Asimov’s, May/June 2017
“On the Ship” by Leah Cypess
Reviewed by Eric Kimminau
The first piece of science fiction that I read as a child was a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov, I, Robot, with its 1950 publishing date. A first edition. When Tangent’s editor, Dave Truesdale, asked for volunteers to review the May/June 2017 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, and added just a bit of spice to whet the proverbial whistle, I jumped at the chance. He mentioned that, for the first time, Asimov’s would be publishing an entire, non-serialized novel in their 40th Anniversary issue. As I have never reviewed Asimov’s before, I did a bit of exploration of this behemoth of the SF world and enjoyed the lead-in editorial by editor Sheila Williams offering a brief glimpse into her 35 year history with the magazine and reminding herself that the stated purpose of Asimov’s by Isaac himself was that “one major reason he’d founded the magazine was to give new writers a welcoming place to break into science fiction.” I poured myself a lightly chilled glass of Shiraz, made myself comfortable, and dove into what I expected to be a welcoming stellar journey.
“On the Ship” by Leah Cypess tells the story of the St. Louis, a starship on a mission to investigate 12 possible candidate planets for habitation. The story begins in joyous celebration of arriving at planet #6 only to have all hope dashed for the sixth time as the inhabitants of the St. Louis departed 4 hours later. The main character, a young unnamed girl, did a brief search in the ship’s onboard computer for “St. Louis ship” and was presented with “THE ST. LOUIS WAS A SHIP OF JEWISH REFUGEES FROM NAZI GERMANY. AFTER BEING REFUSED ENTRY IN BOTH CUBA AND THE UNITED STATES, THE SHIP WAS FORCED TO RETURN TO EUROPE.” Perhaps a foreboding of the future. The young girl continues to be visited by a Penelope, a beautiful woman with long flowing red hair who starts the girl on a road to discovery, to “wake up,” and soon discovers that she is the VR programmer who wrote this simulation, that the population in cryosleep is doomed unless she takes the Penelope red pill and escapes The Matrix, awakes from her slumber, and re-programs The Hope-72 to return to Earth and save all those onboard. A wonderfully woven story with an easily predictable conclusion as the heroine reenters her cocoon to await the return to Earth.
“Once you drop a tab of headspace, you know you’re not alone.” “Come as You Are” by Dale Bailey tells of a bleak future where the drug of choice allows one to reside for “only three hours” within an artificial psyche of another through a predestined drama of one sort or another. In this scenario, reliving the Richard Nixon Presidency from the perspective of Tricky Dick himself as an example. But some are the real thing. Actual imprints of a real human mind. Everything that occurs feels real. Is real. You need to get to know yourself if you want to live vicariously in another’s psyche. This was a deep imprint story. One that made me stop and think and wonder and remember. For most of us that attended college from the 60s through the 90s, you’ll want to read this story.
“Good Show” by William Preston begins simply enough. Pete, a seasoned reviewer of movies, seemingly empty and lacking, seeking something of notable value, is approached to review a new, never before seen piece. A special showing. He invites his friend, Megs, to join him. What transpires is a disturbing view into a coming apocalypse presented by a trio of androgynous strangers who state a need for Pete’s reaction, his criticism, his feedback. What transpires is a deepening premonition of imminent cataclysm that can only be halted, prevented, through alliteration of concept. “Often the reeducation of the audience comes first.” Pray Pete’s review is taken to heart by the artists, the messengers.
“The Escape of the Adastra: Asha’s Story” by James Gunn is a great story concerning the fate of the Adastra, a generation ship from Earth captured by the alien Federation and kept prisoner for decades before Asha and her companion, Ren, the leader of the human resistance, escape the Federation’s control, leading their pursuers into distant arms of the galaxy through nexus points. In a ruse to cover the escape of the captain’s barge, and children returning to Earth with Federation star charts and knowledge, Asha and Ren lead their pursuers ever deeper towards an unexplored arm of the galaxy in hopes of giving the Earth and humanity a fighting chance in the coming war the Federation intends to wage. As stated in the preamble, this is an obvious precursor to a much larger story. I was compelled into joining the journey across the stars and hoping for their successful escape. I look forward to seeing what the future holds.
“Night Fever” by Will Ludwigsen begins by telling you the author not only has a soundtrack created on Spotify but that “There are scenes in this story that may be disturbing to some readers.” I’m not really a fan of dark fiction or horror so I was tentative to see where this led. Immediately there are background stories on points in time of the life of Charlie Manson and his first stint in prison. The first story wonders what would have happened if Charlie hadn’t tried to escape and had gotten out of prison 10 years earlier. I guess I never knew Charlie Manson had been in prison before his “fame” and notoriety. The story then changes into that “what if?” story line that Charlie had gotten out of prison 10 years later and this is where the Manson story would have gone, that being the life of one of his “girls” before she had met Charlie. Of the lawyer who first prosecuted him in Manhattan. The stories get deeper. And crazier. Or more profound. And insightful. That yes, Manson was truly as freaky–weird as I’ve always thought he would be if I had ever met him. All in a 70s disco era New York instead of the 60s Hollywood hills. That the Bee Gee’s were his prophets, telling the story of life post–disco revolution, the “Night Fever” rather than the alternative Beatles and “Helter Skelter.” Then Manson merged into the Studio 54 lifestyle and became friends with Truman Capote and you just knew it was going to get weird. “Laughing on the way to your execution is not generally understood by less-advanced life-forms, and they’ll call you crazy.” The cut-and-paste moments from reality sounding publications with documentary style story telling was gripping. Charles Manson was a sideshow freak and this story puts him squarely, believably into the era of Disco.
“Tired of the Same Old Quests?” by Peter Wood presents the antithesis of Dungeons & Dragons. What if your world was elves and fairies, magic spells and month long quests? And the droll geekdom of entertainment was Suburbs and Cubicles? Where mowing the lawn, answering your cell phone or responding to your neighbors query on barbeque attendance were all a chance for a multi–sided dice throw. You, Mirk, are a scientist of Earth, trapped in the nether regions of magic and mayhem and you bring science to good Lord Tharn and the evil Zokar, teaching them your game of quests to pay credit card bills with payday loans all so that they will fund your way home. A humorous quest indeed.
“The Best Man” by Jay O’Connell sadly was my least favorite entry in this issue. The clumsy maladroit setup and the cliché filled caricatures, not to mention the obvious stereotypical view of Texan’s (my first real home where I met my better half) while also making an obvious attack on Caucasians, didn’t win any friends. A sophomoric and petty rehash of the same tired message of having to hide within your own skin while being repulsed by your suppression. For me, it just didn’t work as a story. I am not a fan.
“Triceratops” by Ian McHugh is an interesting premise. A future where genetic manipulation of Pleistocene era species with current equivalents of both animal species and human has resulted in “pure” and hybrid. Grizzly and polar bear mixes, woolly mammoths and woolly rhinos, human and Neanderthal resulting in variants, pure Neanderthal, Thalers, Sapiens. What is accepted and what is “illegal.” An intentionally thought–provoking commentary on what may have been (scientifically or legally?) genetically created illegal “species” just wanting to make their way in the world.
“Persephone of the Crows” by Karen Joy Fowler relates an account of 10 year–old Polly. While she and her parents spent the evening visiting the home of a coworker of her father’s, Mr. Winters, and his 7 year–old daughter, Isabella, the two men consumed too much alcohol and Mr. Winters allowed Polly’s father to drive the family home late in the evening. As a result, the car left the road and became stuck. First her father went for help. While Polly slept, her mother also left, leaving Polly alone. Almost as if in response to a statement made earlier in the evening (“I wish I could see a fairy”), when Polly awoke she saw a pair of dark, mysterious figures in the distance. Becoming afraid, she attempted to escape the vehicle. Her next memory is waking in her own bed. She immediately realizes that whatever was portraying her parents may look exactly like them, but they weren’t them. And now crows seem to take notice of her, and bring her things. A mildly dark tale of mystery down a mysterious road.
“The Runabout” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is the first complete, non-serialized novel ever published in Asimov’s. Engrossing. Detailed. Imaginative. I had never heard of the author’s Diving series before reading this. I should have. It is good. Really good. 5000 years into the future of a still farther advanced future, the female owner of The Lost Souls Corporation is running another operation within the Boneyard, a massive location in deep space filled with hundred, thousands, possibly tens of thousands of apparently derelict vessels owned by the mysterious Fleet. However Fleet has all but disappeared, leaving the Lost Souls Corporation in this unique time and place to scavenge this treasure trove of potential history and technical knowledge. The Boneyard is just one of the many remnants of the vast organization that once ruled this part of the galaxy. During their first dive into their targeted ship for this mission, something goes wrong and a rapid exit is made. Upon closer examination of the mission data, a much smaller ship, a runabout, is identified as the source of the anomalies of both time and space. This leads to a second dive that resulted in significant injuries to the participating divers, leading to third dive to confirm that the ship’s anacapa drive had been deactivated before the runabout mysteriously self-activates and disappears into foldspace. Amazing character construction, building a plot that riveted me almost from the moment it began. I will now absolutely have to read the preceding titles and I cannot wait to see what will come as a result of The Runabout.
I have enjoyed this issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction. Who would have guessed that the most memorable story would be the documentary of Charlie Manson’s cultish depravity 10 years into the future? Only to be completely outmatched by a unique first for Asimov’s! Truly a welcome stellar journey. I look forward to another in the near future!
Eric Kimminau is a BBS geek turned IT professional seeking those of like mind and character with whom he may share in wit and wisdom.