Asimov’s — September 2016

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Asimov’s, September 2016

The Mind Is Its Own Place” by Carrie Vaughn

Dome on the Prairie” by Robert Reed
Epitome” by Tegan Moore
Academic Circles” by Peter Wood
The Whole Mess” by Jake Skillingstead
All That Robot…” by Rich Larson
The Visitor from Taured” by Ian R. MacLeod

Reviewed by Bob Blough

This is a very enjoyable issue of Asimov’s. All stories were worth reading and one is a potential award nominee

Carrie Vaughn writes an interesting SF story about space ship navigators who must use M-space drive to send ships to their proper destination. In “The Mind Is Its Own Place” it is posited that computers cannot do this alone so it is not wholly a mathematical thing and only certain types of humans can meld the mathematical and the M-space constructions together to navigate properly. Mitchell is one of these special people who wakes up in a hospital facility without understanding what has happened to him. Unfortunately he has Occupational Synaptic Dysfunction Syndrome which causes nonlinear thinking in some navigator’s brains after prolonged exposure to M-space. This is an excellent story following Mitchell’s breakdown on ship and his dealing with the disease he has acquired. Carrie Vaughn writes briskly and clearly and the characters – especially Mitchell – are well rounded. A solid read here.

Robert Reed consistently writes excellent fiction and overflowing amounts of it as well. In “Dome on the Prairie” he takes a look at The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder and transforms it. As he says in the introduction, “Every story is made better by throwing in a ship full of aliens.” We are given that Earth is the prairie for a homesteading family. Father thinks they are doing the world a favor by destroying the Chicago area to make it homier for their family. The human natives disagree heartily and soon a human is sent to try and communicate with a young girl of the family. If you have read the Ingalls series or seen the TV show it will be a more engaging reading experience, but the basic story is a true science fictional one and will be an enjoyable read for anyone. Another very good story.

Tegan Moore, in her first professionally published piece, gives us a lot to look forward to in her subsequent career in her poignant and scary story “Epitome.” Shelby, in love with her female roommate but unable to express it, becomes the care-giver of Vivian (said roommate) after a tragic accident which may impair her for life. Shelby, in distress at not having her friend to talk to, turns to Personify which is the newest VR platform. Shelby does some tinkering with Vivian’s persona while she is taking care of Vivian in real life. The effects in the VR platform become evident in myriad ways from Shelby’s own reaction to Vanessa in VR, versus Vanessa in real life. It becomes even worse when the VR Vivian conflicts with the real time world becomes a tangled web of desire, fear and confusion. This is an excellent fist story. Keep writing, Tegan Moore, I look forward to more from you.

I have to admit that I love time-travel stories. The permutations are endless. Peter Wood in “Academic Circles” combines academia and peer publishing to good effect. Two rivals at a university seem to have sent in for publication the same article on Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle at relatively the same time. How could this happen? Who is responsible and how can this be changed? Fun ensues with a nice romantic angle included. Another good story.

Jack Skillingstead is an unusually nifty writer. He takes stories into places you never would think they would go. “The Whole Mess” is one of these stories and it works extremely well. Like the former story it is set in academia, but with a genius mathematician instead. He is contacted by a man who gives him an unfinished equation to solve. Solving the equation brings on a host of struggles including the many worlds theory, Lovecraftian horrors from space, and a wonderful boy meets girl story. All of it is a romp through various iterations of time and space. Excellent fun.

Rich Larson is making quite an impact on the short fiction SF scene recently (notice his two selection in Gardner Dozois’s “Best of” this year) but “All That Robot…” does not really work for me. It’s well written enough but somehow did not catch my attention. It concerns the only man on an island after an unknown cataclysm with a group of AI robots. One robot and the man learn to communicate which should be more poignant than it is. Somehow it feels half thought out and might have worked better as a longer piece or better edited than it is. It is still worthwhile to read and you may like it a lot more than I did.

Ian M. McLeod is one of the best prose writers in the genre. I don’t read widely outside the genre but I think he is the equal of David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood or Kate Atkinson. In “A Visitor from Taured” he continues this lucid writing. This is not a flashy SF story – I am not sure he has ever written one of those, but it is a slow building story that takes place in the near future and follows the fortunes of two people in the world that they help to create. It concerns two graduate students – Rob and Lita – who meet in school and get to know each other and their academic worlds; the death of written literature for Lita and quantum cosmologies for Rob. The relationship and the interests combine in fascinating and beautiful ways so that these two human beings become as well known to the reader as they can be in a short story. The ending is haunting and perfect. Again, MacLeod is not to everyone’s taste. He is not what might be thought of as an “exciting” or “earth shattering” writer, but if you enjoy beautiful prose with characters that live off the page and within a thoroughly believable future world then this is the author for you. Give him a try. Not the most prolific writer, and though his work has garnered critical and reader favor, he is not as well known here in the US as in his native England.

There you have it. A really good issue with many enjoyable stories and one that stands out as one of the best of the year. What more could you want?