The September/October 2021 issue brings us two blockbuster novellas! In Greg Egan’s thrilling new tale, a young man must escape an angry mob to learn the secret of “Sleep and the Soul.” Elizabeth Bear delivers multiple enigmas and a tense murder mystery in “A Blessing of Unicorns”
Our annual slightly spooky issue has a few stories that are evocative of movies or have movie themes. Jason Sanford brings us “The Dust of Giant Radioactive Lizards”; the fifties film ambiance continues with new to Asimov’s author Michèle Laframboise’s campy “Shooting at Warner’s Bay” and James Van Pelt’s “The Bahnhof Drive-In.” Circumstances are not quite as they first appear in S. Qiouyi Lu’s outré depiction of “Your Luminous Heart, Bound in Red”; and the advantages of “Matriphagy” by Naomi Kanakia are considered from the viewpoint of a vested party. Peter Wood attempts to stem “The Apocalypse and the Lake Mattamuskeet Gnat”; Mercurio D. Rivera terrifies us with an offworld tale about “Filaments”; Rick Wilber thrills us with an alternate history story about World War II and “Billie the Kid”; while, in his deeply moving tale, new to Asimov’s author Wole Talabi examines “An Arc of Electric Skin.” Our September/October issue will also feature James Gunn’s last story. We are proud to publish this beautifully told tale of “Singular Days.”
Robert Silverberg’s Reflections column wings us through the “Roc of Ages”; James Patrick Kelly’s On the Net considers the “Dismal” science; Norman Spinrad’s On Books explores “The Future of the Future” in works by Ben Bova & Doug Beason, Brandon Q. Morris, and Kim Stanley Robinson; plus we’ll have an array of poetry and other features you’re sure to enjoy.
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by Jason Sanford
Tessa Raij lay under the tin roof of her clapboard shelter and stared at the dead teenage girl standing before her. Tessa had slept all day under the blazing Nevada sun only to wake and discover the dead girl. The wood planks under Tessa’s mattress creaked gently, giving her the illusion she still lived in a universe of time.
Not wanting to deal with yet another person who’d died trying to see her, Tessa rolled over and looked the other way.
She’d dragged her shelter last year to the lip of the massive crater left by the Sedan nuclear blast. She dangled her feet into the crater before jumping down, taking care not to walk too far and turn the shelter or dead girl to dust.
She sat to clear her head, her silver spacesuit cushioning her from rocks and briers. On the other side of the crater, well outside her sphere of influence, heat waves wrinkled the sagebrush and baked soil. A buzzard soared the blue sky, riding the desert’s thermals.
The buzzard circled with a little too much interest, but there was nothing she could do about that. At least the authorities and an outsized fear of the Nevada Test Site’s negligible radioactivity kept most people away.
From her backpack Tessa pulled a notebook with a cartoon Godzilla on the cover and wrote her daily observations with an old-fashioned ink pen. Yet another morning in a four-decade curse of life. Another year without eating. A new decade without a sip of water. She took a breath last month merely to scream. And of course, she still had no clue how she—or the rest of humanity—could escape this perverse prison.
Tessa added a note about the dead girl before placing the notebook in her backpack. She then climbed back to her shack. READ MORE
by James Gunn
Alice woke up. She opened her eyes. They opened with difficulty, as if she had been asleep for days; but that was strange because she didn’t remember falling asleep, and the ceiling of the room didn’t look familiar. It was like a single piece of ceramic studded with lenses or receptors of some sort. She turned her head to the right, but with difficulty; it was tight and painful as if it hadn’t been turned for a long time, and the view wasn’t worth the effort. It was sterile like the inside of a shipping box, and turning her head to the left gave her an almost identical view. And the bed in which she was lying was like a fancy, ultra-comfortable mattress shaped to her body, which was good because she didn’t feel like moving any other part of it. In fact, between the mattress and her weakness she didn’t think she could move. She tried a single finger and then the hand to which it was attached. They moved, but it was an effort.
A voice came out of nowhere. Or perhaps it came out of one of the speakers in the ceiling. “Alice Milliken,” the voice said, “you are awake.”
“Yes,” Alice said, “and it feels very strange.”
“That’s not surprising,” the disembodied voice said. “You have been unconscious for twenty years.”
“No wonder I feel funny,” Alice said. “But how did I get here, and how did you keep me alive, and where is everybody?” READ MORE
by David C. Kopaska-Merkel
she fumbles at the airlock controls,
the children asleep in their beds,
dreaming it’s Christmas morning.
by Sheila Williams
As a teenager growing up on the works of writers like Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany, and Frank Herbert, I was dismayed that so many dramatizations of science fiction equated the genre with horror. More specifically, it seemed that in the early seventies, most people equated SF films with mad scientists and monster movies. There was no shortage of these sorts of old movies showing up on late-night or Saturday afternoon TV. For every rerun of Star Trek about a misunderstood creature like the Horta, there seemed to be dozens of movies like It! The Terror from Beyond Space. In this 1958 film, a monstrous alien stows aboard a human spaceship and proceeds to murder and terrorize the crew. Some people think It! inspired 1979’s Alien.
Excellent movies such as Forbidden Planet did exist. That film was released in 1956 and includes a mad scientist, but it tries to offer a plausible explanation for his madness and for the movie’s monster. And besides, it’s loosely based on Shakespeare’s Tempest. Still the monster is pretty vicious, and the movie is categorized as “techno-horror.” In this subgenre, the monster/horror stems from the misuse of science and technology. READ MORE
by Robert Silverberg
It was only a coincidence, I suppose, that last Tuesday was Big Bird day around here. For some time now I had been reading Marco Polo’s account of his long sojourn in China and surrounding territories in the thirteenth century. I was deep into the second volume, in which Marco provides an account of the island of Madagascar, a place which he did not himself visit during the course of his extraordinarily far-ranging travels, when I came upon this:
“’Tis said that in those other islands to the south, which the ships are unable to visit because this strong current prevents their return, is found the bird Gryphon, which appears there at certain seasons. The description given of it is however entirely different from what our stories and pictures make it. For persons who had been there and had seen it told Messer Marco Polo that it was for all the world like an eagle, but one indeed of enormous size: so big in fact that its wings covered an extent of 30 paces, and its quills were 12 paces long. And it is so strong that it will seize an elephant in its talons and carry him high into the air, and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces; having killed him the bird gryphon swoops down on him and eats him at leisure. The people of those isles call the bird Ruc, and it has no other name.” He goes on to say that Kublai Khan, the Emperor of China, who had made him a member of his court and had sent him hither and thither as an ambassador to foreign lands, was greatly interested in this tale, and somehow, Marco tells us, had obtained one of its feathers, “which was stated to measure 90 spans, while the quill part was two palms in circumference.” READ MORE
by James Patrick Kelly
Part of the job description of a science fiction writer is to think creatively about the future. We focus the lens of extrapolation on whatever current trends catch our fancy and then guess what might come. But we are most comfortable writing about stuff we’re interested in and—maybe!—understand. This is why there are so many stories about future technologies and advances in science, since the domestic version of our genre sprang from DIY gadget magazines like The Electrical Experimenter <https://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/electrical-experimenter> which ran from 1913-1931. Editor and pulp pioneer Hugo Gernsback <sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/gernsback_hugo> used to slip his own clumsy “scientifiction” efforts into the pages of this and others of his tech publications before he founded Amazing Stories <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazing_Stories> in 1926. READ MORE
by Norman Spinrad
What is the future? Not a dictionary definition, but what an individual or an entire culture means when it ponders “the future.” And to be more precise, when it comes to literature, what do we generally mean by the literature of the future?
The common answer is, of course, “science fiction.” But the wider and more true answer is “speculative fiction.” All science fiction must be speculative, but all speculative fiction need not be science fiction.
To speculate means to ponder the possible and not the impossible, and to do so cannot be to ponder the known impossible. It is current known science that differentiates the impossible from the possible, and hence fantasy from speculative fiction.
And to speculate on something possible that does not currently exist is to speculate a possible future. Fantasy by definition cannot do this. Historical fiction by definition cannot do this. Alternate history cannot do this. READ MORE
by Kij Johnson
It started many years ago: Chris McKitterick and I would meet James Gunn for breakfast each Saturday, at a Hy-Vee just west of Lawrence, Kansas. At the beginning, he would drive there himself, in a spunky little red Honda. The restaurant seemed to change mission and fanciness every few months, but it was a pleasant bright space with tall windows that looked out on a tree-studded lawn, and a seasonal robin's nest on top of a security light. Regardless of season or menu, Jim usually had the same breakfast, an omelet with onions, sausage, and gouda cheese, with lots of coffee. READ MORE
by Erwin S. Strauss
The 2021 World SF Convention has been definitely scheduled as an in-person event in December! See you there? Remember to check with convention organizers before making final plans in case of late cancels. Plan now for social weekends with your favorite SF authors, editors, artists, and fellow fans. For an explanation of our con(vention)s, a sample of SF folksongs, and info on fanzines and clubs, send me an... READ MORE