“The Spires” by Alec Nevala-Lee (science fantasy novelette)
“The Streaming Man” by Suzanne Palmer (science fiction short story)
“Razzibot” by Rich Larson (science fiction short story)
“The Selves We Leave Behind” by Gwendolyn Clare (science fiction short story)
“Beek” by Tom Ligon (science fiction short story)
“An Incident on Ishtar” by Brian Trent (science fiction short story)
“The Tailgunner’s Lament” by Brendan DuBois (science fiction short story)
“Sicko” by Jerry Oltion (short story)
“Car Talk” by Mary A. Turzillo (science fiction short story)
“Frog Happy” by Bruce McAllister (science fiction short story)
“Sun Splashed Fields and Far Blue Mountains” by Susan Forest (science fictional short story)
“Lab B-15” by Nick Wolven (science fiction novelette)
“Physics Tomorrow” by Gregory Benford (science fiction short story/article)
Probability Zero: “The Being” by Bill Pronzini (science fiction short story)
“Big Thompson” by James Van Pelt (science fiction short story)
“The Camel’s Tail” by Tom Jolly (science fiction short story)
This issue of Analog saves the best for last, but I’m not going to. “The Camel’s Tail” is simply What It’s All About. In 2079, an alien probe enters our busy, bustling system full of off-Earth colonies and ships investigating, among other things, microbial life in the asteroids. Many ships chase after the probe for knowledge and profit and meet a variety of fates. This is told through the very human interest of the protagonist husband and his wife, who are prospecting in space, trying their best to make up for a family member’s dishonesty which damaged the family fortune back in Somalia. The tale also manages several nice cross-connections such as the Earth setting and a bit of tech (Clarke would be proud) and the story’s title and its contents. A very exciting, smart, space-based adventure with characters to care about and a future that’s enticing. Strongly recommended.
Perhaps the next best stories are, oddly, not quite science fiction or futuristic at all. “Physics Tomorrow” uses the method of Asimov’s “Thiotimoline” fictional science articles to talk about the plasma beings and gravwave communications devices of the author’s and Niven’s “Mice Among Elephants” and is really nifty if naturally a little undramatic. You probably should read “Sicko” but may regret having done so. It describes a very strange “Typhoid Marty” character who goes around purposefully spreading germs for the greater good. Ambiguous and highly disturbing but concisely and cleverly executed. “The Tailgunner’s Lament” is very close to being an honorable mention but really needed some more editing as it’s full of typos and continuity errors (beer cans turning into bottles and back) and oddities (writers “like” [d]e Camp and Doc Smith? Sure, two peas in a pod). More importantly, the ending and some things contributing to it could have been changed to make it much stronger. However, this tale of a B-29 tailgunner in 1945 developing a friendship with a professor/colonel and encountering “foo fighters” was an Allen Steele-ish historical love letter to SF, did a nice job evoking the lives and deaths of WWII bomber crews and, without at all being didactic, made an interesting implicit evaluation of the use of The Bomb.
Moving on to lesser, but adequate tales, Bill is forced to take a job piloting Sam and Cora on a crazy mission to see “The Spires” of a city in the sky over Alaska because it’s the 1930s and times are hard. And Cora is attractive. Sam is a follower of Charles Fort and Cora believes that we need crazy people to push the envelope. The main weaknesses of this story are that it lacks drama and Cora turns out to be a red-hairing, so to speak, as she’s just there to spell out the theme, but it’s otherwise just another competently executed tale from Nevala-Lee. While there aren’t any evil machinations of Man and cryptozoological furies putting him in his place, it is a Fortean “science” fiction logic-buster. If you like these things, you’ll probably like this but, if you don’t, you won’t.
“Selves We Leave Behind” involves a first contact that doesn’t go too well when a hivemind becomes aware that humans are infiltrating its world. This is a fairly tired tale, though it has one of the best alien descriptions of humans I’ve read (including: “Its central nerve cluster resides within a hard bulb protruding from the top of its body.”) but the ending, however natural, is fictionally weak. In one of a pair of “ooh, internet!” tales, a young girl gets a “Razzibot” (which is not “razzy bot” but “paparazzi-bot”) and becomes an internet phenom after streaming her life (akin to Sterling’s 1980 The Artificial Kid). Aside from theme and regardless of her family breakup and live agony, I have a logical question as to why she’d particularly stick out. “The Streaming Man” involves a guy putting monitoring implants in his body which emit sounds for diagnostic purposes which turns him into a popular internet “music” stream to the point that he even has nutjob fans – including one who shoots him. He survives but he sort of loses his mind and the rest of the overlong story is about him trying to find his way back. I don’t buy that the sounds are “a cacophony, but not” and his later behavior didn’t make him very likeable. Aside from nods to printed organs, etc., “Sun Splashed Fields” isn’t really SF at all, but discusses a man needing a medical procedure and his wife needing to become a participant in a medical trial to pay for it. It seemed to have a chance to go for a “medical industry as vampire” theme but lacked focus and concentrated more on the ironic relationship of the couple.
Lesser tales include “An Incident on Ishtar,” in which an autistic girl tries to make up for a “Terrible Mistake” by moving to a habitat atop Venus, which suffers from implausibility and bathos and ironically appears in the same issue as part of a Kunsken serial when it reads something like an inferior version of that author’s “Persephone Descending” (which had its own political plausibility problems). “Frog Happy” is a somewhat surreal tale of strange animals appearing and being perhaps even stranger than they seem. “Big Thompson” tries to soften its SETI infodump half with a decent human interest half involving a boy, his somewhat abusive mom, and a flood, but the thing that ties them together is weak. “Beek” is all infodump, from a beekeeper to a president, except for its “let’s make it SF” twist. “The Being” has a comical alien that worries the protagonist.
All the above stories fall short more in retrospect than in the reading. The only stories that were difficult to get through were “Car Talk,” in which a woman argues with her self-driving AI car about her boyfriend’s politics, which is just a “theme dump” and is the type of story about annoyance that is annoying. Finally, “Lab B-15,” may well end up highly regarded by some folks but, for me, this looping tale about modeling people’s brains for digital upload after death uses a tiresome method and takes a looong time to cover an old subject before reaching obvious conclusions and is a lot like everything from the author’s own “No Placeholder for You My Love” to things like PKD’s 1957 Eye in the Sky.
By the way, I should point out that, while this issue includes a serial segment, it includes no novellas and only two novelettes (“The Spires,” “Lab B-15”) according to its table of contents, though “Tailgunner” seems to be a novelette based on my word count. Of the other short stories, only three are longer than about 4K (“The Streaming Man,” “Ishtar,” and “Camel’s Tail”), two of 3-4K (“Beek,” “Sun Splashed Fields”), and the other eight are less than that, going on down to about 800 words. While the short stories were stronger than the novelettes in this issue, I’ll say again that I’d really prefer to see somewhat fewer but longer, more substantial stories.