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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Asimov's -- July/August 2017

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Asimov's, July/August 2017

"How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry" by Alexander Jablokov

"Annabelle, Annie" by Lisa Goldstein
"Other Worlds and This One" by Cadwell Turnbull
"An Evening with Severyn Grimes" by Rich Larson
"Transcendental Mission: Riley's Story" by James Gunn
"Weighty Matters: Tordor's Story" by James Gunn
"@lantis" by Rudy Rucker and Marc Laidlaw
"The Patient Dragon" by David Gerrold
"Field Studies" by Sheila Finch
"Gale Strang" by Michael Bishop
"The Girl Who Stole Herself" by R. Garcia y Robertson

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

This issue of a magazine which is celebrating forty years of publication features a balance of fast-paced, high-tech adventure stories and intimate character studies. Fittingly, a pair of linked stories by an author with nearly seven decades of experience combine both action and introspection.

Leading off the issue is "How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry" by Alexander Jablokov. The setting is a planet where a large number of alien species live, often inhabiting structures left behind centuries ago by other beings. The narrator is hired to find out who leased a large portion of one such giant building, and why an exterminator died while working on a tunnel within it. She encounters a number of strange creatures while uncovering the mystery. The author creates a complex background and interesting alien biology.

Back on Earth in the near future, "Annabelle, Annie" by Lisa Goldstein involves a rebellious teenager. She is one of a subculture of strongly environmentalist high school students. Conflict erupts when her father is assigned to do public relations work for a company which does fracking. Although the author clearly favors the youngster's viewpoint, and the future is shown to be more dangerously polluted than our own, both sides of the issue are treated fairly, and no easy answers are supplied.

Multiple versions of the past and the present are visited in "Other Worlds and This One" by Cadwell Turnbull. The narrator jumps back and forth in time, and among various realities, to tell two intersecting stories. One involves a scientist whose theory of parallel worlds is rejected by the scientific establishment. The other deals with the tragic life of the narrator's brother, and how it might have turned out better. The theme a familiar one, but the author has the ability to create fully realized characters.

"An Evening with Severyn Grimes" by Rich Larson is set in a future where a wealthy man can rent the body of a young, healthy man as a place to house his mind. The protagonist is hired by a group of terrorists who violently oppose this practice. Her consciousness is downloaded into the many linked computerized devices which fill this world in a plot to assassinate the man, but she has plans of her own. This is a fairly effective cyberpunk story.

First published in 1949 and named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2007, James Gunn proves that he is not just resting on his laurels with two stories set in his Transcendental universe. Both "Transcendental Mission: Riley's Story" and "Weighty Matters: Tordor's Story" depict the lives of characters who will eventually set out on a mission to discover the nature of a device which is rumored to produce perfection in any individual. The reader may be reminded of the pilgrims bound for Canterbury in Chaucer's famous poem. Inevitably, both tales are expository and open-ended. The second story may be more interesting because the author creates an entire alien culture.

"@lantis" by Rudy Rucker and Marc Laidlaw features a pair of Hawaiian surfers who become involved in a surreal adventure involving physical environments created by sound and alternate realities resulting from a mysterious magic foam. Add a social media mogul and shady characters who seem to be partly sea creatures and the result is a wild, psychedelic roller coaster ride. The reader may not believe a second of it, but it's never boring.

The title of "The Patient Dragon" by David Gerrold may suggest fantasy, but it's actually pure science fiction. The "dragon" in this story is a sentient, semi-biological device worn by the narrator in a future of highly advanced technology. It serves as a mental symbiont, providing information and analysis. The plot begins with an attack by unknown assailants which destroys the dragon and nearly kills its wearer. With a new dragon and a repaired and enhanced body, she sets out on an adventure will which take her around the world and to the Moon. The ending of this story is very sudden, and leaves some questions unanswered.

"Field Studies" by Sheila Finch shows us the life of a homeless woman surviving on the streets of Southern California. She encounters a man who wants to help her, and who is not exactly what he seems to be. This is a subtle, realistic story with a great deal of emotional power.

The narrator of "Gale Strang" by Michael Bishop is a birdcage which has somehow awakened into consciousness. Despite this bizarre and whimsical concept, the story is a serious one. The title character is an abused teenager who has run away from home, and who has an unusual secret. Although the runaway is very different from the vast majority of readers, many will able to empathize with the feeling of not fitting into the rest of society.

The issue closes with "The Girl Who Stole Herself" by R. Garcia y Robertson. At first it seems to be a grimly realistic story, as a pair of criminals secretly watch a teenage girl, plotting to kidnap her into sexual slavery. However, the mood of the story soon changes into an interplanetary space adventure involving many characters with technological enhancements that are virtually superpowers. The protagonist seems like an ordinary youngster at first, but it is quickly revealed that she is not only an expert pilot but also heir to the ruler of Callisto. Many readers may find it difficult to empathize with such a superior heroine.

Victoria Silverwolf lives on a wooded hilltop in the southeast corner of Tennessee with sixteen cats and one human.