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Asimov's Science Fiction, March 2012

The Way of the Needle, by Derek Künsken (novelette) - [*****]
Good old-fashioned sci fi, that actually tries to imagine a world utterly unlike our own. I was completely fascinated the whole way through. Künsken does an amazing job of constructing a complex world with a rich history, and compelling aliens in a well-fleshed-out society, without ever falling subject to the dreaded "infodump". AND he managed an emotional arc and plotty storyline, both with satisfying conclusions. Loved it.

The Pass, by Benjamin Crowell (novelette) - [*****]
Another one that unites a compelling story with a compelling emotional arc, with a memorable and clever setting. Chinchy is a complex blend of strong and vulnerable, and her strengths and vulnerabilities shift as she grows up. Her friends are also well-realized, and their story makes a nice foil to hers. Also refreshing is the lack of simplistic moralizing, even in a story that contains a couple pointed societal critiques. And again, a satisfying ending-- although also a fairly complex one. Chinchy and her friends make opposite decisions, but it still feels like the right way for things to turn out.

Golva's Ascent, by Tom Purdom (novelette) - [*****]
Is this just an unusually good issue? Another fascinating, well-crafted story that has a compelling arc and a thoughtful good-old-fashioned-SF premise, this time First Contact. And again, one that manages to avoid moralizing. Golva is an excellent narrator; he's an individual who sheds light on his own society, never a monolith. Doctor Leza, too, manages to have more personality to her than just The Good Human, though the same can't always be said of her opponents. The chase scene drags a little, but the big bang of the ending makes up for it. Another deeply satisfying read.

Nanny's Day, by Leah Cypress (short story) - [*****]
Definitely an unusually good issue. Another well-realized world that manages to contemplate a social issue without moralizing. It's a story about working moms losing custody rights to their nannies, and yet it avoids all of the "working mother" moral panic in favor of a very human story. I was actually raised by nannies, so I found it particularly interesting. I had a lot of different nannies as a toddler, but when I turned four my parents hired Amy, and she was my nanny for at least a decade. I think my parents still would have won an "attachment test" because Amy was the one in charge of making me do my homework and my chores, and she had a lot of rules that were stricter than my parents' -- but the same may not have been true of my younger brothers, who couldn't remember a time before Amy. So, the story evoked a lot of personal memories, but still rang very true. And the ending was perfect.

Mrs. Hatcher's Evaluation, by James Van Pelt (short story) - [***--]
Okay, here's one I didn't totally love. It wasn't bad or anything, and again it tackled an interesting social question without being obnoxious about it (in this case, standardized teaching) but it suffers from my biggest SF pet peeve -- a mysterious mystery that is never actually resolved. Science fiction is different from fantasy because it makes an attempt to explain itself, but this story doesn't bother. The main character is also a little bit annoyingly obtuse, though not nearly so much as the obnoxious principal character, who manages to believe Mrs. Hatcher's class is boring despite mountains of evidence that nobody is bored.

Patagonia, by Joel Richards (short story) - [*----]
Another one that isn't actually science fiction. Glancing over it again for this review, I think I gave up on finishing this one, after I'd been reading for five minutes and nothing had happened to catch my interest at all. Skimming it now, it seems everything devolves into mystical past-life stuff that gets no concrete explanation. I dislike any SF that doesn't explain itself, but I particularly dislike SF that centers around unexplained time travel. Let me clarify that-- I don't care how the time travel happens, because obviously it's impossible and any explanation will be rubbish; what I dislike are stories where the whole plot centers around the characters going "What's this? It's almost like... time travel?" and then the story ends with "What a mystery!" -- If you're going to do time travel, just do it! And then do something interesting with it. I probably wouldn't be so annoyed if Mrs. Hatcher's Evaluation hadn't done the same thing right before this one... or if the characters in this one had any life to them at all.

Poetry, by G.O. Clark, C.W. Johnson, and A. Walker Scott - [****-]
Are poets opposed to first names? Clark's "A Change in Gravity" was cheerful and charming. Johnson's "Discoveries in the Annals of Poetry" is complex and merits re-reading, making the history of science vividly personal. Scott's "Sonnet I" did not appeal to me at all-- a poem about Man conquering lady-space, who laughs "not joyous but in spite"; not at all how I feel about space travel. But the meter and rhyme was well-done.

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