After what felt like an interminable wait, Asimov’s for July 2013 arrived in my mailbox last week. I’m sure you’re dying to know my thoughts, and how many adjectives I squeeze in.
Halotype 1402, by Ted Kosmata, runs ~11 page, third person limited, past tense. Nathan, a young white guy, crosses the Texas panhandle in the company of a band of bandit/refugees. A supervirus has destroyed civilization, prety much, and Nathan has fallen into evil and barbaric company. The extremely simple plot highlights the sense of gloom and gathering darkness that pervades, mixed with passing references to the genetic immunity that gives the story its title. The story hits about the middle of the road for Asimov’s, which is to say, it’s good without being terribly memorable.
The Art of Homecoming, by Carrie Vaughn (~12.5 pages, first person past tense) possesses a similarly simple plot, but in its case the emphasis is on characterization. Major Wendy Daring (yes, that is her name) takes a forced vacation from not-Starfleet after a minor incident; she visits her sibling’s family, reflects on her life choices contrasted with her relative’s, toys with early retirement to planetside life. So yes, on the one hand, this is a spin on “Family,” that one episode of Next Generation wherein Picard visits his brother’s family and considers leaving Starfleet after his capture by the Borg. On the other, if Star Trek‘s use of a plot skeleton meant that plot skeleton could never be used again, then there would be far, far fewer SFF stories out there. Wendy, her personal crisis, and her relationship with Zelda (all three well-described) run far afield from Picard, his personal crisis, and his relationship with his brother. The tale entertains, and if I didn’t like things that reminded me of TNG I wouldn’t be a sci-fi fan.
Ian Watson’s Blair’s War (~7.5 pages, third person limited, past tense) sadly just did not work for me. The war in question is an alternate Spanish Civil War in which British intervention seems to promise a brighter ending than real-world history. Josefina, our viewpoint character, has little to say about the conflict, despite her status as a refugee from Guernica enjoying the hospitality of a leftist aristocrat; this might be because she’s thirteen. Normally I applaud stories that pack ideas densely and end quickly, but between Josefina’s personal drama with her long-lost cousin, Sir Richard’s commentary on the war, and the two separate dramatic twists in the closing paragraphs, this one seems all over the place. The final paragraph (and second twist ending) in particular left me sour, and it seemed to rebut a point the rest of the story hadn’t especially tried to make. I like all the individual elements of the story, and certainly I can see why Asimov’s accepted it; maybe with another thousand words or so of unpacking it would have hit me better.
Yubba Vines, by Rudy Rucker and Paul Di Filippo (~13.5 pages, third person slangy, past tense) lives or dies on its narrative voice, which I absolutely can believe people who aren’t me would enjoy. The convoluted plot makes less sense the more I think about it, which isn’t really a problem, but the tone put me off. There’s a rogue food truck with a mysterious business plan, implausible wifi, and some descriptions that would maybe make me laugh if read aloud – I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this one on Escape Pod. It’s rare I don’t enjoy two consecutive stories in Asimov’s (you can see from the archives I’m a pretty consistent booster; if I didn’t enjoy the magazine I wouldn’t read it) but at least I can say I disliked “Blair’s War” and “Yubba Vines” for very different reasons. The former, I can see how relatively minor edits would have made it a story I enjoyed. The latter straight-up targets readers with tastes different from mine.