- “Beneath a Red Sun” by James C. Glass (science fiction novelette)
- “Hop and Hop with Gleepglop-Geep! A Bedtime Reader” by Tim McDaniel (science fiction short story)
- “Negotiating Traffic” by Brad Preslar (science fiction short story)
- “The God of All Mountains” by Jo Miles (science fiction short story)
- “Parenting License” by Leah Cypess (science fiction short story)
- The Little Sailboat, James Gunn (science fiction short story)
- “Fine-Tuning” by Bond Elam (science fiction short story)
- “Running the Gullet” by Vajra Chandrasekera (science fiction short story)
- “Second Quarter and Counting” by James Van Pelt (science fiction short story)
- “Final Say” by Eric Del Carlo (science fiction short story)
- “Dangerous Company” by C. Stuart Hardwick (science fiction novelette)
- Probability Zero: “Tea Time with Aliens” by Jack McDevitt (science fiction short story)
- “The End of Lunar Hens” by M.K. Hutchins (science fiction short story)
- “The Invitation” by Bud Sparhawk (science fiction short story)
- “Rising Stars” by Elisabeth R. Adams (science fiction short story)
- “The New Martian Way” by Brendan DuBois (science fiction short story)
- “Slow Dance” by Jay Werkheiser (science fiction short story)
- “The Walk to Distant Suns” by Matthew Kressel & Mercurio D. Rivera (science fiction novelette)
- “Better” by Tom Greene (science fiction novelette)
- “A Mate Not a Meal” by Sarina Dorie (science fiction novelette)
This issue of Flash Fiction Offline presents us with five novelettes and fifteen short stories. As I indicated in the review of the last issue, I won’t review all the short stories.
“Second Quarter” involves the notion of “Backspin,” which is a process of rejuvenation which may make people young, but may also cost portions of their memories and personality. This story is recommended after surviving its poor opening of a 350-word monologue from an old man with a “get off my lawn” vibe. After that, the background narrative describes the platonic relationship of two swimmers which has lasted from their teens to their seventies while the foreground narrative describes the man’s decision to be rejuvenated and the woman’s handling of this. The general science fictional notion is familiar but explored in detail very well here and the highlight of the story is the wonderfully done relationship.
In “Lunar Hens,” a woman is trying to make a lunar biosphere sustainable as a step on the way to colonizing Mars but the chickens don’t, uh, do well. Nor the rabbits. This doesn’t please the project’s backers. What can she do to improve the unsustainable crop yield? This is an example of the microgenre of colonizing nitty-gritty, somewhat in the fashion of parts of The Martian. It lacks a really great ending but it was short, darkly whimsical, and pretty entertaining
A couple of others aren’t quite technically “notable” but I’ll discuss them anyway. “Slow Dance” is the more successful of two off-Earth murder mysteries which suffers from a needlessly unlikable main character/investigator but sets up interesting dynamics and semi-cryogenic ideas (somewhat reminiscent of one of my favorite novels, Between the Strokes of Night). “Hop and Hop” is a story written in the form of a children’s bedtime story with very non-human (or is it all-too human?) mores. While the story has a certain energy, what makes it stand out is that the usually double-columned Analog presents this in single-column pages and with numerous uncredited large interior illustrations. They give the entities anthropomorphic bodies though a “second left arm” is mentioned in the text, but they’re interesting and fit the twisted “children’s” story motif.
While uncharitable interpretations are possible, a generous one for why there are so many stories that are so short in issues of Analog these days is that SF is a literature of ideas and a short story can adequately explore an idea and this approach gives the reader a large array of ideas. Unfortunately, most of the stories, as stories, are only indifferent (five of the remainder) or inadequate (the other six). But at least they do introduce a nice twist on the already tired motif of autonomous vehicles, take us to Mars (twice, once for the other murder mystery), question whether parenting should require a license, warn about post-human survival strategies, show how future people might be given coherent last words on dying, and add examples to the climate change, robot, time travel, first contact, and “evidence of alien visitors” subgenres.
Turning to the novelettes, three are quite short. The story and writing in “Red Sun” wasn’t satisfactory with, for instance, a romance delivered with “John thought she had a nice smile and was glad to have her on his team,” before moving on to “[t]he relationship between John and Carol had gone well beyond friendship, and Captain Soder married them just after their second awakening.” The ending has a similarly simple “here’s the summary and now good night kids” ending but there was a good core of scientists exploring a weird ecology under the flares of a red sun with a trite but true “battling the elements to survive” motif.
“Dangerous Company” is a lot like”Red Sun.” While it starts off with a battle to survive against a crazy person, it then turns into a similar, second struggle against nature, this time on the Moon. The way the two characters and their situation are introduced led me to ask “Who are these people? What is going on? Why should I care?” It did improve later, but I’m not often a fan of secret history (which this turns out to be) and especially not this particular secret history (which I won’t spoil).
To give a flavor of one of the many problems with “Distant Suns” and its contrived plot, when the Company raises the cost of taking that walk to a distant sun (think Stargate), a disadvantaged tech with a sick mother hatches a lunatic plot to smuggle her family through and, when her improvisation catches the eye of security types and they are interrogating her as a possible terrorist who might have been trying to destroy a zillion dollar station with massive loss of life, she tells them they’d really enjoy stopping the interrogation to go take a look at people actually walking through the stargate. And they do! They tell her to go to her room and not turn off her phone, so she turns off her phone and flees. Anyway, there’s a predictable twist which is well-drawn but way too little, too late.
Of the longer novelettes, some may enjoy “Mate,” the alien lesbian spider story which describes the protagonist’s struggles with a murderous male imposter and her confusion when she meets a four-limbed “spider” that she falls in love with but it reads like an animal fable rather than science fiction for a long time and I could never shake that feeling, especially with all the symbolism. (By the way, this is similar in ways to “Hop and Hop” and there are several stories which could be paired up in this issue.)
Much, um, better, for me was “Better,” which vies with “Second Quarter” as the best story in the issue. Humanity has basically been drafted in a galactic war between “Proxies” and “Pancakes.” Earth has been largely depopulated when Nick returns from the fighting without all his legs and with the assignment to make the Morphos (alien slugs inside prosthetic bodies who have no sense of sight or smell but only extraordinary hearing) productive members of what’s left of society. The stakes? Well, he’s also been poisoned by the enemy and, for the cure to run through the right neural pathways, he has to succeed here. The good news is, he has plenty of time: two days.
This whole story is extremely weird and wonderful without ever being so weird as to block engagement. The background scope and the foreground drama create a canvas of breadth and depth and, without the story doing anything ostentatious, Nick is a very sympathetic character. This story took me a long time to read in the good sense: I kept stopping and thinking with Nick about all this stuff and these weird aliens and what made them tick. Their sensory world and mentality fully meet Campbell’s demand to show him aliens who think as well as men (or better), but not like men. My only quibble is that it’s set up somewhat like a mystery or puzzle and we are given plenty of clues on the road to solving it but, at least to me, I don’t feel like the ending was fully prepped, though it does make a counter-intuitive sort of sense. Regardless, this is another of the few Real Science Fiction™ stories and is the second tale I recommend from this issue.