"The 120 Hours of Sodom" by Jim Grimsley
"Angel Kills" by William Sanders
"Polyhedrons" by Robert A. Metzger
"Oxygen Rising" by R. García y Robertson
"The Two Old Women" by Kage Baker
"Parachute Kid" by Edd Vick
"Dead Men on Vacation" by Leslie What
I read this issue of Asimov's online through Fictionwise.com. This meant all the novelettes were clumped together. I don't know if this is the case for the print version, however, this arrangement led to very tired eyes for this reviewer by the end of the fourth novelette. It would have been nice to have these stories in a better mix.
Jim Grimsley opens this issue with his startling, disturbing, and mildly horrific "The 120 Hours of Sodom." Astute readers may catch the reference to the lost and re-found manuscript by the infamous Marquis de Sade. Even if you don't, with Sade and Figg introduced in the first page, readers are made aware of the history and social mythology this story is steeped in. While Grimsley does an admirable job relating all necessary details, readers may want to keep their Internet search engine of choice open to discover exactly how many layers the author has baked into this sinful story.
The story concerns Sade, a man reinventing himself and purposefully naming himself after the Marquis, and his desire to throw a party for the soon-to-be three-hundred-year-old Figg. When you are a powerful man who has lived as long as Figg, very little excites you or your nine-hundred-year-old spider. But Sade has found such a thing: a legalized suicide girl named Cherry Ann to be the highlight at the party themed with 120 hours of Sodom. Gentle readers should be aware that this is not a light story and more than several images are disturbing. It focuses on many things, among which is the search for something new. While pseudo-immortality, hierarchal societies, and legalized death are not new ideas for science fiction, this story puts them together in a way that reads fresh and new.
"Angel Kills" by William Sanders is a slightly humorous piece of dark urban fantasy. In a world much like our own, Hostile Unidentified Entities (HUIs) have begun attacking low-flying airplanes, wielding torches, and committing violent offenses to the passengers. And they look like Angels. The narrator of the story has a good voice, taking us into the world where he climbs into his agile Pitt fighter and shoots angels with a "glorified flashlight," a low-grade laser which instantly destroys angels and is the only weapon humans have. Through some clumsy "as you know" exposition to the new recruit, Lewis, we find out the history and mythology of the angels and when the attacks began. Lewis is joining up under ace-shooter Carmody and is an ace flier himself with excellent marksmanship skills. The ending of the story is a logical one, but not exactly the end promised by the beginning. Overall, I liked Sanders' tone, language, and world, but wish I'd gotten the story of the narrator instead of Carmody and Lewis.
While Dr. Robert A. Metzger may be an Electrical Engineer by trade, "Polyhedrons" shows he's got some quantum physics understanding. I'm a chemist by training, but I avoid quantum physics as I find it extremely confusing, keeping all the different possible states running in my head at one time. "Polyhedrons" is an example of such confusion. The prose and strangeness of the situation pull the reader along this Groundhog Day-like story, starring Bobby, the boy trapped on Aurora Drive and trying to escape, and our narrator, who doesn't understand why escape is necessary. Bobby continually challenges the narrator as the story dives further and further into the strange. A Dodge Dart and a hole in the ground serve for metaphorical symbols in the search for what is real and what is not. I enjoyed this story, but was left confused by the ending. But maybe that was part of the point.
The title story from the cover, "Oxygen Rising" by R. García y Robertson, is an interesting riff on humans competing to colonize the stars against other races of genetically modified humans. Derek is a human who has spent most of his life around the peace-loving Greenies and volunteers to serve as a negotiator during the tail end of a war over the planet Harmonia. He helps rescue fellow human Tammy during the beginning of the tale, and the rest of the story concerns his resulting travels and trials with her. The title refers to the rising oxygen levels of the terraformed Harmonia, an act of terrorism by the humans. This is a fun-romping story that highlights humanity's good and bad points in relation to intelligence, violence, and ingenuity against our truly alien counterparts. This story has a little to say about terrorism, war, and civilians, but the message is a slight overtone to an overall entertaining story. This universe is interesting and Derek is an enjoyable, flawed character to follow.
"Two Old Women" by Kage Baker is one of my favorite stories from this issue. Tia Adela lost her husband to the sea many years ago, but has found a way to have him come back to her. Of course, forcing a man out of his watery grave and away from the embrace of the Old Woman of the Sea has repercussions–as Adela's sister, who is a mother and grandmother where Adela is not, knows and tries to explain. But talk is not enough to convince Adela to release her husband. Eventually, nature must win out, and the course charted for the end of this story is haunting and lovely.
Edd Vick offers a time paradox story in "Parachute Kid." Vick sidesteps the traditional idea that a time traveler should only be aware of his single existence in a specific time and place to give us a multiplicity of Sams throughout the story. The main Sam is a teen on the cusp of graduation who is also trying to help his friend Lee avoid deportation back to China as an illegal immigrant. Throughout the story, we also learn that Sam's twisting ability is linked to fires, and he bears witness to some of the worst fires in our history and some of the worst that are not. This is an interesting take on the time-travel theme with an emotional core that resonates well.
I have enjoyed previous work by Leslie What, and so I looked forward to the story "Dead Men on Vacation." The title and What's previous work promised a strange story about death and delivered adequately. I did not know previously that What's family were Holocaust survivors, a fact that shades "Dead Men on Vacation." The title refers to the designation the main character, Wilhelm, places on himself during his time in the ghettos and camps. He is waiting to die, and when freedom is granted to him, it is not the end he wanted. The rest of the story concerns itself with how Wilhelm acts as a ghost and how he tries to make amends to the past and future. This is an emotionally charged story with a very strong, believable ending.
An editorial by (new) Editor in Chief, Sheila Williams, about last year's WorldCon, a reflection by Robert Silverberg on his Grand Master honor, several poems, the upcoming conventions listing, an excellent article on the darknet, and well thought-out book reviews round out this issue.