Asimov’s September/October 2019

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“In the Stillness Between the Stars” by Mercurio D. Rivera takes place aboard a city-sized generation ship. Our viewpoint character is a psychotherapist who is brought out of stasis early to help a fellow passenger who experienced nightmares while in stasis and continues to hallucinate a shadowy monster that lurks on the edge of her vision. The ship is kept minimally lit to save energy, adding to the spooky atmosphere. Add in a creepy nursery rhyme and a malfunctioning ship and you’ve got a great scary story just in time for Halloween. I also liked that the ship’s computer had a personality. I’ve got to say I’ve always loved a good haunted space ship story. This is my favorite story this issue.

“All in Green Went my Love Riding” by Megan Arkenberg is about girls at a private school who didn’t have anywhere to go during the summer. They get bored and decide to play love games, seducing the girls in another dorm. Something, perhaps a wolf, is terrorizing the sheep in the area and a mask-like face has been seen pressed against the postmaster’s window. Partway through the summer, a girl is found dead. Another good spooky story, although I don’t know why the girls have hooves.
After the first two stories, I wondered if this might be a Halloween issue filled with nothing but scary stories. Turns out I was wrong. “Charlie Tells Another One” by Andy Duncan takes place in the southern United States around 1899 when children were expected to work in factories along with their parents. What makes this speculative fiction is a man with a banjo who gets premonitions about the future. There’s a lot of dirty jokes and scatological humor that I didn’t care for, but I thought some of it was funny such as the comment that one man “played Dixie so well that the state of Missouri just about seceded on the spot.” There’s also a series of shorter stories included inside the larger one.
In “Messages” by Sandra McDonald, the narrator’s aunt creates an app to allow people to communicate with the dead, which reminded me a bit of the lif.e-af/ter podcast. Apparently, skeptics who don’t think the app is real still use it anyway. However, there are some things the dead don’t talk about and their messages become incoherent over time. One thing that’s certain, however, is that everyone goes to heaven. Since there’s no hell, suicides go up, war increases, and the death penalty is outlawed for not being cruel enough! The narrator is fairly callous when it comes to refugees: “Armed guards keep away […] any hungry, homeless refugees coming up from the drowned towns. It’s not our fault they waited too late.”
The author holds a pretty pessimistic view of humanity. Her attitude seems to be that if you know for sure that you’re going to a better place after you die, why bother being a good person or making this world a better place right now? Apparently, strong believers in an ideal afterlife don’t care about the world their children or grandchildren will inherit. I didn’t buy that the app would change the world that much. I mean, since the dead don’t talk about certain things and degrade over time, why would anyone believe it’s real or be in a hurry to die? The surprise ending wasn’t really a surprise. What’s surprising is that no one realized what was going on sooner.
In “Personal Space” by Lawrence Watt-Evans, Anna has the ability to teleport. She says she hasn’t brought anyone else with her before, but then later on, she says that she has, so it’s a bit inconsistent. I didn’t relate to the characters either. Gary is unusually dense and Anna is unusually sensitive. Like the previous story, there’s a character who is callous towards refugees. Is Asimov’s an anti-immigrant magazine now? I also didn’t care for this one since it’s a revenge story with disproportionate punishment. I’ve never seen the appeal to stories like that.
“Escaping Amnthra” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch continues the action-packed adventures of Raina Serpell, de facto captain of the Renegat. As the story starts, the ship is under attack and Serpell’s wife questions all of her decisions in front of the crew. Will she be able to save the ship?
In “When We Saved the World” by James Sallis, the narrator strikes up a friendship with fellow sci-fi writer Joe Lansdale while the two are living in an assisted-living facility, which reminded me of Lansdale’s Bubba Ho-Tep. They’re curious about a strange fellow resident named Bob who they never see eat or drink and who the flies seem to avoid. Is something strange going on or are they just being paranoid?
Another favorite of mine from this issue is “Then, When” by Eric Del Carlo. The narrator is a genetic fraud investigator who discovers that an old girlfriend illegally made a copy of him called a mirror and he needs to decide if he should keep it or delete it. Mirrors are used to remember departed loved ones, but are also used for marketing. I like that the narrator is a bit embarrassed by the younger version of himself. I also like that the story acknowledges that brains aren’t computers that can just be downloaded. The best we can do is simulate a personality, not actually copy ourselves.
“Can You Watch My Stuff” by Rich Larson is a comedic piece about what happens when the narrator is asked to watch someone’s laptop at a French Starbucks. I didn’t personally care for it, but humor is largely in the eye of the beholder.
In “The Albatwitch Chorus” by Stephanie Feldman, Sonia moves into an old witch’s cottage and encounters an albatwitch, a creature humans have a treaty with after a series of past conflicts. In addition to the mysterious creatures, Sonia is also dealing with an ex-boyfriend and his teenage daughter. She’s a witch herself, but it’s more of a job than a calling. It’s a fine story, but I felt it didn’t have a strong ending.
In “At the Old Wooden Synagogue on Janower Street” by Michael Libling, a man is visited by his parents and sister who died in the Holocaust. I can’t say much more about it without ruining the surprise ending.
“Winter Wheat” by Gord Sellar takes place in rural Canada. It involves the relationship between a hockey-loving boy and his anti-GMO dad. We watch the boy grow up, getting about a year older every couple pages. We see him fall in love, have sex for the first time, go to a bar for the first time, become a father himself, and so forth. The speculative fiction element to this story is that it takes place in a world in which anti-GMO conspiracy theories are actually true.

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