ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION #540/541 (January/February 2021) Edited by Sheila Williams


Though there are a couple/few stories in this issue that I didn’t care much for, the vast majority were really excellent. A great start to 2021 for Asimov’s.

“A Rocket for Dimitrios” by Ray Nayler — Increasingly liking the fiction from Nayler and his translations, and this alternate history is no different. A follow up to his previous story “The Disintegration Loops”, the foundation for this alternate world is the discovery of alien technology in the early 1930s and its implementation in US over the ensuing three decades. The alien tech provides amazing things, but humanity still has a poor grasp on how any of it works. The technological advancements have also brought heightened paranoia and authoritarianism to the US under seven-termed (if I recall correctly) President FDR. Standing against the patriarchal US government and the directions it continues to follow are a group of women, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Hedy Lamarr. So, I still haven’t mentioned the actual plot to this story, but honestly its a MacGuffin to explore some great themes and characters in this altverse.

“The Realms of Water” by Robert Reed — Falls into the category of SF writer of a certain age becoming enamored with European history (Roman) and transposing some part of that into SF/Fantasy retelling. This unfortunately seems to happen a lot. The very prolific Reed always writes well. But this was just not a story I found interesting, and it took up way too much space in this issue. On the other hand, at least he didn’t go the alternate history route.

“No Stone Unturned” by Nick Wolven — An exploration of the possible effects that teleportation technology might have on humans, this is top notch SF with both speculative elements, a good dose of science and a human element at its heart. A man becomes concerned about his wife who has been part of a program testing transporter technology. She seems more distant, and forgetful of their child. But, is this an effect of the transporter process as one conspiracy guru claims, or is there something more basic and ageless going on here? Highly recommended.

“Table Etiquette for Diplomatic Personnel, in Seventeen Scenes” by Suzanne Palmer — A murder aboard a human alliance space station with several visiting alien species has possible connection to an old conflict between two groups, and the cuisine selections that must be diplomatically selected/prepared to avoid insulting – or poisoning – any species. Fun, and slyly written, any Trek fan should enjoy this as well.

“Hunches” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch — An engineer on the bridge of a starship is saved from horrible death by going with gut and donning a pressure suit just before sudden crisis unfolds. With nothing transpiring as it should, the disoriented engineer continues to use his hunches to save the ship and surviving crew. A more contained and limited story than I’m used to seeing from Rusch. It is by no means bad, but I also didn’t find it that striking or perceptive.

“Shy Sarah and the Draft Pick Lottery” by Ted Kosmatka — Set in a world – or maybe reality! – where the top echelons of society control people and events according to powerful statistical models much like sabermetrics is used for baseball scouting and plans. An abnormally shy woman who has skills in scouting for prospects that can bring a statistical edge (luck) to situations risks her position and life by telling a prospect the truth about how the world is run and what those in power will do to maintain their edge. Great idea in this story and superb execution.

“Mayor for Today” by Fran Wilde — Concept of a world-wide gig economy taken to extremes. Wilde goes with this idea in interesting directions and as usual writes a compelling and entertaining story. It mixes absurd humor with political critique and sympathetic characterization of individuals struggling to survive in a system.

“The Fear of Missing Out” by Robert H. Cloake — A socially awkward man begins to use new auto-personality technology to navigate difficult situations, like talking to an attractive man he happens to meet. While it’s running most sensory input is lost to him, but he can rewatch what has occurred while on ‘auto-pilot’ afterward, having retaken primary control of his body/mind. Success at winning a date leads him on a path to further dependence on the technology so that primary control actually becomes the unwanted exception. A poignant take on technology dependency and avoiding uncomfortable situations.

“The Three-Day Hunt” by Robert R. Chase — Well written story about a war veteran and his dog going on a search for the pilot of a crashed UFO. At first uncertain if it is something extraterrestrial or human military-based, the man soon gets word that its an intelligent alien species out there in the woods and he should disengage to leave first contact to the professionals and high muckety-mucks. The story ends with a clever observation, and it is an enjoyable enough read. But there’s not really much here beyond the surface level.

“Humans and Other People” by Sean William Swanwick — A pair of scavengers (human and robot) who loot sites in a post-climate-disaster NE USA encounter unexpected complications in a fire-ravaged building in Philly. The concept and start of this seemed real promising, but then I felt it muddled with a voice/style I just never really could get behind.

“I Didn’t Buy It” by Naomi Kanakia — A short story on the concept of identity and perspective and relationships. I really didn’t care for the style, and in fact, didn’t buy it.

The issue also features poetry by Jane Yolen, Leslie J. Anderson, Robert Frazier, and Avra Margariti. Editorial by Sheila Williams, Reflection “One Hundred Years of Robots” by Robert Silerberg, Internet Column by James Patrick Kelly, and Book Reviews by Norman Spinrad and In Memoriam for Mike Resnick. Also includes In Memoriam for Mike Resnick, Readers’ Award Ballot, 2020 Index, and SF Convention Calendar.