Ken Liu’s “the Oracle” (third person past tense, ~8.5 pages) similarly presents the social change from a major invention through someone whose life is severely impacted, even ruined, by it. Here, though, the focus is strictly on the personal. On his sixteenth birthday, Penn used the titular technology to see his own future, and unfortunately for him, he saw himself being given the death penalty for murder. While he isn’t arrested for pre-crime, no one wants to get too close, and he ends up in a de facto prison anyway. After twenty years without killing anyone, a lawyer picks up his case (over his protests). In the course of the story, Liu describes several other people whose visions of the future warped their presents, most notably a woman whose vision of a tranquil old age drives her extreme sports, foolish risks, and general self-destruction. The ultimate effect is a low-key meditation on the fear of consequences, small and focused on its well-explored central theme.
Finally “Warlord,” by Tom Purdom (third person past, ~27.5 pages) suffers somewhat in my eyes inasmuch as it’s at least the third in a series of connected stories. I know nothing of its predecessors beyond what I’ve gleaned from context. This tale at least focuses on a human named Harold Lizert, who has defected from a human colony to an alien city where two different sapient species live in a brokered peace (a peace brokered by Harold in, presumably, a previous story). Harold’s nemesis from the colony has seized power there, and leads his people on offensive war with the city of Imeten. Harold isn’t the only human in Imeten, but the others leave no impression. Harold’s lover Joanne in particular comes across as a prop and cipher; this very much isn’t her story. Given that Purdom has the task of serving both readers like me who come across “Warlord” in isolation and those familiar with the entire series (perhaps in collected form), some unevenness in the focus is probably unavoidable. Presenting alien races, able to think “as well as a man, or better than a man, but not like a man,” as John W. Campbell put it, is a classic challenge. This story shows us two, the tree people and the itiji, with neither wholly satisfying. Several times Harold muses on the alien thought processes of those around him, though they don’t come across as all that alien. A greater strength of the story comes in the logistics of the war, how it’s seen by the commanders, and the course of the battle; all are expertly presented. I haven’t read much military SF, but a common complaint I have when I do read it is amateurish battle scenes that come across more as bloodless video-game conflicts or abstracted dice-rolls, rather than chaotic violence; “Warlord” wholly avoids this problem.
So, to sum up: I really enjoyed “the Other Gun,” “Through Your Eyes,” “Writing in the Margins,” “Gray Wings,” “The Wall,” and “Distant Like the Stars.” “The Other Gun” I liked enough that I’ll try to remember to seek out Neal Asher’s other work in that setting. “Julian of Earth,” “the Oracle,” and “Warlord” I enjoyed only slightly less; they’re fine stories. Only “Spider God and the Periodic Table” really doesn’t work for me, and as is so often the case when talking about a story in Asimov’s that I don’t care for, I think it’s more a sign of a mismatch between reader and story than the story being intrinsically flawed. The only story I’ve disliked enough to even consider calling it bad, Jay Lake’s “The Stars Do Not Lie,” was recently nominated for a Nebula award, which goes to show how good my tastes are. And really, it’s not a bad story; it’s axiomatic that Asimov’s doesn’t publish bad stories. I just wasn’t picking up what that particular story put down.