- “Empress of Starlight” by G. David Nordley (science fiction novelette)
- “Pandora’s Pantry” by Stephen L. Burns (science fiction novelette)
- “The Gleaners” by Sarina Dorie (science fiction short story)
- “Smear Job” by Rich Larson (science fiction short story)
- “A Measure of Love” by C. Stuart Hardwick (science fiction short story)
- “Learning the Ropes” by Tom Jolly (science fiction short story)
- “Hubstitute Creatures” by Christopher L. Bennett (science fiction novelette)
- “The Light Fantastic” by J.T. Sharrah (science fiction short story)
- “The Jagged Bones of Sea-Saw Town” by Marissa Lingen (science fiction short story)
- “Sandy” by Bruce McAllister (science fiction short story)
- “Dad’s War” by Filip Wiltgren (science fiction short story)
- “Ashes of Exploding Suns, Monuments to Dust” by Christopher McKitterick (science fiction novelette)
- “The 7 Most Massive Historical Mistakes in The Gunmaster of the Carlords” by Eric James Stone (science fiction short story)
- “The Ascension” by Jerry Oltion (science fiction short story)
- “Left Turn” by Jay Parks (science fiction short story)
- “Body Drift” by Cynthia Ward (science fiction short story)
- “Mixipoxi Learns to Drive” by Joyce and Stanley Schmidt (science fiction novelette)
While, in one sense, the world of SF is one big happy family (heh), in another, magazines still have to compete with each other. The print magazines are in trouble with higher overhead and other problems but one place where they have a decisive advantage over the webzines is in their ability to publish novellas which are rare on the web. So, naturally, Analog presents us with twelve(!) short stories (some basically flash, though the Probability Zero item is shockingly omitted – “Historical Mistakes” or others could have served), five novelettes (one of which is barely longer than a short story), and zero novellas. Conversely, some of the novelettes fall just 150 words or a little more short of being novellas. So even though some meaty reads are present, the ToC gives no indication of them.
None of the shorts are especially noteworthy though almost all are at least okay and little separates them. Deficiencies of plot and climax, as well as flat themes, are the most common problems. Perhaps the best are “Smear Job” and “Learning the Ropes.” The former is an overly telegraphed tale about an eighteen-year-old statutory rapist suffering Draconian justice, which is possibly even worse than intended, when he receives a court-ordered mod to his implant which blurs his perception of younger people and makes him uncomfortable around them. The latter asks us to believe that numerous pairs of asteroids of specific types can be found within a few klicks of each other and a pair of people can bond without much description in a tale of a person using one corporation against another to achieve her desire of terraforming Mars, with cli-fi motivating elements. If those aren’t problems or you can overlook them, it’s a pretty clever old-school tale.
Tales in the middle of this pack include “The Gleaners” (which tells how, when the human’s away, the alien will play, with humans who want to hide from reality and uploaded aliens who want to experience it swapping places), “A Measure of Love” (a sort of rebuttal to “Tender Loving Plastic” (May/June 2018 F&SF) which talks positively of an orphan being raised by a robot and later rescuing him from the scrap heap), “The Light Fantastic” (a bad joke, wrapped in a worse pun, inside an entertaining narrative about a seeker of immortality encountering incredibly powerful aliens), “Historical Mistakes” (a one-page mildly comic version of Bester’s “The Flowered Thundermug” (1964), in which a post-Singularity entity holds forth on the things an “experiential” got wrong regarding 20th/21st Century American history), “The Ascension” (which describes how it’s an alien-eat-alien cosmos out there in an initially intriguing tale about how one species acquires aptitudes and memories and how they are faced with a leadership struggle and first contact at the same time), and “Left Turn” (a 50s-style tale where not only the car and the traffic jam, but the solution to the traffic jam and the “solution” to that “problem” is forecast).
Bringing up the rear are “Sea-Saw Town” (another plotless cli-fi piece in which one woman is Mrs. Genetic Engineer and her wife is Mrs. Town Planner and each spontaneously figures out something about the other’s area of expertise), “Sandy” (in which “aliens” are minorities and what goes around comes around), “Dad’s War” (another 50s-style tale about a “future” which is today, with people selling their votes to corporations which control their lives as seen through the eyes of a vigorously unpleasant family), and “Body Drift” (a monologue to the reader on non-binary gender/sexuality billed as “un hommage a Frederik Pohl” but which is better described as derivative of “Day Million” (1966) with the saving grace that, unlike much fiction on the subject today, it’s aware that it’s not original).
Moving to the novelettes, “Hubstitute Creatures” is another Hub tale featuring Nashira, David, and Rynyan in which Nashira’s valuable list of Hub “vectors” (a sort of potential treasure map) is stolen by Nashira’s trainee. A “body swapping” technology appears for this occasion, allowing them to become other species (and genders), and they run off to Dosperhag territory in an effort to get the list back (and to walk a light-year in other creatures’ shoes). If you’re still interested in this series, you may enjoy this installment but, if not, not. If you’re unfamiliar with it, this isn’t the best entry point and you may find it entertaining but probably not significant. Similarly, “Mixipoxi Learns to Drive” is a sequel to “Opportunity Knocks” (Analog, October 2014) and is an amusing enough minor tale which stands alone well enough but might work better if you’ve read the prior installment. Previously, the Hunt for a supervillain resulted in observer Mixpoxi remaining on our world. In this one, his replacement finally arrives – which requires Mixipoxi to go alone to a location which requires driving to meet him – and the fate of our world hinges on his learning the skill and handling the meeting. While not yet in series to my knowledge, “Pandora’s Pantry,” about a cooking competition show, is a similarly light tale. Its only speculative element is a robot and that is only used (together with the story’s colorful cast) to make a statement about inclusiveness. Perhaps I’m biased because I don’t watch such shows or have any interest in reading about them but, while the stakes may be high regarding the protagonist’s career, they don’t seem particularly high for the reader and it’s all a little too kumbaya, though the story has decent energy which conveys the buzz of putting on a live show under adverse conditions.
“Ashes of Exploding Suns,” on the other hand, is not light at all. (Though the name of the offshoot race, the Karalang, did get the “do-lang do-lang” of the Chiffons’ song “He’s So Fine” inappropriately stuck in my head.) In the far future, humanity has been modified to spread throughout the stars and one unrealistically monolithic race, perhaps Portuguese-based given that people are still called “Juan,” with a driving concept of “fidalguia” (though it seems more like Japanese Bushido or something) have turned their entire solar system into a starship. When they decide to pass near ancestral Earth to say “hi,” conflict ensues and, but for the one small ship of our story, they are wiped out. A call to other descended species and thousands of years of hibernation and a plan of genocidal retribution from the survivors all collide in the finale. This anti-colonial, pacifist, pro-youth, guilt-tripping super-science space opera has a lot of message but very little action for an interstellar war story.
Leaving the first (in two senses) last, “Empress of Starlight” earns its cover by being the best story in the issue. People who are allergic to science fiction may not enjoy this and it does have its imperfections. Immortality and AI can paper over a lot of things (such as getting people across interstellar distances in a lifetime and possibly explaining the magic of easy interoperation between different species’ computer systems) but the psychology is still lacking. It’s all worth it for the physics and space adventure, however. When a star disappears, a neuroatypical (or severely socially challenged) human captain and a pair each of human and Kleth crew head out to those coordinates and find the first of several Big Dumb Objects which form a mystery regarding what they are, what they’re doing, and why. Most of the mystery is unraveled in the course of the story which provides much intellectual wonder (though rather less visceral excitement, despite great moments like the “white blood cell” robots putting the crew in a life-and-death situation). If you like stories written on huge spatial and conceptual canvasses, you’ll like this.