- “A Stab of the Knife” by Adam-Troy Castro (novella)
- “Until We Are Utterly Destroyed” by Frank Wu (novelette)
- “Generations Lost and Found” by Evan Dicken (short story)
- “A Simple Question” by Kris Dikeman (short story)
- “The People v. Craig Morrison” by Alex Shvartsman & Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (short story)
- “Potosi” by Joe Pitkin (novelette)
- “Eulogy for an Immortal” by James Robert Herndon (short story)
- “Welcome to the Arboretum, Little Robot” by Mary E. Lowd (short story)
- Probability Zero: “Preface to the Handbook of Social Treatments for Conceptual Allergies” by Daniel James Peterson (short story)
- “New Frontiers of the Mind” by Andy Duncan (novelette)
- “Here’s Looking at You, Cud” by M. Bennardo (short story)
- “Extracts from the Captain’s Notes” by Mary Soon Lee (short story)
- “Open Source Space” by C. Stuart Hardwick (novelette)
- “Priorities” by Jacob A. Boyd (short story)
- “A Crystal Dipped in Dreams” by Auston Habershaw (novelette)
- “Left to Take the Lead” by Marissa Lingen (novelette)
Except for the Probability Zero and the self-referential alternate history of “New Frontiers,” all stories are some species of (sometimes squishy) science fiction. As with the Asimov’s, apologies for the lateness (and hurried nature) of this review.
A table of contents with sixteen stories (plus a translated story) is quite impressive and looks like a lot of bang for your buck but one of the stories is about 2800 words and six more range from about 2100 words down to (I kid you not) 258. Many of the more substantial tales and some of the lesser ones range from readable to notable so there’s plenty of decent reading but there’s also a lot of chaff.
“Eulogy” is the longest of the notably short tales and also very serious, describing a man (who has recently lost his mother) finding his father dead and constructing a strange and lasting monument according to his father’s wishes. Part of this was quite effective but it stresses that everyone grieves in their own way and this way, however poetically apt in an intellectual sense, was ultimately hard to connect with for me. It was interesting though, and it may work for some readers. “Extracts” is the shortest and there’s no story here: a captain devotes a few sentences to trivializing a journey to Saturn’s moons.
Between those lengths, “Generations” is about people adapting, in both plausible and ridiculous ways, to life on a generation starship. Ironically, it’s too long at about 1700 words and its semi-serious tone doesn’t work, though a purely comic 1000-word piece might have. “A Simple Question” is a remarkably unjust, sexist, passive-aggressive piece disguised as a semi-comic tale of “The Attack of the Mold Monsters.” “Arboretum” is a c. 500-word sketch of a robot finding processing heaven in an arboretum but if there’s a story here, I’m missing it. “Preface” semi-comically considers what happens “if trigger warnings and echo chambers go on…” Alas, while in the right area to be satirically hilarious, it seems a bit scattershot and its parody (?) of dry, academic style makes it… dry and academic. “Priorities” is a bifurcated story that does a good job of describing a harrowing accident in space and the extreme measures taken to try to save the protagonist but all in the service of a rather weak punchline. The main section was pretty good, though.
That leaves nine tales which are full stories and most of them deal with loss in one way or another. In the rather bizarre “Here’s Looking at You, Cud,” water shortages have resulted in a law being passed which outlaws the sale of real beef and a Fed (who reminds me of Dale Gribble in being so proud of his paranoid insight yet who is really naive) is involved in a sting operation aiming to take down an old flame. In “The People v. Craig Morrison” (which ought to be “Craig Morrison v. Vermont” or some such), the state has banned manual driving and a war veteran who has lost his legs is suing for the right to keep driving. He drives a Camaro his war vet dad had owned since Craig’s childhood and which, despite terminal cancer, he’d handed down to Craig after modifying it so that Craig could drive it. In the flood of “self-driving car” stories lately, this is probably the most salient dramatization and it is emotionally effective in ways but the arguments for the law and many of the dynamics of the tale and its conclusion are not persuasive or apt. “Potosi” presumably has Rebel scum motivated by their feelings of loss but we’ll never know because of the cardboard nature of the evil white supremacist. She’s from Arkansas so what else could she be? So the African protagonist fights the Southern villain over the Land of Riches (an asteroid of platinum) in this subtle tale that’s all about the science.
“Open Source Space” conveys its somewhat paradoxically globalist message through a tale about a couple of people crowdsourcing a mission to recover Apollo 10’s lander (called Snoopy) which has been in orbit around the sun. The fact that they thought they’d failed and that the inhabitants of the Chinese moonbase thinks they’re being attacked complicates matters. Something about the tone of the story removes any doubt about the conclusion which removes much suspense. “New Frontiers” is a specifically Analog-centric tale of a sort of alternate history in which John W. Campbell, Jr. participates in Rhine’s Zener card experiments and is initially very good at it but loses the knack. This obviously took quite a bit of historical work and is reasonably evocative of the time and place but is also lacking in plot and drama. “A Stab of the Knife” is another of the many Draiken tales and Cort tales, here combined with plenty of plot and drama which is entertaining enough but replete with unbelievable dialog and poor proofreading. In this one, Draiken is pursuing Cort based on intel from a previous tale and it turns out that many factions, plots, and counter-plots make it difficult for anyone in the story to know who’s fighting on whose side or why. Eventually, after a suitably violent climax, the way is paved for further adventures.
“Left to Take the Lead” is yet another story lacking a real driving plot (being a shorter story might have helped with this, making it feel tighter) and hammering some of its points too heavily (being a longer story might have helped with this, giving it room to breathe), but the protagonist and her narrative voice work very well and make this a notable story. Holly was an inhabitant of the Oort Cloud before an economic collapse which resulted in her being sold into indentured servitude, which is a popular thing on an ecologically ravaged Earth. Her culture shock (indeed, planet shock) is extreme and she spends much of the story dealing with that and waiting for her uncles to save the Family (which has a special social significance to Oorters) but a catastrophe shakes her into a new viewpoint and a new life plan. Also notable is “Until We Are Utterly Destroyed.” Its style involves a lot of “As you know, O victor priest!” and the whole tale rests on a rather inexplicable way to go about designing AI and terraforming but is substantially, if not qualitatively, almost like Hal Clement and Lester del Rey collaborated on a story, with giant centipede-like aliens in a strange planetary environment dealing with religious ideas and vengeance. Finally, “Crystal” reads a little bit too much like a geekish wish-fulfillment of sorts and brought to mind, without matching, things as diverse as Leiber’s “Night of the Long Knives” (1960) to Kornher-Stace’s “Last Chance” (2017). In terms of prose, plot, and character, at least, this was about the smoothest, best tale in the issue. A physically impaired dreamer is out in the apocalyptic wasteland looking for the ancient treasure which will save him from misery when he meets an armed woman who not only gets the drop on him but gets the treasure he missed. Still, they become uneasy companions until they get to the trading station and the alpha male trader changes the equation. He sees the treasure as a weapon and honey-trap while the protagonist sees a greater value in the dreams and knowledge the VR crystal can convey. If only the trader weren’t a giant cannibal and hadn’t taken the woman as well.