Review: Analog, January/February 2019

Analog,
January/February 2019

Analog-1901

Original Fiction:

  • “Ring Wave” by Tom Jolly (science fiction novelette)
  • “Love in the Time of Immuno-Sharing” by Andy Dudak (science fiction short story)
  • “A Message from Our Sponsor” by J.T. Sharrah (science fiction short story)
  • “The Last Squirrel Keeper” by Shane Halbach (science fictional short story)
  • “All the Smells in the World” by Julie Novakova (science fiction short story)
  • “The Umwelt of the Shark” by John Alfred Taylor (science fiction short story)
  • “Forever” by Mary Soon Lee (science fiction short story)
  • “Clockwork Cataclysm” by Edward M. Lerner (short story)
  • “The Narrowest Eye” by Howard V. Hendrix (science fiction short story)
  • “Applied Linguistics” by Auston Habershaw (science fiction short story)
  • “A Civilization Dreams of Absolutely Nothing” by Thoraiya Dyer (science fiction novelette)
  • “Lulu’s Friends” by Aimee Ogden (short story)
  • “Temple of Children” by Jennifer R. Povey (science fiction short story)
  • “Reboot” by Robert Reed (science fiction short story)
  • “Soft We Wake” by S. B. Divya (science fiction short story)
  • “Fingers” by Frederick Gero Heimbach (science fiction short story)
  • “The Fading Pages of a Short Story” by Bud Sparhawk (science fiction short story)
  • “A Place to Stand On” by Marie Vibbert (science fiction short story)
  • “The View from Proxima Centauri” by Susan Pieters (science fiction novelette)
  • “The Savannah Problem” by Adam-Troy Castro (science fiction novella)

I don’t recall ever seeing the listing of novellas, novelettes, and short stories in an issue of Analog fail to fit on the verso page but this issue achieves the feat by including sixteen short stories ranging down to 226 words. (A pain in the recto, you might say.) There is also a novelette about eight words longer than a short story along with two others and a novella.

(Note: This is probably the last time I will discuss all the short stories in an issue of Analog. In future issues, I’ll highlight anything worthwhile, balancing that with an assessment of the average.)

None of the half-dozen 226-2000 word stories are considerable and some fail to be science fiction or even fiction. “Cataclysm” describes a recent actual event in metaphorical terms; other than needing to get consent, I don’t see anything particularly speculative in “Lulu,” in which an orangutan signs up to help her friends with medical conditions. “Temple” is a non-story, much like another recent one I can’t remember, in which five-gendered aliens arrogate to themselves the raising of human children in an unbelievable way which concludes simplistically; “Reboot” is another non-story dialogue about AI, human aggression, and survival. A man deals with his ex-husband, a rich capitalist who wants to live “Forever.” Finally, one story has an interesting idea about people becoming illegally addicted to VR experiences of the “Umwelt” of animals (though why a good English word like “weltanschauung” wouldn’t do, I don’t know) but “rookie cop does the right thing despite superiors” isn’t enough of a story to exploit it.

Most of the four 2,000-4,000 word stories are a little better. Humans crash-landed on an alien world years ago and the “Squirrel Keeper” is the “last human” in a story with bad science which depends on an extreme obtuseness in its protagonist for its sentiment. “Wake” is an under-dramatic but reasonably interesting tale about a bunch of people who have been frozen near our time and have awakened in the post-human future. All but a handful have “graduated” to the world outside but a couple of people hang back, having difficulty adapting to their brave new world. “Place to Stand” is a lot like “Persephone Descending” (Derek Kunsken, November 2014 Analog) except with Mexicans instead of Quebecois. It’s a basically competent “woman against nature (and technical failure)” story about a worker risking her life to save a habitat she’s been helping to construct in the clouds of Venus but using this as a vehicle for her to work through her mommy issues doesn’t do it a lot of favors. When a company starts trying to add “Smells” to VR and an employee suffers an accident, she scents the sharp tang of lemons being turned into lemonade. This is a pretty solid story which, remarkably, is the right length for its focus on its central idea and, speaking of lemons, actually adds a little twist to the overdone VR motif.

Unfortunately, aside from one recommendation, the quality of the other half-dozen stories in the nearly-5,000 to nearly-7,000 word range is akin to the short-shorts. “Fading Pages“is an initially interesting story about medical aids which could help with a father’s memory loss but, among other problems, an event later in the story makes that all irrelevant and it ends in an overly sentimental way. “Narrowest Eye” is less a story and more a collection of phrases, most of the form “none who desire to be free of desire ever achieve their desire” which, to use other phrases, asks “for what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul” for “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a subsistent man to enter the kingdom of God.” It is another strange SF attack on “basic income” as well as sour-grapes anti-utopianism. If the phantasmagorical “Eye” would fit into some straight-laced inversion of underground comix, then “Message” is a story about advertising run amok which could slip into a 1950s issue of Galaxy without comment, but for its bizarre strawman attack on the “obstruction” of the First Amendment. Like “Pages,” it has a back-half which undercuts its front-half and, like many, has a very weak ending/last line. “Fingers” is a survivalist-tinged post-apocalyptic gray goo story narrated by its special protagonist in initially opaque horror-story terms. In “Love,” Earth has been ravaged by plagues, including one that is a defense against other plagues – the “immuno-sharing” which has taken the place, for all but a few perverts, of “repro-sex.” From a peregrinating sensualist society, a quartet arrives on a mainland riven by revolution and the survivors of that band experience a reawakening.

Finally, the protagonist of “Applied Linguistics” is a mimetic blob which can swallow almost anything. If you can swallow that it is a conscious, intelligent entity which can learn to use language and don’t mind a late bit of minor convenience and an unnecessary twist, then this should be a great read. It takes place on a prison moon with some amazing biotech and paints a gigantic interstellar empire into the background almost casually, but the whole is tangible and effective. The blob finds itself drawn, despite itself, into a strange relationship with a prisoner who teaches him to speak and, ultimately, into a sadly less strange relationship with the universe at large, partially conditioned by that conceptual framework. This is a very tough and often wonderfully bizarre story (the eyeball part and the bones part were particularly blobby) with a disciplined imagination which hit me like Real Science Fiction™.

Turning to the longer stories, “View” barely qualifies as a novelette and is an uneventful and essentially anti-space exploration tale with an unconvincingly amateurish mission sending two people to Proxima Centauri to investigate the complex signals emanating from there. The longest story, “Problem,” is another middle in the Draiken saga in which every single step is narrated in exhaustive and exhausting detail, producing the effect of it all being in slow motion, as Draiken recruits a knifeman for a twist at the end, interrupted by an “irritating delay” which opens another threat to all humanity in addition to (or in variation of) the one that Draiken is fighting. Fans of this series still wanting more may be satisfied; others likely won’t.

The two long novelettes both deal with the ends of worlds. Some may respond favorably to the imaginatively conceived group-minded memory-manipulating marsupial aliens of “Nothing” and will be caught up in the existential threat to them and their wandering planet but, despite the extremes of their sibling rivalries, the aliens struck me as all-too human under their funny suits and the milieu’s overcomplicated structure was mostly unexploited. I could never visualize this as anything but an animated cartoon and it had a huge windup for a very short pitch. “Ring Wave” has a neat idea for a story. When an extinction-level asteroid hits Earth there is a region where material will be ejected forcefully enough to achieve escape velocity but not too forcefully to survive. Many pods of varying sizes and capabilities are produced and Aleja rides one such into space where she must battle pod pirates and make alliances with decent folk in an attempt continue surviving. The story, itself, though, has a questionable POV-switch almost halfway through, has a semi-incompetent hero and a cardboard villain (because piracy and and murderous activities aren’t enough, he’s also apparently a pedophile), has too many conveniences (and convenient inconveniences) and, most importantly, while I understand that the debris is still expanding, space is still too small in this story. Still, between the good idea and the crisp telling, this was a decent read.

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