First a little bit of bookkeeping. On Asimovs.com, the editors of the magazine publish excerpts from the current issue, which excerpts I can calculate the word count of easily, then compare to the page count of those excerpts in the print edition; this gives me some new numbers for my words-per-page estimates. Unfortunately, perhaps, the wpp of the excerpts varies from about 450 to about 600, a fairly wide variance and no more meaningful than my original estimates of around 500 wpp. So I may as well keep with the 500 wpp estimate.
Perhaps it’s fool’s game, my using Asimov’s page count to make guesses at what constitutes an SFF short story. But it doesn’t hurt anything… unlike my attempt to guess at the intentions of Vylar Kaftan in “the Ghost Dance,” in which attempt I incorrectly referred to Kaftan with a masculine pronoun. I generally try to use plural for that kind of thing; I don’t endorse the use of the masculine pronouns as a default, and I erred in that sentence. I plead sloppiness, and apologize to Vylar Kaftan.
Now, on to the stories!
“They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass,” by Alaya Dawn Johnson. This is a novelette, first person present tense. Maybe a shade under 8000 words. In a Midwest suffering an alien occupation, one that smacks of US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, two middle-aged sisters make a cross-country trip and endure a close encounter with one of the occupiers. I found the military adventurism allegory distractingly heavy-handed, although the layered relationship between the two sisters was well-drawn and the uncertainties of life under occupation nicely sketched out: when a man shows up with scars and a hundred thousand dollars worth of threshing equipment, you might wonder (was he an informer, a spy, or some other flavor of traitor? A thief or a criminal? Cunning, or simply lucky?) but you don’t ask questions. The occupier’s technology, which might be from another planet, another dimension, or just another continent, is pleasantly mysterious, the political situation less so.
“The Family Rocket,” by James Van Pelt. Short story, just 2000 words or so, with a point-of-view that’s almost first person, but features a tiny dash of second person. An unnamed narrator tells the story of introducing his girlfriend to his father, or trying to. He’s trying to work up the nerve to propose. He and distracts her (and himself) with an anecdote from his early childhood, when his father built a rocket mockup and took him and his siblings on a pretend voyage to Mars, which the children were too young to realize wasn’t real. Now the child is an adult and the father may have Alzheimer’s pretty bad. The Dec 2012 issue also featured a story with an Alzheimer’s patient, though the double Oct/Nov issue had none. There’s a little dab of unreliable narrator that makes for a little dab of a twist that makes for a pleasant little frisson at the climax of what is, after all, about as short a short story as you can get.
“Over There,” by Will McIntosh. A novelette, maybe 9000 words. POV is, in a word, complicated; this is experimental fiction. It’s third person limited, past tense, but the bulk of the story is bifurcated across two timelines, running in parallel (the layout switches to two-column for this portion). And I mean parallel; you can’t read the first timeline, then the second, because of intertimeline exchange. The reader is obliged to be switching back and forth between the two complementary narratives, an exercise that I found novel, then intriguing, then frustrating as it became less clear what was happening when. The timelines started off simultaneous, but gradually lost sync as line breaks built up until one narrative was a few inches ahead of the other. They eventually reunite, but the reader is obliged to play catchup in the meantime, or at least I was. The narrative, stripped of artifice, is a fairly mundane disaster scenario, but the format adds greatly to the experience of reading the story. Like Nathan, the reader is always off-balance, never completely settled, and perpetually suspicious that answers lie just ahead and on the other side. I wouldn’t want to read an entire novel in this format (and maybe I’d have enjoyed the story even more with 10% or so cut) but it was engaging.