“The Golden Age of Story,” by Robert Reed. 13 pages, split into five third person limited (very limited, almost objective) vignettes, very loosely linked. Each vignette is a separate episode outlining the spread of a designer drug, the effects of which include elevated reasoning and memory, high creativity, and pathological confabulation. Probably my favorite story of the issue: the societal changes are sketched in lightly, just outlined sufficient for the reader to deduce the greater shape of events.
“The Best of All Possible Worlds,” by John Chu. 4.5 pages, first person limited present tense. There’s a grad student, and his longtime friend Declan is some kind of superhuman alien interdimensional megabeing with reality-altering powers that express themselves in strange ways, but really he’s a nice guy. This one did not grab me at all; it felt like half a story, and the less-interesting half to boot. I suppose the question of “what’s up with Declan” might be enough to drive the story forward, but the answer, to the extent we get one, is “he’s some kind of crazy magic alien guy,” which I don’t find satisfying. But it’s short, the characterization is solid, and the gimmick with Candide is cute and well-described. I just didn’t feel it went anywhere. Of course, 2000-2500 words isn’t enough space to go very far.
“The Weight of the Sunrise,” by Vylar Kaftan. 30.5 pages, second person present framing as first person, past tense. Vylar Kaftan is an expert, plainly; here we have a full AH Incan empire, with the divergence point laid out alongside geopolitical ramifications and yadda yadda, I’m not an alternate-history enthusiast per se but I appreciate a good story, and this is that. The story includes a Thomas Jefferson analogue (with pains made to communicate he wasn’t actually Jefferson) heading to Peru with the goal of selling smallpox vaccine to the Incans in exchange for enough gold to bankroll an American Revolution. The Incan culture described is rich and deep, with expository asides kept to a minimum. There’s one bit where the narrator reminds his audience that Mama-Quilla is the moon goddess, maybe one or two other dissonant bits, but overall a very smooth, very enjoyable story. If I liked a story this issue more than “the Golden Age of Story,” it was “the Weight of the Sunrise.”
As usual, first-person and third-person limited narration dominate the issue, with a dab of other methods (third person objective and second person, this time). I’ve given up trying to estimate word count, as it doesn’t communicate much. About 10 pages seems to be the modal Asimov’s short story, which is to say, around 5000 words, plus or minus twenty percent; beyond that, there’s not a lot of useful data to glean. As usual, the short stories share few common elements: two keep to the Aristotelean unities, more or less, describing single specific incidents in their protagonists’ lives, and two spread out further, with one offering a grab-bag of scenes and characters and the other skipping through a couple of years in the life of a trans-Erie smuggler.