Once again, a new issue of Asimov’s arrived in my mailbox. Once again, I read it. Once again, I’m sharing my thoughts. You guys like my thoughts, right? There were some interesting thematic links in these stories, particularly the first few, on the broad topic of social justice, inequality, and privilege. That commonality doesn’t run through the entire issue, that I noticed, but to be fair it’s a double issue.
“The Other Gun,” by Neal Asher (first person past tense, ~31 pages). Space opera novella. Tuppence is a cyborg with some pretty severe problems. He’s a former weapons engineer in a setting featuring humans, their ally AIs, and implacable alien foes, stuck on a wild-goose chase that might one day lead to the superweapon that could end the fighting, but probably won’t. Also his only friend is a transhuman fetishist who had her brain carved up and stuffed inside something not unlike a velociraptor. This is a noir story, bleak; Tuppence draws some dubious ethical distinctions, but then, he’s a miserable dude and would doubtless feel even worse without a moral compass. Asher teases us one too many times about the titular “other gun” for my liking, but the nightmarish body-horror of the setting is well sketched out. Brains and ganglia are hacked into shipboard control systems, there’s a slave trade in folks whose brains have been scooped out and replaced with pliant software, and poor Tuppence himself isn’t even sure if he’s (part of) his human brain in an artificial body, or just a xerox copy. I haven’t even gotten to the mass-produced disposable foot-soldiers. Very solid pacing, with mostly effective slow reveals of Tuppence’s backstory and the setting. “The Other Gun” is apparently an offshoot of a trilogy in the same setting, but it doesn’t suffer for my unfamiliarity with that work or the other story or stories set in this universe. A cracking good start to this issue.
“Through Your Eyes,” by Linda Nagata (first person present tense, ~9.5 pages), is about as different from “the Other Gun” as possible: it’s set in the near-future, during a distinctly Occupy Wall Street type protest. James Shelley, the idealistic/naive protagonist, joins the protesters on a lark and things get badly out of hand, especially when the cops start confiscating smartphones and Shelley’s is a bleeding-edge experimental implant. No real surprises, but a story as short as this just needs to present its thesis and end with a flourish; “Through Your Eyes” entertains and succeeds well at what it sets out to do.
The emotional center of “Writing in the Margins,” by Joel Richards (third person past tense, ~17 pages) hits me in a soft spot: a husband worried about the emotional well-being of his wife, after she loses the use of her legs. It’s funny, then, that the actual SFF plot of the story barely connects to Tim Marchese’s concerns for Marilee in any but the loosest way. In a near-future San Francisco, reincarnation is settled science, which prompts plenty of disadvantaged folks to take stupid risks (go ahead, rob the liquor store; either you get away with it or you just die in a hail of gunfire and come back in maybe a better life). The new science of life-after-death is a boon for some professions, but makes law enforcement substantially more dangerous. Tim’s a homicide detective, collaborating with some unexpected associates on a cold case, and events unspool… but that’s all unimportant compared to his relationship with his wife, which I found very well-drawn indeed.
By contrast, the central relationship of “Gray Wings,” by Karl Bunker (first person past tense, ~6 pages) has far less depth, as it’s between two strangers. In a post-scarcity future that hasn’t quite reached everyone yet, Amy races with bioengineered wings over sub-Saharan Africa. When she crashes into a poor farmer’s barn, she’s touched by Danbir’s generosity in the face of his extreme poverty. Liberal guilt survives the nanotech revolution. Like “Through Your Eyes” this story just has time to present its central thesis, bow, and leave the stage. Also like “Through Your Eyes” the thesis is straightforward and unchallenging, but presented artfully and engagingly.