Picking up from yesterday with the second half of this issue. The TL;DR verdict is that it’s a pretty okay issue, not as good as the June issue but the June issue was really stellar.
Gray Rinehart asks What is a Warrior Without His Wounds? in ~15 pages, with third person limited past tense narration. Double amputee Miroslav, a veteran of the “ongoing Chechan conflict,” returns to his old school somewhere in present-day Russia, where he’s been selected for a treatment that will give him a new arm and a new leg, among other new things. After a leisurely start the story picks up once Miroslav meets the school’s new administrator; their interplay engages and reveals the story’s slightly creaky SFF conceit. The angle by which its ramifications are considered is novel; I liked the allusions to how the conceit has already affected Miroslav’s life. Despite the mostly underwritten cast of characters, the structure of the story’s central conflict and its eventual resolution kept me hooked.
Today’s Friends, by David J. Schwartz (~8 pages, first person past tense) describes in several slices a world traumatized by ongoing alien occupation. Like a lot of short stories, it lasts only long enough to present its central thesis: the Grays are ineffable, implacable. They are neither beneficent nor malign, and their very presence leads to doom. A solidly told story, the only misstep of which is the explicit comparison of the Grays to both God and death: it’s a little too on the nose. Overall, a competent, if grim, mood piece.
Finally Rick Wilber’s At Palomar (third person limited, past tense) concludes the issue. At ~21 pages by my estimate it squeaks in as a novelette rather than a novella, according to the table of contents. Though it’s a sequel or companion piece to “Something Real,” which appeared in the Asimov’s April/May 2012 issue (before my subscription and reviews began), I didn’t read that story, and thus can’t help reading this one in the context of Kristine Kathryn Rauch’s “Uncertainty,” from the March 2013 issue. I hope I can be forgiven for this: “Uncertainty” also features time travel, multiple timelines, Moe Berg and a mysterious time-traveling woman, though with a reversal of who gets to be the POV character and who’s stuck as dramatic object. “At Palomar” can’t quite be read as set in the same narrative universe as “Uncertainty,” but it’s a close thing. This story of Moe Berg fighting the Axis across the timestreams suffers somewhat in the comparison, solely because I read the other story first.
On its own merits, however, it’s a fine story. I can see why more than one writer fingered Moe Berg for their protagonist. His confusion at the initial situation mirrors the reader’s, which makes him sympathetic. He takes time out of his Axis-smashing to sign autographs for little kids, which makes him likable. The stakes of his conflict feel a little low (if there are an infinite number of worlds where the Axis wins and an infinite number where the Allies win, who wins in any particular world hardly seems to matter) but that’s a small complaint.
Overall this issue elicited a more mixed response from me than last month’s. Neither “Blair’s War” nor “Yubba Vines” worked for me at all. While I enjoyed the rest of the issue, there were no standouts among the remaining stories. I could point to either “the Art of Homecoming” or “What is a Warrior Without His Wounds?” as my favorite of the issue, but neither would rank among my favorites so far this year.