Asimov’s Science Fiction #498-499, July-August 2017

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Other reviews:
Greg Hullender and Eric Wong, Rocket Stack Rank
Victoria Silverwolf, Tangent Online
Sam Tomaino, SF Revu
Various, Goodreads

Editor, Sheila Williams; Assistant Editor, Emily Hockaday

How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry • novella by Alexander Jablokov ♥♥♥
Annabelle, Annie • short story by Lisa Goldstein
Other Worlds and This One • novelette by Cadwell Turnbull ♥♥♥
An Evening with Severyn Grimes • short story by Rich Larson ♥♥♥+
Transcendental Mission: Riley’s Story • short story by James E. Gunn ♥♥
Weighty Matters: Tordor’s Story • short story by James E. Gunn ♥♥♥
@lantis • novelette by Rudy Rucker and Marc Laidlaw ♥♥♥
The Patient Dragon • short story by David Gerrold ♥♥♥
Field Studies • short story by Sheila Finch ♥
Gale Strang • novelette by Michael Bishop ♥♥♥
The Girl Who Stole Herself • novella by R. Garcia y Robertson ♥♥

Cover • by Bob Eggleton
The 2017 Dell Magazines Award • editorial by Sheila Williams
Sharing Worlds • essay by Robert Silverberg
Hold The Phones! • essay by James Patrick Kelly
Poetry • by Jane Yolen (2), Geoffrey A. Landis, Salik Shah, Robert Borski, Bruce McAllister
Next Issue
On Books • essay by Paul Di Filippo
SF Conventional Calendar • by Erwin S. Strauss

This issue gets off to a good start with a novella length piece that, for a change, I actually liked. How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry by Alexander Jablokov is, according to the introduction, the first in a series featuring the narrator Sere Glagolit, a female investigator who lives in the alien city of Tempest, a reef-like city illuminated by two suns and inhabited by multiple alien spieces:

Above it all the Architon pier thrust up a couple of thousand feet, then curved out, to end abruptly in a smooth, slanted surface that gleamed in the mixed light of Actin and Umber. If the Architon had some plan for a larger structure, of which this pier would be just a supporting element, they hadn’t gotten to it yet, though the thing had been standing for endless centuries, so long that dirt had piled up and formed a steep slope, which had then been covered with a gigantic colonial structure slowly grown by creatures themselves now vanished, and their constructions reconfigured and reused by other nations entirely. The Architon were never seen, didn’t talk to anyone, and, in fact, didn’t seem to have really noticed that dozens of other species had been infesting their city for some thousands of years now. Presumably, they took the long view of their own pests. p. 17

The first scene has Glagolit helping an old woman catch alien vermin in exchange for information on where a potential client lives. This location turns out to be further up the hill, and the job is to find out who has been leasing the upper levels of the Reef, and why a man called Zinter blew up a passageway beside them. The client, Mirquell, wants this information to secure a job with the alien Case.
The rest of the story is a colourful progression of characters from Glagolit’s life, various city locales, and weird aliens—I particularly enjoyed the scene with the bread seller who uses his products to distract the elevator guards, and the bird like species who help her cross a narrow bridge affected by turbulent updrafts. Its demerits are, perhaps, an over-convoluted plot, and an ending that stretches credibility a little (I didn’t really buy the alien Soot cooperatively jumping in and out of the cleaners’ pods).
Overall though, it is a pleasant and enjoyable piece of light adventure, refreshingly free of gun-play or violence. I look forward to further tales in the series.
I liked most of the other stories in this issue, too.
Other Worlds and This One by Cadwell Turnbull postulates a theory of quantum mechanics that lets many worlds exist at the same time. The narrator manages to travel between them and talk to its inhabitants, and he can also stop time, etc., but not change events. Notwithstanding this premise, the story is really about is the variant lives of two specific characters. The first is the narrator’s brother, and how he is still alive in some universes although he was shot dead in this one; the second is the scientist who theorised the many worlds theory, and how he survives in some worlds, avoiding the heart attack that kills him in this one.
Although nothing much really happens in the story, other than the fleshing out of these lives, the characterisation and description is immersive and affecting. It has a rather sudden ending though. I look forward to further stories from this writer.
An Evening with Severyn Grimes by Rich Larson is an entertaining chase story about a corporate type called Severyn, who is hijacked by a group of so-called Priests. They want to flay him alive while streaming the process, and then kill him. The actual kidnapping is conducted by a female hacker and a prison escapee called Girasol. The latter is at the Priests’ base, injected with a drug called Dozr, and plugged into the net (this part is all very 80s cyberpunk). Girasol jumps from the net into the circuits of Severyn’s car and takes control of it. Most of the rest of the rest of the journey is taken up with the tense conversation between Girasol and Severyn, during which we find out that Severyn has a contract to ‘puppeteer,’ or wear, Girasol’s son’s body….
Good, unpretentious action SF.
@lantis by Rudy Rucker and Marc Laidlaw is an enjoyable tale featuring the surfin’ dudes Zep and Del in their sixth adventure (according to the introduction—I think it may be just the fifth1). It would probably be impossible to write a coherent synopsis, so I’ll limit myself to saying that it opens with a Del talking to a crab which subsequently turns out to be Zep. The latter’s transformation back into a human is achieved with the help of a peculiar type of sonic foam. Zep then brings Del up to date with how they ended up in this situation, which includes the use of this seemingly magic foam to create boats and buildings, amongst other things, with the story ending in a battle at Atlantis. There the two dudes assist a couple of fish people (one appears to be a particularly attractive woman, but for the octopus beak coming out of her mouth) to prevent an invasion by a social media billionaire.
The surfer slang and attitudes are particularly entertaining.
The Patient Dragon by David Gerrold is a future techno-thriller that starts with the narrator’s dragon getting shot. Although it is not specifically described, the dragon would seem to be essentially an AI augmentation program that, rather than being embedded as a chip in the human head, is a separate device that is worn on a person’s head or shoulder (I think).
The rest of this dense and telegramatically written tale details her recovery, which involves bio-modifications and a new dragon, and before long she is recruited for a job on the moon—which may or may not have something to do with the attack on her. This is a story with a convincingly described future:

I caromed off three continents and ended up in Morocco, sitting on an old wooden chair under a drooping awning of faded yellow silk, a sweltering afternoon street café, sipping that hard bitter coffee that roasts itself in the burlap as it works its way up the scorched African coast on camelback, watching the table-top laser zap flies out of the air and listening to the news-buzz. Balthazaar 2 proxied around the edges, chuckling to himself as he constructed a model of the lockboxes we’d left behind. Someday, maybe, the investments would climb out of their graves, but not this week. If I had bothered to check my feelings, I would have felt like I looked—leathery and hard, used up. Not a good look for any female, and in this place, suspicious as well. It was time to move. So when Balth whispered it had a job offer, I said, “Tell me.”
The drac angled its wings to catch the shifting sunlight. Feeding on photons. Its voice was dispassionate. Take the train south. Get off at K-station. Thought about it for a while, considered options—there were none to consider. They were paying for the ticket, what the hell; nothing was happening here, and I needed a change of scenery.

I got off at the base of Kilimanjaro. Ordered beignets and cocoa at the café. Excellent view of the catapult. Great shuddering booms every time a cargo-pod launched, slicing up the side of the mountain and hurling east into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, sometimes firing course-correcting rockets on the way up. When the window was good, launches came every thirty seconds; as fast as the batacitors could recharge. But now that the Ecuador beanstalk was operational, sending slow-pods up the cables night and day, the business model here was shifting to shock-resistant cargos and harder launches, mostly nitrogen and water for Lunar expansion. Later on, industrial machinery. All those folks who’d believed that the beanstalk would put the catapults out of business were wrong. Every oxygen-user who bought a one-way up the line needed at least a dozen catapult pods of CHON-maintenance to precede him. p. 125-6

After various adventures on the moon the story ends abruptly, with the reason for the attack presented in a more direct manner than it should have been. An engrossing piece for the most part though, and I hope this turns into a series.
This issue sees a welcome appearance by Michael Bishop2 with Gale Strang. The story starts off with an absorbing mix that includes an unusual narrator (a conscious bird cage thrown away by a grouchy old lady called Claris), a runaway boy called Gale and an injured crow, and a scoutmaster who is trying to help him.
Gale, who is eventually taken in by Claris, turns out to be an intersex person who has been physically (but not sexually) mistreated by her father. In due course, she is adopted by Claris and starts living as a woman. Things work out for her.
This is a game of two halves: initially the story is intriguing but it turns into a mainstream story that, while adeptly handled, is rather by the numbers. You wonder if Bishop really wanted to write about an intersex person’s life struggles but added the SFnal element either (a) out of habit or (b) to make it sellable in the genre. Whatever, I liked it well enough.

James Gunn3 has, like last issue, another couple of stories that are set in his ‘Riley and Asha’ series. Transcendental Mission: Riley’s Story is another dense fragment, this one telling of Riley’s waking to sensory deprivation in a sim tank. He has a surgically inserted biocomputer called a pedia in his head, and a voice giving him a mission to find a Transcendental prophet and kill him. We also find out more about Riley’s life, after returning from alien captivity, as a soldier or mercenary.
Weighty Matters: Tordor’s Story tells of the titular Dorian youngster who is taken from his bucolic childhood savannahs and subjected to a brutal regime that pits the recruits against each other.

The recruiters were thinner than the grass-eaters, but tall, strong, and distant. They came in a big, gas-filled aeronef, and they spoke to the recruits only to give orders and said nothing to each other. Some fifty of the young grazers had been collected from the plains herds, most of them Tordor’s age, a few younger and a couple a year older, larger, and meaner. The older ones bullied the younger ones, stole their food, and made them fight each other until they rebelled, and then the older recruits beat them. Their blows hurt and often injured, not like the playful slaps of Tordor’s herd-mates. The recruiters did not seem to care. Later he learned that letting the recruits fight among themselves and establish their hierarchy was part of the plan to transform passive grazers into aggressive omnivores. Children had to learn how to survive under difficult circumstances, in strange lands, and without friends. They were being transformed into good Dorians. A happy, carefree Dorian was not a good Dorian, and if Dorians wanted to compete in a galaxy full of unknown dangers and sneaky aliens, they must be expelled from their youthful paradise. p. 92-93

Over the years Tordor manages to succeed in this system and, at times, manages to subvert it, applying his own principles of co-operation and interdependence (there are shades of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game here). He is then involved in a Federation wide war that kills billions, during which he manages to broker peace and make alliances that help end the conflict.
Throughout all this, the system is resistant to everything he stands for and, at the end, the High Dorian sends him on the mission, along with a selection of other aliens, to find the Transcendental machine .
A solid example of the Good Old Stuff.

The stories that didn’t entirely work for me include the second novella, The Girl Who Stole Herself by R. Garcia y Robertson. It initially appears as if it is going to be a complex and dark story, dropping the reader into a situation where a teenager in the future called Amanda is being cyber-stalked by two men:

 (“She’s a looker,” the Pimp concluded. “Where’s she headed?”)
(“Home to Mom.” Wise to the ways of pretty young females, the Slaver summed up her life, “Amanda James, seventeen, born Bellingdam, Washington. Lives at 1099 Fairhaven Drive, high school dropout, no job, no boyfriend, no arrest record. No life at ail. We’d be doing her a favor.”)
(“Total NULL,” the Pimp agreed, “not likely to be missed much.”)
(“Except by her mom,” the Slaver noted. Both men laughed. Moms were always the last to give up on lost girls.)
Crossing the last lawn, Amanda ducked into a blue door that opened for her. Happy to be home, she called out, “Hello House.”
“HELLO MANDY,” House replied, closing and locking the door behind her, resetting the security alarms. Only House called her “Mandy,” a glitch in the housekeeping program that Amanda never bothered to debug. Mom was hopeless at reprogramming, despite living a digital existence. Amanda was an October child, the only kid of an aging untrained single mom, and at seventeen already ran the home.
She asked, “House, where’s Mom?”
Boring. Aunt Jessie and Uncle Frank were serving time on some god-awful prison moon. Speed-of-light delay turned Visiting Day into disjointed, dual monologues. Mostly Mom cataloging the lives of relatives not currently in custody. If you want a real home life, stay out of jail.
(“Keep me informed,” requested the Pimp. “Can’t say for sure, until I see her naked.”)
(“Soon,” the Slaver promised. “We’re working on that right now.”)
p. 161

Safely home, she goes to her room and jacks into her VR console, where we find she is also Princess-Regent Katherine of Conway, Sultana of Slutsk, Mistress of the Mongols, and ambassador to Crown Princess Rylla, who lives on Callisto.
The next time she goes outside, a kidnap attempt is unwittingly disrupted by a gang-member relative called Cole, but Amanda is successfully taken on a second attempt. When this happens she wakes up in a grey box, cut off from the net, and with three other girls. After introductions, one of them manages to interfere with the van they are in (using her dark energy bracelets to manipulate the temperature) and Cole rescues them.
As they regroup, things are happening in Amanda’s VR life: Callisto is being invaded by the Space Vikings, and later it appears that Rylla has died leaving Amanda as her heir.
For the first half or so this is all relatively entertaining, although some of the elements jar (the rapey cyber-stalkers vs. the Crown Princess material for instance). Then, about half of the way through, this bombshell is dropped on the story:

When she was twelve, Bellingdam, Washington, and her sister city, Bellingdam, England, were picked for Communities in Space, a centuries-long program to seed the Solar System with “living” communities lifted from Earth. Real families, with real lives, that included babies, kids, and old folks, were going together to populate the void, protected by the navy and subsidized by the Terra-Luna Federation. Most people in the two cities voted to stay on Earth, but those who voted to go got free housing, food, health care, and transport, while training for jobs in the outer system. At Flying School, Amanda was training to be a pilot.
To ease the transition, both Bellingdams were recreated in miniature, aboard a huge B-class colony ship-cum-habitat built in Earth orbit, a series of counter-rotating toruses on a common axle that gave the colonists 1-g spin gravity. Slidewalks moved people between decks under hologram skies that gave the illusion of space and distance. Climate control came complete with days and nights, weather and seasons. That was why Rylla had come to Bellingdam as goodwill ambassador—to win over her new neighbors before they arrived in Jupiter system. Mom voted to go, to get closer to her space case
relations. Once Amanda met Rylla, she had every reason to go as well. On a minimum energy orbit, it took almost four years to reach Jupiter system. By then, Rylla had been called home to Callisto to replace her martyred dad, leaving Princess-Regent Amanda as her Ambassador to the Down Under and the Damned. p. 179-180

The second half of the story involves her becoming a Mongol mercenary in the Space Vikings, after which she undertakes a series of adventures in the outer solar system. By this point, unfortunately, I had rather lost interest in this over-egged pudding, and drifted through the rest. Incidentally, the tonal mish-mash does not get any better—the most obvious example is an attempted rape scene where, just as Amanda’s assailant is getting undressed (she is naked and cannot move due to a slave bracelet) he is (spoiler) hit over the head by one of the kidnapped girls’ invisible friends. A scene that is both uncomfortable and ludicrous reading at the same time.
After a reasonably good start this story tapers off to a poor finish—so OK overall I suppose, but I wouldn’t really recommend bothering with it. There is a semi-sequel scheduled for next issue. . .
Field Studies by Sheila Finch is, like the story by Cadwell Turnbull, a well characterised and socially realistic story, this one about a homeless woman called Pat, and a man that keeps appearing and helping her in small ways. He also seems to know other things about her.
It is a pity that, given my engagement with Pat’s story, it has an inconclusive ending that rather spoils it. Although the man ultimately states he is an anthropologist, (spoiler) the angel of death is mentioned on two separate occasions. I wasn’t sure what he was.

The worst story in the issue, by a country mile, is Annabelle, Annie by Lisa Goldstein, which is little more than an irritating and pious lecture about global warming. Set in a near-future Earth that is overheating and suffering from various ecological catastrophes, its central character is the mother of an increasingly estranged teenage daughter—she has fallen in with a new set of friends who have strict, neo-Puritan views on the environment: she nags her mother to turn off the aircon even though it’s in the hundreds outside, nags her father to stop using water to wash his face on entering the house, etc. The tension increases when the father gets a job as a PR person for a fracking company.
This all comes to a head when there is a careers day at school where the father is going to speak. He (spoiler) ends up being unequivocal about what his employers do to the environment; the mother has a Damascene conversion to her daughter’s viewpoint and experiences a brief moment of reconnection. The father is later sacked and the family move to a poorer part of town with all its attendant difficulties. The daughter remains estranged, and the mother reflects that her generation may have ‘lost’ their children.
Not only is the parents’ change of opinion dramatically unconvincing, but the whole thing comes over as little more than a piece of futile hand-wringing. If it is meant as a cautionary warning, does the writer really think this is going to convince anyone to change their ways?

As for the non-fiction, the Cover by Bob Eggleton is one I liked—even though it is fairly standard ‘spaceship against an astronomical background.’
The 2017 Dell Magazines Award by Sheila Williams is an editorial that lists the winner and runners-up for the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. The winner’s story is posted on the Asimov’s website but, surprisingly, isn’t printed in the magazine.
Sharing Worlds by Robert Silverberg is an interesting essay about two shared worlds projects. One is Harlan Ellison’s Medea anthology, the other is the seventeen-part serial, Cosmos, that ran in Science Fiction Digest and Fantasy Magazine in the early 1930s.
Hold The Phones! by James Patrick Kelly is an article about just that: smartphones and their apps. Among myriad other interesting facts, it states that 86% of 18-29 year old Americans own one. So few?
As far as the Poetry goes, I again enjoyed the two by Jane Yolen; the others not so much.
There is also the usual On Books column by Paul Di Filippo.
There are more  40th anniversary autobiographical snippets in this issue. I know that they are probably expected to talk about their work and/or the magazine, but you sometimes get the impression from these contributions that magazine SF started with Asimov’s in 1977. However, there are a few interesting bits this issue from, amongst others, Rudy Rucker, Marc Laidlaw, David Gerrold, R. Garcia y Robertson and Michael Bishop; I note the latter’s piece is over a page long, during which he mentions a story of his in the second issue of Asimov’s SF, Cabinet Meeting.4

A solid issue with several good stories.

  1. Marc Laidlaw’s site refers to five stories only (and has a lovely illustration for one of them). I’ve also had a look at the online collaborations between Rucker and Laidlaw and can’t find any more.
  2. The introduction to Michael Bishop’s story mentions that he is doing research for a WWII novel set in the Pacific, which he hopes to begin soon. I look forward to that.
  3. The introduction to the Gunn’s stories mentions that he has a memoir, Star-Begotten, due from McFarland and Company in autumn. Another one to look forward to.
  4. If I recall correctly, Cabinet Meeting was a lightweight piece and not a patch on his other more serious work of the time such as The Samurai and the Willows (F&SF, February 1976). A couple of nitpicks about two of the other contributions: Robertson’s contribution spells Richard Gere’s name as Geer, twice (the magazine proofreader is probably in their twenties and has never heard of him), and Rucker refers to his sale of Peg-Man to George Scithers in 1981 (published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, June 1982) as ‘pre-Ender’s Game.’ Card’s original novelette version of the story was published in Analog in August, 1977. I really need to get a life.

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