“Monday’s Monk,” by Jason Sanford (~14 pages, third person limited, past tense) is more ambitious. A lone Buddhist monk struggles to cope with an anarchic future Thailand wherein a militia ruthlessly hunts down and destroys nanotechnology and those who use it; he provides funeral rites for their victims. The story does something I hate: the introduction of exotic foreign phrases and their English translation, as in “Somchai had been able to keep the ubosot, or consecrated hall, clean.” The meaning of the vocabulary word would generally be clear from the context, and the attempt to add authenticity distracts. At least, I assume the intrusions reflect a desire on the author’s part to advertise his Thailand bona fides (according to the blurb at the start of the story, Mr. Sanford spent time there with the Peace Corps). If so, it’s an unnecessary addition. The descriptions of the monastic environment, monastic life, Somchai’s pre-monastery et cetera ring true and provide ample verisimilitude. I was entirely caught in Somchai’s crisis of faith and its eventual resolution; this was certainly my favorite story of the issue. The tense scenes between the monk and the militia leader were outstanding.
“Pitching Old Mars,” by Michael Cassutt (~2.5 pages, first person stream of consciousness, present tense) is exactly what the title suggests, the transcript of a putative screenwriter pitching Barsoom, or rather, any version of Mars as an inhabited alien world, to skeptical studio heads. The pitcher outlines the difficulties intrinsic to bringing Barsoom or a Barsoom-alike to a mass audience, making reference to last year’s John Carter fiasco as well as a dozen other properties and famous names. The movie eventually outlined sounds decent enough, at least some versions of it, but the essential question (what makes it distinctively Old Mars rather than Random Planet, especially given all we’ve learned about Mars in the last century?) is left unresolved. Still, just I started to lose interest in the story, it ended, so I can’t complain too much.
Finally “Feral Moon,” by Alexander Jablokov (a novella of ~33 page, third person limited, past tense) visits a subgenre I hardly ever delve into, military SF. It’s centuries into the future, the solar system has been extensively colonized, and a disgraced officer has been tasked with evaluating the likelihood of success in ongoing efforts by the “Union” (Earth-based and opposed by nebulous forces in the outer system) to pacify Phobos. Kingsman’s backstory, his reasons for being on Phobos, and his rocky relationship with his nominal subordinates set up a fascinating tale set against a fascinating backdrop. Old Phobos, the tourist trap of the inner system, with its beaches and vistas and frescos and engineered gardens, becomes wreckage, its vistas ruined by ruins and its sculptures smashed to make barricades for guerrilla fighters. The difficulties of occupying such a place are spelled out with detail I found novel, even beguiling, although that may in part be because I’ve read so little military SF. Still, this novella makes me want to read more.
So as usual, this issue of Asimov’s presented a couple of stories I really liked, a couple I found pretty okay, and a couple that didn’t work for me. And also as usual, I can readily believe that the two that didn’t work for me were nevertheless proficiently written and competently presented, and that others would enjoy them more. I keep wondering if the next issue will be the one that includes a story that I think doesn’t meet the magazine’s standards, rather than one that simply doesn’t turn my crank, and it keeps not happening. The closest to that, so far, was actually the first issue I reviewed.