havoc on the fishing industry, and the families living there.

The young protagonist has lost a friend to the beast – wiped out by a massive wave when surfing, and he has to find a way to deal with this, and other losses…

A story that shows a lot of promise from a young writer.

Rich Larson. Bidding War.

Larson has written a couple of stories that I have read and liked, and this follows in the same vein, with a focus on a young protagonist.

It’s near future, and Larson extrapolates some current tech and trends, and follows young Wyatt, who cooks up and idea to get his girlfriend back, which involves bidding on a rare artefact on eBay. He’s fleshed out nicely, as is the background, and the story has a lot to like in it’s five pages.

Amanda Forrest. Of Apricots and Dying

A great story from Forrest, albeit with a limited sfnal element.

It’s set in an alien, mountainous landscape with ever-depleting water supplies, in a patriarchal society – well, alien enough to me, as I’ve never been close to the Hindu Kush or the Himalayan Kamakorum. We follow young Asma, her older sister about the married. The younger sister does not have the favour of her mother, and feels more like the maiden aunt who is part of the family. And during the course of the story, set against a background of corporate mining and politics, we find out more about her, the barriers to her, and an option (the minor sfnal element) that will enable her to avoid following in her aunt’s footsteps and being a maiden aunt in the service of her older brother.

The sfnal element is ’empath’ implants, that would enable her to get a job as a diplomat, but that could easily have been replaced by a non-sfnal route into diplomacy, so the SF is not really a crucial element to the story (truth to be told, when I came to write this review I started by stating there wasn’t an sfnal element, so minor was it to the excellent story).

Julian Mortimer-Smith. Come-From-Aways.

A second story in this issue featuring something strange happening off the coast of a fishing town. I’d have preferred to see the stories separated by a couple of issues, as my ageing brain will conflate the two in years to come.

In this story there is a strange mist which rolls in off the sea every so often, but it’s not the mist, but what the mist appears to bring that is the sfnal element – strange pieces of alien technology. Leaving aside the question as to why the scientist of the world haven’t flooded to the coast, we follow a young man who is pondering what life he will lead, especially as his young girlfriend has announced she is pregnant.

He rows out onto the sea and into the mist, and gets a view on what lies beyond/beneath, and some alien tech enables him to change the course of his life.

A nice four-pager.

Greg Egan. The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred.

Egan closes the issue with a strong novella.

It starts with some clever trademark technology from Egan, as Camilla is about to take a high-risk journey – desperate times calling for desperate measures. We find out about the measures first, as she is hitching a ride on a lump of rock in Vesta orbit. She is in a cocoon, about to go into suspended animation, as the rock is sent on a long journey to distant Ceres, as part of a trade arrangement in which Ceres sends ice to Vesta. And there is some clever use of Newtonian Laws as the ice and rock trade forces to help each other on there way.

Once en route, the story progresses through a couple of POVs. Once is Camilla’s, as we find out what has caused the desperate measures : some members of her colony that a minority of their members (of which she is one) are descended from part of the original settlers who are now perceived as not having paid there way in the early days. What seems at first an oddball minority view (shades of what is happening now in UK, Europe and USA) snowballs to become the prevailing view, and suddenly she finds that she has the hi-tech equivalent of a yellow star to wear.

As her story about resistance, and then flight, is progressed, the other protagonist is the commander of a station orbiting Ceres. They are happy to receive the regular hitch-hikers, but when a full ship of ‘terrorists’ flees Vesta, the stakes are suddenly much, much higher.

A good blend of technology, politics and characterisation.


A strong issue with good stories from vets like Greg Egan and Robert Reed, as well as the newer writers.

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