The issue’s lead is a novelette: “Memorials” by Aliette de Bodard. Anticolonial theme, part of a series of stories sharing a setting. Addresses some of the ideas in Leah Cypress’s “What We Ourselves Are Not,” in the September 2013 issue: you’ve got your dispossessed people struggling to retain their cultural distinction, and you’ve got your memorial created from memories of the people but developed by outsiders. The issue is still cultural appropriation, but the metaphors are a little less literal: xoxing the recently deceased and putting them into, or not putting them into, virtual worlds. The story walks around the issue, kicks the tires, and lands in about the same place, ultimately, though the personal drama was well-handled and the stakes higher than teenage pique. Good pacing for a novelette; it felt shorter than it was.
Ian McHugh’s short story “Extracted Journal Notes for an Ethnography of Bnebene Nomad Culture” takes the form of, as its title suggests, diary entries by an anthropologist engaged in an ethnographic study of aliens. These impressively alien aliens possess genders and cultural identities not matching anything human, the details of which must be inferred from limited data. The story presents a puzzle I’m not sure I understood the answer to, but I found the level of specificity and detail impressive. Anybody who can break down the nature of Irene’s discovery and the ramifications of the events of the story’s conclusion, let me know! Leave a comment! I don’t think I quite got it.
The author of “Static,” William Jablonsky, broke it up into a series of short vignettes, timeskips over the course of a single night; structurally it’s thus similar to last issue’s “Bloom” although the theme couldn’t be more different. During a mysterious space event (no doubt an ionic disturbance in the vicinity of the Van Allen belt) a couple with an infant son start getting phone calls from forwards, backwards, and possibly sideways in time. I enjoyed the unfolding of what was happening, and what it implied about the infant son, but the ending wrapped up everything a little too pat for my tastes; I would have preferred not knowing who Chloe was.
Like the two stories before it, Ron Collins’s novelette “Primes” has a disjointed feel, with time skipping forwards in a series of short vignettes. However it’s a very different feel, hardboiled in the style of detective stories. There are a million stories in the naked city, and this one is about a man hacking the push-marketing feed that everybody’s got implanted in their brains in order to rape women and feel like a big man. It may be a fine example of the form, but hardboiled isn’t a style that I’m into; this is one I didn’t care for. Not saying it didn’t do what it set out to do well.
On the other hand, “The Carl Paradox” by Steve Rasnic Tem does stuff I’m big into: time travel and paradoxes. It’s your classic structure: man goes back in time to warn younger self of poor life choices, new iteration of man from newly-created future shows up to warn first two versions of man about a whole different batch of poor life choices, and so on until it’s like the stateroom scene from A Night at the Opera, there are so many Carls in there. Maybe it’s because I hold time travelley, paradoxy stories to a higher standard, but this one felt like something out of Year’s Best Science Fiction 1961; it lacked the freshness I’ve come to expect of an Asimov’s.
Finally, Nancy Kress’s novelette “the Common Good” rounds out the issue. Fifty-six years after aliens pretty much end civilization, humanity slowly rebuilds with the aid of those same aliens. Apparently. The protagonist, a backwoods bumpkin, doesn’t understand much of the world around him, and much of what he sees is ambiguous, confusing, or contradictory. This isn’t a knock on the story, which is maybe my favorite of the issue; Zed’s growing understanding forms its arc, and the reader is placed very effectively into his shoes. What constitutes the greater good?
Looking over what I’ve written here, I may sound overly negative. So let me be clear: I enjoyed reading all of the stories with the exception of “Primes,” and I didn’t enjoy “Primes” because it isn’t my cup of tea, not because it was badly done.