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

Asimov's -- September/October 2017

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Asimov's, September/October 2017

"Wind Will Rove" by Sarah Pinsker

"Riding the Blue Line with Jack Kerouac" by Sandra McDonald
"Universe Box" by Michael Swanwick
"Dead Men in Central City" by Carrie Vaughn
"Arriving at Terminal: Xi’s Story" by James Gunn
"The Ganymede Gambit: Jan’s Story" by James Gunn
"Zigeuner" by Harry Turtledove
"The Fourth Hill" by Dennis E. Staples
"The Cabinet" by William Preston
"An Incident in the Literary Life of Nathan Arkwright" by Allen M. Steele
"Squamous and Eldritch Get a Yard Sale Bargain" by Tim McDaniel
"Grand Theft Spacecraft" by R. Garcia y Robertson
"Disturbance in the Produce Aisle" by Kit Reed
"Books of the Risen Sea" by Suzanne Palmer

Reviewed by Chuck Rothman

Sara Pinsker starts out the September/October Asimov's with a new take on a generation ship story, "Wind Will Rove." Rosie is a teacher aboard the ship, and also plays fiddle in the makeshift ship's band, including the song that gives the story its title. The ship's databanks were wiped out many years ago, and they struggled to remember as much as they could about the past, but human memory has its limitations. The song becomes a metaphor for the trip, as we discover that the title and meaning of the song has gone through many changes over the years. I found this an excellent story about memory and its new look at one of SF's oldest tropes.

"Riding the Blue Line with Jack Kerouac" is set in Boston's subway (which seems to traditionally be a location for weird events—just ask Charlie), where the narrator is a motorman. Strange things happen there, and you can sometimes see ghosts—in this case, the ghost of Jack Kerouac. Sandra McDonald mostly provides a study of the main character and his growth. The story is in the second person, which I think raises some questions and weakens the effect. It's a well-written slice of life about the roots of inspiration, but overall didn't grab me.

"Universe Box" by Michael Swanwick is what used to be called "a romp." Howard, who is about to propose to his girlfriend Mimi, is suddenly visited by his Uncle Paulie—an uncle who he has never heard of before and who comes into his apartment as a tornado of chaos. He is the possessor of the Universe Box, which contains anything you want, but which is also wanted by some very dark forces. The story is a lot of fun, a more sophisticated version of what you would see from authors like Robert Sheckley. The story twists and turns and never stops being entertaining.

Carrie Vaughn's "Dead Men in Central City" is a very interesting mix of genres, set in the old west. Ricardo Avila travels into Central City, a mining boomtown, and runs into Doc Holliday. It's not too much of a spoiler that Ricardo is a vampire—an ethical one who avoids killing or taking more blood than he needs, and Holliday seems to sense what he is. But the two men form a bond. This is a great combination of western and vampire story with especially good characters.

James Gunn is one of the few SF figures from my youth who is still active these days, and he contributes two short stories that are part of a novel trilogy (The Transcendental Machine), the third book of which was published this past June. "Arriving at Terminal: Xi's Story" has the title character arriving at the spaceport Terminal. Xi is alien, and much of the story is a description of how he, an undersized member of the Xifora, managed to survive the struggle to adulthood in a society where the only way to survive was to be bigger and stronger than the rest. His arrival on Terminal is part of a mission. The problem with the story is that there's just too much description and telling as too much is being fit into a small space. It also doesn't help that this is a section of a longer work; some things are hinted at, but taken out of the context of the book, it leaves too much unanswered.

Gunn's "The Ganymede Gambit: Jan's Story" shows a boy named Jan living in a former satellite of Jupiter that now orbits Ganymede. Jan is one of several clones working to terraform Ganymede, put there by the somewhat mad scientist Jak to prove his vision of the future. Like the previous story, it relies on a lot of summing up and explaining, and the ending makes it seem like one piece of the mosaic that makes up the novels Gunn has just completed, but makes it incomplete.

"Zigeuner" is another foray into alternate history by the master of the genre, Harry Turtledove. It follows an alternate Nazi Joseph Steiglitz as he works to round up gypsies and send them off to the camps. Turtledove is unflinching in the implications of his world, and this particular story almost reads like a bit of historical fiction—until the twist at the end that shows how this world is very different from our history. It ends up with an intriguing and possibly controversial twist. I'm not sure I agree that things would play out as indicated, but I can't deny this is a powerful story and an important one.

"The Fourth Hill" is about Callum, a 15-year-old boy growing up on an Indian reservation with this grandfather. He makes an acquaintance with a Memegwesi, a type of river spirit. Much is going on in Callum's life, little of it good, and he asks the spirit for a favor. This could have been a typical "deal with the Devil" story, but Dennis E. Staples avoids the cliché and comes up with a resolution that confounds expectations. Another strength is the portrayal of Callum and his grandfather, as well as the description about a boy who, like others his age, wants to be respected.

William Preston gets his inspiration for "The Cabinet" from the days of silent cinema. It's a version of the events of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari from the point of view of Max, a clerk in a town where the Doctor and his somnambulist come to town. But the idea of the sleeping seer has a powerful influence on the skeptical Max, who tries to investigate further. It covers the main events of the movie from the point of view of an outsider, and is an interesting bit of literary extrapolation.

Nathan Arkwright, the protagonist of "An Incident in the Literary Life of Nathan Arkwright," is introduced as one of the great names of early science fiction, an author who ranked with the biggest names in the field until he mysteriously went into seclusion, and the story explains it began when he attended a convention where he made the acquaintance of two fans who offered to take him to dinner, but instead led him somewhere else. Allen M. Steele creates something of a tall tale with plenty of life and humor.

It's full-out farce with "Squamous and Eldritch Get a Yard Sale Bargain" by Tim McDaniel. The two characters are collectors of the occult, and Squamous is out to buy one particular book. Unfortunately, he is beaten to the punch by a determined woman, who has no idea what she's dealing with. Squamous and his partner Eldritch have to go to great lengths to find the book and take it back. The story is enjoyable for the characters and situation.

"Grand Theft Spacecraft" by R. Garcia y Robertson is set in a space station orbiting Europe, where Cole gets an urgent message from a friend who needs a ride. The station is threatened by a takeover by the Space Vikings, who are about the take over the station due to unpaid debts. After negotiations break down (in explosive fashion), Cole grabs a bunch of children to try to stop the takeover. This is an action-packed space opera, nicely done, though I would have preferred some stronger obstacles in Cole's way.

I've been a fan of Kit Reed for quite some time. "Disturbance in the Produce Aisle" has its protagonist shopping at dusk in the local supermarket after a fight with his wife, when he is accosted by a creature much like the Devil, who offers him whatever he dreams. But the produce aisle is a place where ghosts dwell, and the protagonist isn't interested in the offer. The writing here is a delight though the story didn't entirely gel for me.

Suzanne Palmer's "Books of the Risen Sea" is the story of Caer, who has holed himself up in an abandoned library, trying to protect and rescue books from a rising sea. But it isn't easy. Caer is considered crazy for putting the effort into it, and there are people who think that there might be greater treasures than just books. I liked the characters here (especially the robot) and the story moves along very well. I keep coming across Palmer's name in my reading, and she always puts together a top-notch story.

Overall, there are a lot of strong stories in this issue, which range in tone and subject matter that seems wider than the most recent times I've reviewed Asimov's.

Chuck Rothman's novels Staroamer's Fate and Syron's Fate are available from Fantastic Books.