Asimov’s July/August 2019

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“The Work of Wolves” by Tegan Moore is probably the best story I’ve read so far in the pages of Asimov’s. (Why didn’t the author get her name on the cover when there was enough room for all the authors’ names there?) Our viewpoint character is Sera, a search and rescue dog who has been artificially enhanced. Sera’s human handler isn’t used to working with an enhanced dog, so Sera has to train her. Because she doesn’t act like a regular dog, people are uneasy around her. I liked this description of a drone: “The sound of it is like an itch inside my head, where I can’t reach it. It is like the feeling before a sneeze.” It also describes the sound of a drone as wasp-like. (Coincidentally, I was reading this while camping and mistook a passing drone for a wasp at first.) Sera ends up having to chase a rat being controlled by terrorists though a power plant. A very enjoyable read with a surprise ending I did not see coming.

 

“The Universe Within The Universe” by Dominica Phetteplace is a simulation inside a simulation story that ended too abruptly and felt unfinished to me.
In “The Terminal Zone” by Nick Wolven, the residents of Ceres don’t require constant stimulation, unlike the older generation who grew up addicted to nonstop news. A grandfather visits his family on Ceres and is constantly getting bored because they don’t have a real-time connection to earth. The story is a commentary on how social media has shortened our attention spans, but the brighter future of people who are so focused they can stare at a painting for hours seems just as vapid. Really, both groups of people need stimulation, just different kinds.
“Ardy’s Choice” by Maggie Shen King takes place only about a year into the future. It’s told from the point of view of a self-driving car. When a fatal accident is immanent, Ardy has to choose who lives and who dies. Ardy decides by ranking each car-full of people based on a large number of variables including wealth, number of Facebook friends, IQ, volunteer work, what they do for a living, age, medical status, and so forth. In this world, the car is more likely to sacrifice organ donors, which I didn’t buy because this would discourage people from being organ donors in the first place. The story is supposed to be humorous I guess, because the car ends up deciding to sacrifice the most valuable car-full of people due to one of them being a political spammer. This story illustrates the ridiculousness of ranking people. In reality, I think most of us would consider all human lives equally valuable and would say the car should decide based only on the number of people in each car.
“Story with Two Names” by Ian McHugh takes place on an alien planet in the far future. The life forms on the planet are truly alien in that the plants are somewhat animal-like, and the hermaphrodite aliens have a symbiotic relationship with the plants. There are also dinosaur-sized animals roaming around. The humans and aliens both think of each other as animals. I liked the description of the alien culture and their world. It’s a dystopian story in which an evil corporation is trying to colonize the planet. They argue that it’s okay for them to do this since the natives only have ape-level intelligence, not human-level intelligence, but wouldn’t killing them be wrong either way? Right now, people are saying we shouldn’t colonize Mars because there might be microbial life there. It’s a well-written story, but I don’t buy that people in the future would think it’s okay to kill off alien life.
“The Ocean Between The Leaves” by Ray Nayler is another dystopia in which a bounty hunter in future Istanbul is trying to make enough money to pay for his sister’s medical expenses. “Some are born to the palace, and some are born to the field.” In this world, non-citizens live hand to mouth and have to struggle to get by. A story concerning economic inequality. Like the previous story, it also features an evil corporation that values money over lives.
“Fragments from the Library of Cygnus X-1” by Chris Willrich takes the form of a guided tour through a library explaining all the different ways aliens create literary works. It’s both funny and thoughtful. One alien held the opinion that “If the Mona Lisa opened her mouth, she would be terrifying.” I thought the civilization that lived on the backs of great sky beasts who floated around a gas giant was particularly imaginative. The literary work in that case was written by a stranded person sending messages in balloons instead of messages in bottles. The messages get discovered by people all over the planet.
“The Disappeared” by Leah Cypess is a top-notch story. It’s more literary fiction than science fiction, although it does have a sci-fi element. Daniel’s paraplegic mom was abducted, disappeared for a while, and when she returned, she was able to walk. She also started acting like a different person, which prompts Daniel to wonder if she was replaced or if she’s just acting differently because we all change over time. A thoughtful story about a man’s strained relationship with his mother.
“Speaker to Emos” by Harry Turtledove takes place in an alternate universe in which people who don’t have Asperger’s syndrome (people referred to as emos) are considered atypical. It makes a good point that Asperger’s syndrome isn’t really a disability, just a different way at looking at the world. If most people acted this way, it would be considered normal.
“Waterlines” by Suzanne Palmer takes place on an icy world. Humans encounter an underwater species who have merged with robots to a large extent. The two species have a treaty to prevent interaction with each other, but when the aliens discover some human corpses underwater, they decide to make contact with the humans to see what they want done with the bodies. I liked the narrator in this one. He had several funny lines. It’s a good story, but like other stories this issue, it also features an evil corporation that values profit over lives. I guess if you’re thinking of submitting a story to Asimov’s, make sure you’ve got an evil money-grubbing corporation in it.

6 thoughts on “Asimov’s July/August 2019

  1. The Ocean Between the Leaves is not about a bounty hunter who is working to fund his sister’s medical treatment, and there is no evil corporation in the story. You shouldn’t review things you don’t understand

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Patricia. You’re right that The Institute in “The Ocean Between the Leaves” is really more of an evil government agency, not an evil corporation, so thanks for the catch.

    I do think it’s fair to call Fahri a bounty hunter, though. After all, he does collect a bounty after hunting down and capturing runaways. You could argue that skip tracing is not exactly the same thing as bounty hunting, but I think it’s close enough for the purposes of a brief review. If I was doing a longer review, I could have went into more detail regarding all the sci-fi elements.

    Also, the reader is led to believe that Fahri is skip tracing in order to pay for his sister’s medical expenses. True, it turns out something more is going on, but I didn’t want to spoil the surprise for the reader. I did my best to describe the initial situation of the story without giving too much away, although I guess I should have at least mentioned that the story had a surprise twist.

    Thanks again for the comment! I’m glad to know someone is reading this blog.

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  3. I don’t buy this explanation: I listened to the podcast of “The Ocean” and this review is just way off: the story was really complicated, and here you just reduce it to an inaccurate caricature, so it would fit your commentary at the end of the review. I think reviews, even short ones, are supposed to express the story’s essence. And even the research institute isn’t “evil” whatever tou mean by that, or moneygrubbing – one of the two experiments is actually trying to help people. You just ignore that.

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  4. I’ll admit my mention of the money-grubbing organization was flippant, but that was more of a commentary on the issue as a whole rather than this story in particular. From past issues of Asimov’s, I got the impression they focused on stories with a more optimistic view of the future, so I was disappointed by all the evil corporations this time around. I did like this story, and if it was the only one with an evil organization I wouldn’t have minded. Combined with the other evil organization stories, though, it left me feeling disappointed in the issue overall.

    The reason I think The Institute is evil and money-grubbing, by the way, is because one of the members of The Institute says this: “Now comes the fun part, collating all this data. Preliminarily, though, it’s interesting. Just about no limit to what the subject will pay to keep going. I had him up to forty thousand lira near the end. […] He sure seemed determined to continue. Given more budget on the project from Motivations, I think I could have cranked his fees even higher. He was barely sleeping, taking on two or three assignments in a day, oblivious to risk. Absolutely minimal lifestyle: he was eating the cheapest possible food, bought nothing for his cell, and was working double shifts skip tracing. I think if we kept pushing the numbers up, though, he’d eventually have gotten hurt. […] Prelims tell me if we were charging thirty thousand, we could probably exploit indefinitely.”

    I guess the fact they didn’t want him getting hurt was kinda good, but it seems like the only reason they didn’t want him to get hurt was so they could continue to exploit him indefinitely, making as much lira as possible. They may or may not have been telling the truth about wanting to help citizens, but either way, I think forcing non-citizens to effectively become slaves is evil even if they were actually helping the citizens in the meantime.

    Thanks again for the comment! This has turned into an interesting discussion.

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  5. I guess i read it a bit differently: they seemed cold and indifferent (I’m not really even sure what “evil” means) and it seemed to me as if the second scientist was more interested in psychology than money; after all, the department he’s working for is called “Motivations.’ The first scientist — from “Theoretical Benefits” — seemed genuinely concerned that her experiment was not good for people. By the way, have you read any of Nayler’s other stories set in the same world?

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