Asimov’s, June 2011
“All The News That’s Fit” by Carol Emshwiller
“Walking Stick Fires” by Alan DeNiro
“Apocalypse Daily” by Felicity Shoulders
“The Fighter” by Colin P. Davies
“The Cold Step Beyond” by Ian R. MacLeod
“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple
Having just read the very good story “After All” by Carol Emshwiller in the May issue of Strange Horizons, I was pleased to see her “All The News That’s Fit” lead off the short story section of the June issue of Asimov’s. It’s a good story and reminds me of what I long ago heard my grandparents talk about from time to time.
Normally the man who brings the news to this mountain area shows up about every two weeks. It’s been over a month now and folks don’t know what to think. It’s bad enough he isn’t local and therefore can’t really be trusted. If he doesn’t show up, folks won’t know about weddings, births, and all the rest of it. Folks don’t know what to think, what to do, and something must be done.
The narrator (finally named Darta very late in the story), herself childless and with no family, is the logical one to go looking for him. She makes the decision, packs, says her goodbyes, and heads down the mountain terrain by following the trail. It takes her several days to follow the long trail down off the mountain and through the nearby area. She keeps going down the trail day after day because the newsman could be injured and in need of help. Following that trail will ultimately open her mind to things the newsman never told her or anyone else about.
As in “After All” this is also a tale where the perceived reality envisioned by the main character is far different than what it actually is for nearly everyone else. Misdirection in the form of cultural perception is at work here with no science fiction or actual fantasy angle to this story. Despite that fact, it is a good story told well.
Alan DeNiro follows with a Halloween story titled “Walking Stick Fires.” Parka and Jar are headed to Santa Fey. They certainly aren’t human. They are traveling on a road through the desert and underground through mountains along with other motorcycle riders and those who ride flaming chariots. Parka loves Toby Keith and can’t get enough. The two couriers took something very valuable from the Worm-Hares and think they have made a clean get away. They think wrong.
Occasionally amusing, this story is far less contemplative than the previous one and serves as a good change of pace. While Parka and Jar are far from human they have quirky human qualities that make this very strange action adventure type story a fun read.
For Katrina Vang, destroying the world is a daily event. She has to do it to make the Apocalypse Daily gaming website interesting. The one year anniversary is coming up and she and her team have to come up with something truly different and spectacular. Survival in the game world and the real world has something in common, tough choices where you have to do what you have to do to survive and keep a job.
“Apocalypse Daily” by Felicity Shoulders is a fun, entertaining story that attempts to import a classic lesson about dealing with others and teamwork. While Katrina seems a bit naïve considering what she does and her age in life, the overall story does work. Fortunately for readers, the occasional preaching about survival in either world does not get in the way of the fun aspects of the tale.
When the police shut down his car and pull him over Dominick thinks he must have been speeding in “The Fighter” by Colin P. Davies. Dominick is the longest surviving fighter in the league according to the chip in his head and what the police say. He will kill inside or outside of the ring if he has to and isn’t in the mood to deal with the police officers. He just wants to get home to his family. That had been the plan before they stopped him and things began to go wrong for all involved.
A quick, fast read that plays with reality in the form of what we think we know as opposed to what reality truly is for everyone else. Perceptions shape reality for everyone and Dominick is sure what is going on every step of the way.
Ian R. MacLeod’s novelette “The Cold Step Beyond” is a good one though rather predictable. Bess of the Warrior Church was sent weeks ago to an unnamed forest in a distant area located near the great Island City of Ghezirah. It is midsummer and working out with her weapon while wearing her body armor is hot and exhausting work. She has waited quite some time for her unknown foe to arrive.
The waiting gives her plenty of time to think about the church and her past. That contemplation, along with her daily workouts and the slowly increasing and disturbing interaction with a local resident, serve as the heart of the story. It gives Bess an opportunity to explain primarily through narration the origins of her church, jump ships, and the idea that other dimensions containing the true aliens (the real horrors of the galaxy) exist in sideways dimensions that leak into our dimension. Overall, an enjoyable story though rather predictable, with a twist ending that is no surprise.
A murder mystery is at the heart of the excellent novella “Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal. Homicide Detective Scott Huang is on the case with the police department AI unit, Metta. A wealthy developer, Neil Patterson, is dead on the roof of a waterfront building thanks to a well-placed gunshot to his chest.
While Metta, the Artificial Intelligence unit, can improve the efficiency of the investigation by coordination of the work flow by humans as well as scientific analysis, she can’t do it all. She still needs humans to do the legwork and take her places she can’t go on her own. They need her to provide scientific analysis, suggest investigative leads, and in the case of Scott Huang, be the real friend he so desperately needs. The investigation and everything else takes a backseat when police headquarters is attacked with grave repercussions for Metta and the entire police department.
“Kiss Me Twice” is an excellent piece that blends science fiction with a straight-up mystery quite well. The science fiction component is of huge importance as are the parts featuring classic cinema and mystery. That story alone makes the issue worth reading.
Overall, this is a good, solid issue; there’s not a bad story in the bunch. The June issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction is very enjoyable and well worth your time.