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

Asimov's -- September/October 2018

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Asimov’s, September/October 2018

3-ADICA” by Greg Egan

The Witch of Osborne Park” by Stephanie Feldman
The Huntsman and the Beast” by Carrie Vaughn
R.U.R.-8” by Suzanne Palmer
The Grays of Cestus V” by Erin Roberts
DENALI” by Robert Reed
The Callisto Stakes” by Doug C. Souza
Survivors” by Sheila Finch
The Wrong Refrigerator” by Jean Marie Ward
In the Sharing Place” by David Erik Nelson
Best Served Slow” by Leah Cypess
The Secret City” by Rick Wilber

Reviewed by Kevin P Hallett

There are twelve first publication stories in the September/October issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, with seven shorts, three novelettes, and two novellas.

3-ADICA” by Greg Egan

This unusual SF novella tells the story of Sagreda, who is passing through universes with her lover, Mathis. Mankind has finally realized the concept of parallel universes by immersing themselves in computer simulations, either as individuals, or composites.

Most people become locked into a single simulation based loosely on a famous author’s view of the future. But Sagreda and Mathis have discovered the key to getting rebooted into different universes. Together they search for the mythical ultimate simulation called 3-adica.

Currently caught in a Dickensian recreation of London, they find themselves in strange characters set in a mishmash of Victorian horror stories. Though they are only one layer away from 3-adica they face many hurdles barring their final step.

At times the story was engaging as the protagonists fought to reach their goal. At other times the story slowed to a crawl as the author struggled to explain this bizarre concept of jumping between simulations.

The Witch of Osborne Park” by Stephanie Feldman

Elizabeth has just moved to Osborne Park in this short fantasy. The new neighborhood seems tranquil and safe; a good place to live with her husband and three-year-old daughter Abby.

At first, Elizabeth is happy that Abby has Dorothy, a five-year-old from next door, with whom to play. But soon it becomes obvious that Dorothy can be very mean. At times Dorothy shuns Abby and it tears Elizabeth’s heart to see her precious toddler’s feelings hurt.

Then strange and disarming things begin to happen around the close-knit community and the mothers gather to determine what to do.

This story was well crafted, but the plot was predictable.

The Huntsman and the Beast” by Carrie Vaughn

A young hunter and his Prince become lost in a fierce thunderstorm in this fantasy novelette. When they happen upon an old deserted castle, they take shelter. But a huge and savage beast, living in the castle, attacks them.

Jack, the huntsman, negotiates with the talking beast. He promises to stay as the beast’s prisoner, allowing the Prince to escape. At first Jack is kept in a locked room and conversations with the beast are short. Eventually Jack realizes the beast is female and he convinces her to let him out, so he can cook and clean the castle for her.

Over time he discovers snippets of her story, how she was cursed by a mage for killing a baron who attacked her castle. Jack develops a rapport with her, one that is put to the test when the Prince returns with an army to avenge the death of his huntsman.

This was an engaging story, but underneath there was no escaping that it was the basic plot of “Beauty and the Beast” with a gender reversal. The plot had some changes to match the different dynamics of a female beast.

R.U.R.-8” by Suzanne Palmer

In this futuristic SF short a few out-of-date robots huddle around the nuclear furnace at the base of a pyramid city. The furnace is a good place to hide and regenerate their batteries while the latest androids maintain the city for the few remaining bored humans.

One old robot, ROZUM, has a leg missing, preventing him from leaving the furnace area. But if his battery reaches full charge he risks exploding and destroying the city. Another robot, STOUT, has taken on the task of finding a replacement leg. But time is running low as ROZUM’s battery charges, and humanity seems to be too bored and insipid to care.

In honor of the original, this version of R.U.R. was written like a play. The play was engaging with a lively pace to it.

The Grays of Cestus V” by Erin Roberts

A painter, Laila, accompanies her husband into the Badlands in this short Science Fiction story. But the monotonous tones affect Laila until the colors wash out leaving only shades of gray.

Soon the grays permeate everything in her life, including her nine-year-old daughter. Are these grays just in her mind? Or are they real and she must find a way to destroy them?

This was a slow story but also an interesting look at mental health and how people perceive it.

DENALI” by Robert Reed

America lives under the strange influence that DENALI has on the future in this SF novelette. The aliens have left behind an egg-like artifact that can be ‘programmed’ to influence the future in some way. But no one really understands the alien language or the mathematics behind this programming.

Every four years, the people of America vote for their desired future to be programmed in. But wars and turmoil continue around the world until foreign powers attempt to destroy the DENALI and restore the global balance.

In the aftermath a new group of mathematicians arise. Can these finally understand the DENALI and program it for the betterment of all?

This was an intriguing story that was hard to predict as it swung back and forth like a pendulum. A good read.

The Callisto Stakes” by Doug C. Souza

Souza writes an SF short about nano-bots and their symbiotic interactions with humanity. Set on Jupiter’s moon Callisto, a sixteen-year-old is racing his lev-sled across the Jovian moon, with his pre-teen sister sitting in the back. His nano-bots suspect he plans to kill himself and his sister to escape from their abusive father.

As the race progresses the nano-bots plan for action should the teenager make any moves to crash his lev-sled at six hundred klicks per hour. When he makes his move, can they act quick enough to save both him and his little sister who has just begun showing signs of their father’s physical abuse?

Told from an interesting perspective, the story was entertaining, and the end was well disguised.

Survivors” by Sheila Finch

This is a short SF story about Jake, an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD. Jake has hit bottom, deciding that an overdose is his best option for ridding himself of the survivor’s guilt that consumes him.

As he drinks whiskey in a bar, a stranger named Burke joins him. The stranger seems to empathize with Jake and manages to convince Jake to forego suicide and join him at the local cemetery. Here, Jake wanders the veteran headstones fixing any flags that vandals had knocked over. All the time, Burke stays nearby, but his needs seem hard for Jake to pin down.

This story read well, providing a mystery that pulled the reader through, though the speculative elements were light.

The Wrong Refrigerator” by Jean Marie Ward

This time-travel SF novelette tells the story of Allie who is trapped in a verbally abusive marriage. Struggling financially, her husband purchases a new refrigerator as a status symbol, but it doesn’t work as advertised. And to make matters worse, the appliance store has no record of it being delivered to them yet.

Then things get stranger, as food mysteriously appears in the fridge. But always the food has some connection to Allie’s past. She finds clues pointing to Jase, the boyfriend from her teenage years. But when she looks him up on social media, she discovers that he died in an explosion when a temporal experiment went wrong. Could he be behind these bizarre refrigerator happenings, trying to offer her a way out of her dead-end life?

Though the time-travel element was approached in a different way, it still dealt with a well explored idea in SF without adding much to the concept.

In the Sharing Place” by David Erik Nelson

Dr. Janey Mikelson is a therapist in this disconcerting SF short set in the future. She leads sessions with children who have lost a loved one, helping them come to accept their loss and become functional once again. All the children and Janey live in a secure building and cannot leave until they are ready.

All this counseling exists because of a mysterious event that caused adults to kill themselves. And now Janey must help the young children avoid rejection by whatever rules the world outside.

When a child is ready to leave they just announce it and leave. But if a child leaves too soon, the other children hear their screams as they are rejected. Silence means they were accepted. One day Janey herself decides that she accepts her father’s suicide and so she announces she will leave.

Nelson’s story had a pleasing pace to it, and the mystery kept the reader engaged throughout.

Best Served Slow” by Leah Cypess

Best Served Slow” is a short fantasy about Margaret, a ninety-two-year-old grandmother who was recently killed. She is haunting her son’s family vacation to Greece, but she doesn’t know why, though she guesses she must have been murdered.

When the family visit the Delphi, Margaret’s specter finds the ancient ghost of a priestess. Margaret learns that only those involved in her murder will be guilty enough to see her and if she is to reach peace she must kill whoever murdered her. When Margaret discovers both her son and daughter-in-law can see her ghost she must make a difficult choice.

This had an interesting storyline that read well.

The Secret City” by Rick Wilber

This alternate history SF novella has the Axis invading the United States in 1940. Japan has captured and is holding San Diego and the Germans are sweeping north through the now independent Texas.

Moe Berg (a real historical figure who played major league baseball and was also an American spy during WWII) is a US spy working with a mysterious woman to halt the German invasion that is being led by the Desert Fox himself. Things are going badly for the Allies, Germany has recently killed the exiled British government by exploding a superbomb in Dublin, and America’s own super bomb isn’t ready yet.

As the Americans try to complete the Manhattan project, Moe and the woman help to buy time. But with the Germans just miles away, things stand on the very edge of collapse.

This was a gripping story as it interlaced an eclectic mixture of historical figures with alternative facts. Well worth the read.