The December 2013 issue of Asimov’s came while I was at GenCon, so my reading and review of it was lost in the shuffle. Now that I hold the January 2014 issue, it only seems fitting that I clear the docket by running down the issue I missed.
The issue’s theme does not become apparent immediately. Henry Lien’s novelette “Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters” starts us off strong, with an engaging young woman as the viewpoint character. She struggles to excel and defeat another young woman, her rival, in a hostile boarding-school environment. While she’s not a very likable person maybe, she commands attention. Plus there’s skating on synthetic mother-of-pearl surfaces that cover everything in Hong Kong for no clear reason.
In Jay O’Connell’s short story “Dignity,” a young woman is the viewpoint character. She struggles to aid another young woman who was unlucky enough to be born into a much lower social class. It’s quick and ends with a little sting.
The title character in “The Fitter,” a short story by Timons Esaias, is not a young woman. However the bulk of the action concerns how a genderless alien taking a job as a fitter/salesclerk at a lingere store affects the store’s owner and other employees (all women, mostly young). It’s a little choppier than I expect to read in Asimov’s, jumping through a large number of short dialogues quickly as time passes. Don’t get me wrong; this is a perfectly legit technique and this is a good story. Just a little different from what I’m used to here.
William Preston’s “Vox Ex Machina,” a novelette, stars a fairly young woman, an airline fight attendant, who finds the head of a robot left in an overhead compartment. While it’s a well-told story, something about it didn’t sit well with me. Perhaps it’s because the viewpoint character strongly reminded me of Shelly Duvall in the Shining: at turns shallow, passive, and reactive.
“Bloom,” a short story by Gregory Norman Bossert, features three characters, two women and a man. One of the women is the viewpoint character, but the bulk of what makes the story interesting comes out not in introspection but in conversation. The three characters are trapped in the dark on the surface of an alien world, and can hear one another but can see only the stars. It shares with “the Fitter” the technique of short dialogues skipping forward in time, though in this case the time is only a few hours. I could easily imagine this one as a screenplay or radio script; it’s basically all dialogue.
The short story “Grainers” by R. Neube bucks the trend by having two POV characters, one male and one female. The setting is interesting: Earth nuked, the moon and Mars locked in a trade war, and those of Earth’s population too poor to evacuate crammed aboard dingy alien transports, donated by barely-mentioned xenos humanitarians. The unreliability of both narrators was fun, though there was only one point where they seemed to be describing the same events differently, a conversation which might have happened both ways over the course of a longer timespan.
Nancy Kress, who unless I’m mistaken is the only female author featured in this issue showcasing female POV characters, presents the short story “Frog Watch.” It should probably be FrogWatch, as that’s the name of the organization in the story. Our young woman POV character, newly widowed, listens to frogs in the swamp and tracks frog extinction. I’m on the fence about this one; on the one hand, I liked the narrator’s voice and the description of the swamp was great. On the other hand, the actual plot-qua-plot was weak enough that I’d rather there not been a plot at all.
Finally, Ian R. MacLeod’s novelette “Entangled” concludes the issue. It’s the story of a woman, no longer young, looking back on the momentous events of her life, and how they were more or less contemporaneous with some believably tremendous social upheaval. While the postsingularity (kinda) setting is interesting, and the mystery of Martha’s life intriguing, I found the novelette’s structure to be the most compelling thing about it: it’s written in a mix of first person present and third person past, which serves to underline the transitions between the “present” of Martha’s middle age and the “past” of her youth.
So to sum up: a fairly typical issue of Asimov’s in terms of quality, though with an unusual theme. Actually, it makes me wonder whether past issues of Asimov’s have had a theme like this, and I just haven’t noticed. The stories are the usual crop of good to very good.