The February 2013 issue of Asimov’s arrived in my mailbox a week ago. It’s earlier than I might have expected, but I’m not complaining. Overall I enjoyed this issue more than its immediate predecessor. As usual, even the stories I don’t care for demonstrate exemplary craftsmanship; I didn’t read anything and think “I can’t believe this was published in Asimov’s!” Of the six stories in the issue, my favorites were near-future soft SF and alt-history, while my least favorites were contemporary soft SF and alt-history, so I can’t blame my subgenre predilections for my tastes.
“And Then Some,” by Matthew Hughes. Runs about 18 pages, third person limited and past tense. I’ve found that most often when I dislike a novelette or novella, it’s because it feels padded, like the author had enough material for 1.2 short stories or 0.7 novellas, and decided to stretch it out rather than crush it down to short-story length. “And Then Some” certainly doesn’t suffer from that problem; it’s as long as it needs to be and no longer. In this noir-esque space opera, hardboiled op Erm Kaslo starts out looking for a fugitive, spends a little time a prison camp, and ends up struggling over what may as well be an alchemical Maltese Falcon. It’s not perfect (the book sounds like a plant, but that’s never followed up on) but it surprised me more than once, and in a good way.
“The New Guys Always Work Overtime,” by David Erik Nelson. Runs 10.5 pages, first person limited and past tense. A darkly comic, sad little piece about labor relations. The narrator’s company uses time-travel technology to pluck unskilled labor from the distant past to construct tablet computers on American soil for inflation-adjusted minimum wage, which somehow works out to vast profits (possibly through loopholes in the tax code). All well and good, but there are obvious and substantial discrepancies between the orientation video and his actual day-to-day, which leads to some trouble. I liked the tone of this piece: there’s a lot of exposition to get through, but it’s doled out in an artful and unobtrusive way. Plus it’s not any longer than it needs to be.
“Outbound from Put-In Bay,” by M. Bennardo. 10 pages, first limited past again. AH piece about a smuggler going back and forth over what’s left of Lake Erie, after a 20th century that saw a new Ice Age and the dissolution of the USA. Canada doesn’t sound like someplace I’d like to visit. A gloomy tale, full of dark portents — the narrator is getting too old for her work, and that work might become obsolete before she’s ready to quit, as economic conditions continue to change for the worse. Missed opportunities and regrets and poor choices. The sense of foreboding doesn’t mesh perfectly with the action/adventure smuggling material, but it works more than it doesn’t, and the choice of protagonist was interesting and unusual.