Asimov’s — June 2013

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Asimov’s, June 2013

“The Fountain” by G. David Nordley
“Skylight” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
“Hypervigilant” by Eric Del Carlo
“A Long Song Concerning His Vinyard” by Megan Arkenberg
“Precious Mental” by Robert Reed

Reviewed by Chuck Rothman

June’s Asimov’s starts with G. David Nordley‘s “The Fountain,” told from the point of view of Anathor, the Hive-Queen of an intelligent insectoid race on a diplomatic mission to Earth’s Empress Marie. Both queens have much in common — long lived and having their fill of the diplomacy, and there’s a monkey wrench in the works in the form of Princess Ann, the heir who is in a very rebellious mood. The story is an excellent description of an alien from the alien’s point of view, and deals with the issue of how politics sometimes interferes with doing the right thing.

“The Skylight” takes one of the less likely aspects of fantasy — the Assassins Guild — and not only does a science fiction take on it, but also makes it seem sensible. Skye is a young assassin, brought up by the guild, who lets a target live. It’s a simulation and part of a test, and to Skye’s surprise, it’s not considered a failure. Kristine Kathryn Rusch makes the entire concept work with a story about morality and hard choices.

Recent events have made “Hypervigilant” by Eric Del Carlo seem to be in pretty poor taste, though that’s just reality catching up with some of the uglier suppositions. It postulates an “amok virus,” which causes people to go on shooting sprees. Bob Galley is a “vigil,” whose job it is to stop them before they get going, using psychic abilities to figure out who might be dangerous. He stops Daphne Verges and discovers he is wrong and needs to figure out exactly what is going on. I liked the idea but felt the ending fell a little flat.

“A Love Song Concerning His Vineyard” is narrated by Isaya, a Black woman and wife of Rondell, who is something of a wine snob, but who decides to start a winery on Mars. It also has an ugly undertone of racial prejudice and hatred that leads to tragedy. Megan Arkenberg comes through with a story that works powerfully by the means of its well-drawn characters.

Robert Reed is one of the most prolific short story writers of the past 20 years and his name graces the contents list of SF magazines with amazing regularity. But as I was reading his novella, “Precious Mental,” a thought occurred to me: I can’t recall actually liking any of his stories, and I often never finished them. I didn’t have this luxury this time. The story is set in the far future, where Pamir is a pilot, moving an alien ship across the galaxy as part of a mission. He’s accompanied by Tailor, an alien of the race that built the ship, and a crew of red shirts. I found the story to be turgid, with surprisingly long stretches of pure infodump. None of the characters had any personality at all, and the parts of it that aren’t just dumping background material involves conversations of the people and aliens trading non sequiturs and fortune cookie dialog. It was a real slog to finish this. There are many great ideas here — Reed’s forte — but the story and characters do little but spout them and move on.

Chuck Rothman’s novels Staroamer’s Fate and Syron’s Fate will soon both be republished by Fantastic Books.