Cover of the Sept/Oct 2017 double issue
As this 40th anniversary year continues, it seems as if the bi-monthly issues are of two types. One type contains mainly longer works, and consequently fewer of them. The other type contains mainly shorter works, and consequently more of them. (The page count is constant.)
In general I prefer SF stories at the longer length, so I should prefer those issues of Asimov’s that contain fewer but longer stories. But so far this year I have a clear preference for the issues that have contained a broad spread of short stories.
Fortunately, the Sept/Oct issue contains no fewer than 10 short stories along with 4 novelettes. And it’s fun. Tim McDaniel’s “Squamous and Eldritch Get a Yard Sale Bargain” is as comic as its title suggests. “Zigeuner” is one of Harry Turtledove’s alternate history stories, and it’s a good one (although I did guess the twist before it was revealed). Allen Steele’s “An Incident in the Literary Life of Nathan Arkwright” is a solid addition to that series, and Michael Swanwick’s “Universe Box” is typically wild.
Another solid issue.
Cover of the July/August double issue
A couple of interesting short stories in this issue. I like any stories that try to explore some of the weirdness in quantum mechanics, and “Other Worlds and This One” by Cadwell Turnbull looks at the many-worlds interpretation. Hugh Everett III, who developed the interpretation, plays a starring role in the story.
David Gerrold is, of course, a seasoned SF writer. His short story “The Patient Dragon” does not disappoint. (As with seemingly all the stories being published in this 40th anniversary year, a short aside allows the author chance to reminisce about the magazine. Gerrold’s contribution here is particularly touching.)
Cover of the May/June 2017 double issue
One of the advantages put forward in favour of the bi-monthly double-issue format was that it would permit the publication of much longer stories. Problem is: if those longer stories aren’t to a reader’s taste then (for that particular reader) it’s a large fraction of the magazine wasted.
For the first time, Asimov’s has published an entire novel in a single issue: “The Runabout” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into the story. So that’s a fair chunk of the May/June issue that I didn’t enjoy. And James Gunn’s “The Escape of the Adastra: Asha’s story”, although a standalone tale, is nevertheless part of a series. It belongs to the world he created for his novel Transcendental. It felt like retreading old ground.
Compared to the March/April issue, this one felt stale.
Cover of the March/April 2017 double issue
This is one of the most enjoyable issues of Asimov’s in quite a while. There’s something here for everyone. Bill Johnson and Gregory Frost’s story “Three Can Keep a Secret…” is a novelette in the vein of Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat. Dale Bailey’s short story “Invasion of the Saucer Men” plays with themes from those cheesy-but-fun 1950s SF/horror films. Terry Bisson’s “We Regret the Error” is short, but funny and thought-provoking. Damien Broderick’s “Tao Zero” (what a terrific title! wish I’d thought of it!) is a mind-bending exploration of the possibilities of AI. Ian Creasey’s “After the Atrocity” is a terrific demonstration of how SF can examine issues of current concern through the lens of possibility.
An excellent issue!
Cover of the Jan/Feb 2017 double issue
This is the first issue of the new format for Asimov’s: six double-issue bi-monthly publications. I’ve been buying Asimov’s since the very first issue, so I remember when the magazine was published a bi-monthly. But that was when the magazine was ramping up to monthly publication from quarterly publication. I can’t help wondering whether the move to bi-monthly is the first step on the road to closure (of the print version, at least). I hope not.
The Jan/Feb issue itself has “40th Anniversary Year!” plastered over the cover. I can’t believe that it is 40 years since I saw the Good Doctor’s face staring out at me from the magazine rack in WH Smith’s. Neither, it seems, can many of the contributors to this issue: each of the authors gives a few lines of reminiscence, which appear as asides to the stories.
The stand-out story here for me is Stephen Baxter’s short story The Starphone. Perhaps I’m biased — the story addresses the Fermi Paradox, which of course I’m interested in — but Baxter never fails to write clear, idea-based thought-provoking SF (the sort of stuff I enjoy).
I attended the European Planetary Sciences Congress 2013 in London a couple of weeks ago, and gave a talk to a session on the societal implications of astrobiology.
It was an extremely interesting session. Although everyone there was interested in the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and indeed many participants are actively searching for signs of life beyond Earth, I felt there was a recognition that it’s entirely possible that complex, multicellular life might be rare in the universe. (One of the talkers, David Waltham, has a book out next year entitled Lucky Planet. He argues that the four billion years of good weather enjoyed by planet Earth was an unlikely, although necessary, precondition for the emergence of intelligent life. He’s as gloomy about the prospect of SETI success as I am – although both of us would dearly like to be proven wrong! Be sure to read the book when it appears.)
I was reminded of the session yesterday when I read a yet another criticism of the “humans only” universe portrayed by Isaac Asimov in his Foundation series. Such criticism was often levelled at the Good Doctor: his fictional universe contains only humans and robots, the argument goes, because he lacked the imagination to create convincing aliens. The criticism is unfair. Asimov limited his fictional universe because his editor at the time, John W. Campbell, insisted on a human chauvinism that Asimov simply did not share; better not to write about alien intelligence at all than be forced to write about human superiority in order to guarantee a sale. Besides, Asimov’s novel The Gods Themselves disproves the allegation: Odeen, Dua and Tritt are among the most convincing aliens in all of science fiction.
Even though Asimov the science writer wrote about the likely prevalence of alien intelligences, the humans-only Galaxy of his science fiction writing might turn out to be a better description of reality. That was certainly the tenor of my discussions during EPSC13.
The accolade for “the greatest science-fiction story ever written” usually goes to Isaac Asimov’s wonderful tale Nightfall (though personally I’d agree with the master himself, and say that The Last Question is a better story). If you haven’t read Nightfall, it’s a story set on the planet Lagash. The planet is unusual in that it possesses a stable orbit around six suns. Inhabitants of Lagash have evolved in an environment in which they never see night, never see darkness. The story hinges on what happens during an eclipse when, for the first time, the natives of Lagash experience nightfall. Read the story. You’ll love it.
(Credit: Dimension X)
Critics have often pointed out a weakness in the story: a stable orbit around six stars is, they say, impossible. Well, this week a team of astronomers working from Kepler data have posted a paper on arXiv (“Planet Hunters: A Transiting Circumbinary Planet in a Quadruple Star System“) that tells of the discovery of a planet that’s being pulled by the gravitational tug of four planets. This isn’t quite Lagash, but it’s a planet that possesses an apparently stable orbit in a very complicated environment. Planetary systems are clearly more complicated than we thought. Maybe a planet like Lagash isn’t impossible after all.