by Sheila Williams
Welcome. Please come in. Enter some futures. Feel free to pull up a chair and sit down with these fantastic stories from Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. No two of these futures is the same. Yet, while the characters cope with presents that are removed from our own to varying degrees, the dilemmas they face are never removed from the joys and terrors of the human condition. Many of these stories are Hugo-and Nebula-Award winners and finalists. Each tale brings their characters to life, and will make you care deeply about what happens to them.
This anthology is rushing into the future in more than one way. It’s the twenty-sixth collection of short fiction that I’ve assembled or collaborated on and the first of mine to be published as a digital book. Assembling an anthology in this manner has given me a freedom I hadn’t anticipated. Asimov’s is a well-known fiction magazine that has been around for over three decades. A few years ago, I put together a collection to celebrate a milestone—Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine: 30th Anniversary Anthology. It was fun to put that book together but it was frustrating, too. As with all print editions of anthologies, I was limited by the number of pages allotted to a traditional trade paperback. If I was going to have a representative sampling of the many wonderful stories that have appeared in the magazine, I couldn’t fill the book up with a few very long pieces. So, I pulled the book together from a lot of excellent short stories. It garnered a starred review in Publishers Weekly, was featured on Amazon’s Daily Blog, and was very well received by readers. Still, for every story I put in, there were many that I had to leave out and some of these decisions were more painful than others. One of the hardest decisions was choosing a very good short story by a certain author over a very good novelette or novella by the same author simply because the former story fit.
Ah, but that decision-making process led to the inspiration for this book. One of my favorite stories ever to appear in Asimov’s is the Hugo-Award winning novelette, “Enter a Soldier. Later: Enter Another,” by Robert Silverberg. In the anniversary anthology, I used the author’s heartbreaking short story “The Time of the Burning” about the eternal ethical decisions that are made in a time of war. That was a great story and a convenient story from his Majipoor series, but the tale that got away was a much longer story about two old soldiers—brilliant men from our past brought forward in time as simulations. Dangerous in their own time, they are unlikely to be any less disruptive to the future. It’s the story that anchors this book and I’m glad that I’m finally able to offer a new showcase for this fine tale.
While Robert Silverberg’s classic story closes out this book, the anthology begins with a Hugo-Award winning novella by Connie Wilis. Connie’s delightful tale, “Inside Story,” is not set in a time very different from our own, but it too makes use of a historical figure in a very unusual way. Like Robert Silverberg, Connie seems to have a pitch-perfect sense of exactly how one of America’s most famous curmudgeons would react to an untenable new situation.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch combines historical figures, alternate history, and space travel to investigate how a tragedy that never happened in our timeline drives a man’s lifelong quest to put things right, while completely changing our present and our future. Our subscribers named “Recovering Apollo 8” the best novella in our twenty-forth annual Readers’ Poll, and the story received a 2007 Sidewise Short-Form Award for Alternate History.
Many of the stories in this collection are not about historical figures, but there are other tales about space travel. Allen Steele’s brilliant Hugo-and Nebula-finalist about “The Days Between” is one of the truest and darkest depictions of insanity, despair, and ultimate triumph of the human spirit that has ever appeared in Asimov’s. It is a story that will haunt you long after you put away your digital reader.
While “Lester Young and the Jupiter’s Moons’ Blues” has space travel and historical figures, it is a story that almost demands a category of its own. When this story appeared in Asimov’s, Gord Sellars, its author, was so new to the field that this endlessly inventive tale of jazz and aliens and multiple universes helped land him a spot on the John W. Campbell Award ballot for best new author. The story has some bittersweet and some horrifying moments, and it’s also a lot of fun. Once you sample this story, you will almost certainly be on the lookout for more of Gord’s fantastic futures.
While many of our award-winning and memorable stories come from SF’s acknowledged masters, some of the best also come from newcomers who have not yet carved a name for themselves onto the granite walls of the science fiction hall of fame. Sara Genge is one of these newcomers. It won’t be long though, before she becomes one of the better-known voices in the field. Sara is a physician in Madrid, Spain. Her contribution to this anthology is a poignant coming-of-age story about a youth facing the harsh reality of the future in a wild and nearly barren land outside Paris. It’s unlikely that her characters and the world they inhabit will soon be forgotten.
Although he’d published elsewhere, Daryl Gregory was a newcomer to Asimov’s when he sold us his inventive and deftly told tale, “Second Person, Present Tense.” Although a number of our readers may have been unfamiliar with the author, his story about identity and unqualified love handily won the 2006 Readers’ Award Poll for Best Novelette. “Second Person, Present Tense” was one of the best stories to see print in 2005. It also sports one of the best titles of all time.
Mary Rosenblum has always been one of Asimov’s most affecting authors. “Breeze from the Stars” is another of her moving tales; it captures the isolation and the promise of working in space. It’s easy to feel like you know the people in Mary’s stories, but in this tale, you’ll also feel the chill of an ancient interstellar wind washing through your own star stuff.
Well-known Nebula-and Hugo-Award winner Nancy Kress is another of Asimov’s most stalwart authors. Her story “Safeguard” was a Nebula finalist in 2007 and, like the other tales in this anthology, one of my favorites. In this taut thriller, Nancy creates a formula for destruction. If we can recognize it, though, there may be a formula for salvation as well. The scariest aspect of “Safeguard” is how close it seems to today’s headlines.
Robert Reed’s Hugo-award winning “A Billion Eves” is separated from us by time and dimensions, but its genesis can be found in an ignoble action taken in a time not to distant from our own. This is a novella about worlds gone terribly wrong, but it is also a story about how good people with strong convictions can take steps to set the world right again.
Each of these stories has something that Asimov’s is rightly famous for—strong and deeply moving characters that face their futures head on. Whether they’re a jazz musician on a starship, the spirit of H.L. Mencken tangling with a twenty-first century medium, or the new personality of a wayward teenager trying to stake a claim on a body that is and sort of isn’t hers, they must all find their way in uncharted territory. You can join them on their journey. Turn the digital page and enter a future. A little later, you can enter another.
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