Review: Analog, November/December 2018

Analog, November/December 2018


Original Fiction:

  • “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.


Review: Analog, September/October 2018

Analog, September/October 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Go Random, My Love” by Bill Johnson (novelette)
  • “Optimizing the Verified Good” by Effie Seiberg (short story)
  • “A Surprise Beginning” by Gregory Benford (short story – reprint, not reviewed)
  • “When the Rain Comes” by Ron Collins (short story)
  • “The Unnecessary Parts of the Story” by Adam-Troy Castro (short story)
  • “The Pendant Lens” by Sean McMullen (novelette)
  • “…And He Built a Crooked Hub” by Christopher L. Bennett (novelette)
  • “Shepherd Moon” by Premee Mohamed (short story)
  • “It Came from the Coffee Maker” by Martin L. Shoemaker (short story)
  • “Nevertheless” by Elizabeth Rubio (short story)
  • Probability Zero: “The Plaything on the Tesseract Wall” by Larry Hodges (short story)
  • “Off-Road” by Harry Lang (short story)
  • “Trapezium” by Tony Ballantyne (novelette)
  • “Black Shores” by Darren Speegle (short story)
  • “Impetus” by Shane Landry (short story)
  • “Harry and the Lewises” by Edward M. Lerner (novella)

Most of the stories in this issue of Analog try to be science fictional and are readable, with few either exceeding or falling short of that mark. The most remarkable thing about this issue is that it tops Analog‘s usual excess of short stories with a staggering eleven of them, leaving room for only one novella and four novelettes, two of which are little longer than short stories, themselves.

One of the shorts is a reprint and four are under five thousand words. The best of these very short tales is “Coffee,” in which a smart-aleck AI, restrained by Asimov’s Three Laws and doomed to be a coffee maker, laments its lot but also describes its clever way to be more. “Rain” is a sort of “Rose for Emily” with climate change and a minimally AI robot. “Plaything” is the Probability Zero piece in which a young 4D being “plays with” (torments) a 3D being until Learning Better. Speaking of “Learning Better,” there may be more than Heinlein’s “three plots” but this Analog both intentionally and accidentally stays very close to some very basic ones. Intentionally, “Unnecessary Parts” is a metafictional conventionally convention-mocking “story” of a “parasite and a disease” which takes the “Black Destroyer”/Aliens-type story and turns it into a pitch black “joke.”

Moving to the longer stories and presumably accidental examples, “Impetus” reads like a serious version of South Park’s “Asspen” (“we’re gonna need a montage!”) complete with a jerk whose only purpose is to torment the protagonist. But its race car-like exoskeletons beat skiing, at least. Similarly, “Nevertheless” involves an overweight protagonist who’s denied her dream of working outside her generation starship but persists and, when disaster strikes, completes her plot template. “Off-Road” similarly puts a pair of Martian truckers in a life and death situation but doesn’t so much try to valorize its protagonist as to have him realize, from dear old dad’s example, what’s really important in life. As that story could have been a good hard SF adventure but is really a relationship story, so “Shepherd,” which sends a woman into space to retrieve the dead body of an ex, is more interested in the psychological side but, more like “Impetus,” tries to valorize the protagonist. Unfortunately, the protagonist is portrayed (accidentally, I believe) as fundamentally incompetent, which makes it all unbelievable. To return to the AI/robots of “Coffee” and “Rain,” “Optimizing” is an allegory about acting for or against one’s own self-interest, especially in violent competition, using gladiatorial battlebots to convey the sociopolitical moral. Finally, “Black Shores” is also a metaphor for life, the universe, and everything when a couple of humans and a native get shipwrecked on the Forbidden Isle populated by the dark cousins of the alien who practice a bloody art before an “anti-Monolith” (2001: A Space Odyssey) sort of object.

Turning to the novelettes, “Random” is another “life or death in a hostile environment” tale like “Optimizing,” “Shepherd,” and “Off-Road.” It has some Null-A and (literally) “Cold Equations” resonances as it describes a man trying to save a frozen woman from hostile alien critters who are even colder. While no editorial note identifies it as being in a series, the background seemed rather sketchy and it feels like it assumes you’ve read something else, but the major elements became clear enough and it became somewhat exciting as the story progressed. “Trapezium,” like “Parts,” feels like a lesser “Black Destroyer” as a small crew invite an aggressive biomechanoid alien on board as part of a trade deal and then try to keep it in check and not become its prey. The science elements of this seem weak but the dramatic aspects aren’t bad. The latest “Hub” story is a sort of bedroom farce with a safe, a “hotel,” and a spy, with people of various species and genders and states of undress running around and being silly as all the multi-dimensional doors of the tesseract suites get screwed up until all things “work out” in their ways in the end. “Pendant” is one of the two “retro” stories of the issue, being set in France in 1794, so that we can learn about Robespierre’s very limited time (viewer) machine through the eyes of the Englishman brought in to repair it with death as the alternative to (or perhaps even consequent of) success. There’s really no SF here – the device may be some piece of secret history or translated from the future or dumped off by aliens but it’s basically magic despite efforts to make it at least proto-steampunk-like but the protagonist and his ambiguous female “friend” are well-drawn and the “period” part of it is readable enough.

While set in the present, “Harry” is steeped in the Lewis and Clark expedition from which everything in it derives. The protagonist is an interesting combination: ex-history academic turned tabloid reporter. The woman who sets him on the trail of his great discovery is a similar mixture, being a smart and capable woman with the money-making public persona of a ditz (and she’s also the boss’s daughter). Due to the story of one of her ancestors, she wants to find out more and our hero is up to the task (with sufficient extra funds from her). What follows pulls in a staggering number of threads to create a conspiracy theory of truly vast scope. It has at least a couple of downsides. In internal fictional terms, it’s weakly held together and contains many contradictory elements that are supposed to be proofs. In contemporary social terms, I don’t know that this sort of story is helpful. Still, a lot of work went into this and it was quite interesting, so (like “Coffee” and its humor) I have to note it.

Review: Analog, July/August 2018

Analog, July/August 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “A Stab of the Knife” by Adam-Troy Castro (novella)
  • “Until We Are Utterly Destroyed” by Frank Wu (novelette)
  • “Generations Lost and Found” by Evan Dicken (short story)
  • “A Simple Question” by Kris Dikeman (short story)
  • “The People v. Craig Morrison” by Alex Shvartsman & Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (short story)
  • “Potosi” by Joe Pitkin (novelette)
  • “Eulogy for an Immortal” by James Robert Herndon (short story)
  • “Welcome to the Arboretum, Little Robot” by Mary E. Lowd (short story)
  • Probability Zero: “Preface to the Handbook of Social Treatments for Conceptual Allergies” by Daniel James Peterson (short story)
  • “New Frontiers of the Mind” by Andy Duncan (novelette)
  • “Here’s Looking at You, Cud” by M. Bennardo (short story)
  • “Extracts from the Captain’s Notes” by Mary Soon Lee (short story)
  • “Open Source Space” by C. Stuart Hardwick (novelette)
  • “Priorities” by Jacob A. Boyd (short story)
  • “A Crystal Dipped in Dreams” by Auston Habershaw (novelette)
  • “Left to Take the Lead” by Marissa Lingen (novelette)

Except for the Probability Zero and the self-referential alternate history of “New Frontiers,” all stories are some species of (sometimes squishy) science fiction. As with the Asimov’s, apologies for the lateness (and hurried nature) of this review.

A table of contents with sixteen stories (plus a translated story) is quite impressive and looks like a lot of bang for your buck but one of the stories is about 2800 words and six more range from about 2100 words down to (I kid you not) 258. Many of the more substantial tales and some of the lesser ones range from readable to notable so there’s plenty of decent reading but there’s also a lot of chaff.

Eulogy” is the longest of the notably short tales and also very serious, describing a man (who has recently lost his mother) finding his father dead and constructing a strange and lasting monument according to his father’s wishes. Part of this was quite effective but it stresses that everyone grieves in their own way and this way, however poetically apt in an intellectual sense, was ultimately hard to connect with for me. It was interesting though, and it may work for some readers. “Extracts” is the shortest and there’s no story here: a captain devotes a few sentences to trivializing a journey to Saturn’s moons.

Between those lengths, “Generations” is about people adapting, in both plausible and ridiculous ways, to life on a generation starship. Ironically, it’s too long at about 1700 words and its semi-serious tone doesn’t work, though a purely comic 1000-word piece might have. “A Simple Question” is a remarkably unjust, sexist, passive-aggressive piece disguised as a semi-comic tale of “The Attack of the Mold Monsters.” “Arboretum” is a c. 500-word sketch of a robot finding processing heaven in an arboretum but if there’s a story here, I’m missing it. “Preface” semi-comically considers what happens “if trigger warnings and echo chambers go on…” Alas, while in the right area to be satirically hilarious, it seems a bit scattershot and its parody (?) of dry, academic style makes it… dry and academic. “Priorities” is a bifurcated story that does a good job of describing a harrowing accident in space and the extreme measures taken to try to save the protagonist but all in the service of a rather weak punchline. The main section was pretty good, though.

That leaves nine tales which are full stories and most of them deal with loss in one way or another. In the rather bizarre “Here’s Looking at You, Cud,” water shortages have resulted in a law being passed which outlaws the sale of real beef and a Fed (who reminds me of Dale Gribble in being so proud of his paranoid insight yet who is really naive) is involved in a sting operation aiming to take down an old flame. In “The People v. Craig Morrison” (which ought to be “Craig Morrison v. Vermont” or some such), the state has banned manual driving and a war veteran who has lost his legs is suing for the right to keep driving. He drives a Camaro his war vet dad had owned since Craig’s childhood and which, despite terminal cancer, he’d handed down to Craig after modifying it so that Craig could drive it. In the flood of “self-driving car” stories lately, this is probably the most salient dramatization and it is emotionally effective in ways but the arguments for the law and many of the dynamics of the tale and its conclusion are not persuasive or apt. “Potosi” presumably has Rebel scum motivated by their feelings of loss but we’ll never know because of the cardboard nature of the evil white supremacist. She’s from Arkansas so what else could she be? So the African protagonist fights the Southern villain over the Land of Riches (an asteroid of platinum) in this subtle tale that’s all about the science.

Open Source Space” conveys its somewhat paradoxically globalist message through a tale about a couple of people crowdsourcing a mission to recover Apollo 10’s lander (called Snoopy) which has been in orbit around the sun. The fact that they thought they’d failed and that the inhabitants of the Chinese moonbase thinks they’re being attacked complicates matters. Something about the tone of the story removes any doubt about the conclusion which removes much suspense. “New Frontiers” is a specifically Analog-centric tale of a sort of alternate history in which John W. Campbell, Jr. participates in Rhine’s Zener card experiments and is initially very good at it but loses the knack. This obviously took quite a bit of historical work and is reasonably evocative of the time and place but is also lacking in plot and drama. “A Stab of the Knife” is another of the many Draiken tales and Cort tales, here combined with plenty of plot and drama which is entertaining enough but replete with unbelievable dialog and poor proofreading. In this one, Draiken is pursuing Cort based on intel from a previous tale and it turns out that many factions, plots, and counter-plots make it difficult for anyone in the story to know who’s fighting on whose side or why. Eventually, after a suitably violent climax, the way is paved for further adventures.

Left to Take the Lead” is yet another story lacking a real driving plot (being a shorter story might have helped with this, making it feel tighter) and hammering some of its points too heavily (being a longer story might have helped with this, giving it room to breathe), but the protagonist and her narrative voice work very well and make this a notable story. Holly was an inhabitant of the Oort Cloud before an economic collapse which resulted in her being sold into indentured servitude, which is a popular thing on an ecologically ravaged Earth. Her culture shock (indeed, planet shock) is extreme and she spends much of the story dealing with that and waiting for her uncles to save the Family (which has a special social significance to Oorters) but a catastrophe shakes her into a new viewpoint and a new life plan. Also notable is “Until We Are Utterly Destroyed.” Its style involves a lot of “As you know, O victor priest!” and the whole tale rests on a rather inexplicable way to go about designing AI and terraforming but is substantially, if not qualitatively, almost like Hal Clement and Lester del Rey collaborated on a story, with giant centipede-like aliens in a strange planetary environment dealing with religious ideas and vengeance. Finally, “Crystal” reads a little bit too much like a geekish wish-fulfillment of sorts and brought to mind, without matching, things as diverse as Leiber’s “Night of the Long Knives” (1960) to Kornher-Stace’s “Last Chance” (2017). In terms of prose, plot, and character, at least, this was about the smoothest, best tale in the issue. A physically impaired dreamer is out in the apocalyptic wasteland looking for the ancient treasure which will save him from misery when he meets an armed woman who not only gets the drop on him but gets the treasure he missed. Still, they become uneasy companions until they get to the trading station and the alpha male trader changes the equation. He sees the treasure as a weapon and honey-trap while the protagonist sees a greater value in the dreams and knowledge the VR crystal can convey. If only the trader weren’t a giant cannibal and hadn’t taken the woman as well.

Review of May/June 2018 Analog for Tangent

This issue of Analog has no story (unless “Hubpoint”) that you might not find in Asimov’s or some other magazine and seems oddly arranged, starting with a novella, moving to a novelette, and then to a solid wall of short stories but there’s actually a mislabeled novelette (“Base Pair”) hiding in there. Even so, there are proportionally way too many short stories and many of them are very short indeed (four are shorter than the 2500 word Probability Zero and a couple more aren’t much longer). The quality drops significantly towards the end but the issue is fair overall, with several decent tales and one superb one.

Full review at Tangent: Analog, May/June 2018


  • “The Last Biker Gang” by Wil McCarthy (science fiction novella)

Honorable  Mention:

  • “While You Sleep, Computer Mice™ Earn Their Keep” by Buzz Dixon (science fiction short story)

Review: Analog, March/April 2018

Analog, March/April 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “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.

Review: Analog, January/February 2018

Analog, January/February 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “The Journeyman: Through Madness Gap” by Michael F. Flynn (science fiction novelette)
  • “Hobson’s Choices” by Mary A. Turzillo (science fiction short story)
  • “Ten and Ten” by Alan Dean Foster (science fiction short story)
  • Probability Zero: “Margin of Error” by Paul Carlson (science fiction short story)
  • “One to Watch” by Andrew Barton (science fiction short story)
  • “Home on the Free Range” by Holly Schofield (science fiction short story)
  • “Endless City” by David Gerrold (science fiction novelette)
  • “When the Aliens Stop to Bottle” by Ian Watson (science fiction short story)
  • “Two Point Three Children” by Marissa Lingen (science fiction short story)
  • “Air Gap” by Eric Cline (science fiction short story)
  • “The Dissonant Note” by Jeremiah Tolbert (science fiction short story)
  • “Blurred Lives” by Adam-Troy Castro (science fiction novella)

This issue of Analog is the reverse of the companion issue of Asimov’s in which all but two were stories in series as this may have as few as two that are. Teo and Sammi return with another middle added on to their saga. In “The Journeyman: Through Madness Gap,” they must enter the titular “haunted” pass and deal with the dangers there. I can add little to my review of one of the previous installments. If you enjoyed the earlier stories and aren’t tired of them, you’ll enjoy this. Otherwise, you won’t. If you aren’t familiar with them, the slow pace of the open, the simplicity of the resolution, and the middle-ness of it all means it may not work for you, especially if the humor rubs you the wrong way. But, if you do find it funny, you’ll probably find it a fair read. The totally humorless “Blurred Lives” involves Draiken and Thorne catching up to another old enemy, Silver, and embarking on a wager which involves Draiken being imprisoned in a mind-control camp with just one way out. Again, my review of a previous installment, particularly on the low event-to-word ratio and non-ending, basically covers it.

While I’d like to see a few more novelettes in lieu of several short stories, all but one of the other tales (excluding the first part of a serial) are short or very short. I’ll start with my favorites of those.

Ten and Ten” involves cuttlefish, which are related to the squid, octopus, and such, and have ten “fingers” like humans do. A scientist working on her Ph.D. is trying to teach one sign-language, starting with “hello” and “goodbye.” Her work is complicated by the short lifespans of cuttlefish, hunters in the region, and impatient grant committees, so she’s running out of time. This, while science and fiction, is only barely “science fiction,” if at all, and it may not work for everyone but did for me. It’s very short and I can’t get into it much, but I recommend it.

Margin of Error” is a short-short which deals with a hotly contested election of the future, in which we follow the vigorous efforts of a couple of political apparatchiks, ending with a nice twist that didn’t even really need the final line because it could already be inferred. It has an important message which doesn’t interfere with its humor.

Other stories include “Home on the Free Range,” which is a solid alien ecology tale of two farmers (who used to be a starship captain’s daughter and a starship grunt) trying to rescue their livestock from the alien critters who nabbed them; a neo-noir VR/meatspace murder mystery in the “Endless City” which suffers a bit from stream-of-consciousness logorrhea, has a tired solution, and is a little long, but is otherwise fine; “Two Point Three Children,” involving a court case over the custody and abuse of an AI “child” and memory edits, which is decent, despite being a little silly in the presentation and having a weak ending; and “Air Gap,” which, like many modern AI stories, is a regression to pre-Asimovian robot SF but effectively deals with a genocidal but quarantined AI until the story blows up in the end when the big reveal shows the underpinnings to not actually make sense.

The remaining stories are “Hobson’s Choices” which would feel like an old Galaxy social satire if it were better and actual SF but simply satirizes the judgmental and conformist “Goodenough Village” in a judgmental, conformist, and non-speculative way; “One to Watch,” in which a guy in mission control (who needs a happy pill, stat) is guiding a rover on Mimas and finds what may be evidence of alien life; “When the Aliens Stop to Bottle,” in which alien octopi have taken over the earth and an advertising executive muses about this, language, and philosophy;  and “The Dissonant Note,” in which a starship, currently populated by musical computer iterations of a predecessor, is stuck studying the same planet for 12,000 years with the titular “dissonant note” and another rebel mind plotting against the “harmony” that keeps it there.

Review: Analog, January/February 2017

I haven’t reviewed Analog since the December 2014 issue at the old site but I’m getting back on the horse at this new site. It’s a slow horse, but I’m covering January/February in March, hopefully will cover March/April in April, and should be right on top of May/June.

This issue (the first of the much longer bi-monthly issues) is fair overall but has a few pieces of at least some note.

Analog cover image

Analog, January/February 2017


The non-fiction is quite good. James Gunn (emeritus professor of English at the University of Kansas and science fiction author/editor) provides a guest editorial, “Canons to the Left, Canons to the Right,” which is a capsule history of SF and the attempts to establish its essential works. There’s a computer expression that is applicable here: “The great thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.” Richard A. Lovett produces another excellent science fact article, “Rendezvous with a Comet: How ESA’s Rosetta Mission Is Decoding Ancient Planetary Mysteries,” which teaches us about comets and what they can tell us about how the solar system formed, as well as discussing their presence in past science fiction and encouraging contemporary writers to get busy. John G. Cramer‘s Alternate View, “The Discovery of Planet Proxima B, has been cast into the shade a bit by the recent announcements regarding TRAPPIST-1 but Proxima b is still our nearest known potentially habitable neighbor and the article talks about its pros and cons as a prospect for an eventual human colony. Don Sakers’ The Reference Library column discusses solar system locations that have been popular or unpopular in science fiction and then reviews half a dozen titles. And there are the usual poems (by Ken Poyner and F. J. Bergmann), monthly author interview (of Tom Greene), Brass Tacks letter column, preview of next month’s issue, and convention listings, and annual AnLab ballot and Index for the previous year.

Science Fiction

“The Proving Ground” by Alec Nevala-Lee (novella)

Haley Kabua is setting up wind towers to provide power to her artificial island in the Marshall chain when she’s attacked by a bird. The bird attacks increase in size and frequency. She and the other colonists struggle to survive. Behind this simple, um, homage to The Birds (which is quoted at the beginning of the story) is a complicated bit of cli-fi and corporate skullduggery. Basically, the nations most affected by climate change are planning to sue for reparations from the nations most responsible for it. However, the nation must actually exist to have legal standing so the Marshall folks are creating a self-sufficient artificial island as a base to sue from when the natural islands disappear. A corporation has given them assistance in return for a cut of the prospective funds but has decided that two possible revenue streams are better than one.

The action foreground is competent and the complicated corporate background seems to mostly make internal sense but neither is especially impressive. This is just another of Nevala-Lee’s “humans screw up and animals attack” stories (“The Boneless Ones,” “Cryptids,” etc. – indeed, if you’ve read “Cryptids” there’s almost no reason beyond the cli-fi element to read this) that seem fundamentally technophobic and more akin to horror than SF. In short, this may appeal to some (who like The Birds, Zoo, etc.) but probably won’t to others.

“Twilight’s Captives” by Christopher L. Bennett (novelette)

Some human colonists have become part of the “Nocturne League,” which is exemplified here by a sort of lizard predator species and two of the many varieties of a weird scavenger species. The lizards and we monkeys have a misunderstanding and the lizards decide that capturing the kids and taking them to be raised by their broodfolk will help the kids and punish the adults at the same time. Naturally, this isn’t done without some resistance and there are casualties on both sides. Madeleine Kamakau, the famous diplomat, and her scavenger buddy are brought in to mediate while a different sort of scavenger helps represent the lizards. The conflict and resolution of two differing worldviews (balance, stability, and loyalty to the League vs. “give us our damn kids!”) forms the crux of the tale.

There were times when I thought this might be using the lizards to mock extreme “it takes a village” views from an individualist angle but that doesn’t seem to be the point. The idea of the new form of fast travel between the stars leading to strife rather than harmony may also parallel the quick collisions of earth cultures via the internet, but that may be reading too much into it. Either way, the aliens and worldviews and dramatic situation were all quite good with the only real problem being an overextended, multi-part, sputtering ending combined with some very awkward speechifying at a climactic point.

“Orbit of Fire, Orbit of Ice” by Andrew Barton (short story)

A couple of astronauts attempt to adjust the orbit of an old space station before it collides with another bit of hardware when their corporation’s plan to maximize profit goes wrong and they must fight (for some values of “fight”) for their lives.

Hard SF is often given a hard time for lack of characterization but I feel this story is more interested in its astronauts (both Japanese women, one lesbian) than in its orbital mechanics. Either way, it’s a generally adequate story.

“Long Haul” by Marie DesJardin (short story)

Jubrin is a lonely spacer so she gets a “pet” alien but encounters a couple of thugs, one of whom is especially vicious. One bad thing leads to another.

The depiction of Jubrin and her alien friend had moments of effective sentiment during its upswing but this story didn’t have much more to it and, while it gained an extra fillip from being science fictionalized, nothing required it to be science fiction.

“Catching Zeus” by Tom Jolly (short story)

Red and Churro are in Canada with their gaussmeters and magnetometers looking for special lightning, magnetic fields, and rocks which may all add up to naturally occurring perfect “room-temperature” superconductors. The Chinese and Russians are doing the same, which produces small bits of isolated conflict and it looks like the protagonists may lose out.

The plot and characterization are very thin and this is an oddly cryptic crypto-geology story. Granted, such a find would be pretty amazing but, if crypto-geology doesn’t rock your world, there’s not much here.

“Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns” by Marissa Lingen (short story)

Sgt. Bismuth arrives at a forest fort on the outskirts of an apparently endless war and starts handing out psychoactive frogs to calm the PTSD vets. She’s also puzzled by the Gliders who were engineered from human stock into flying squirrel-monkeys. Then comes word from the worrisome LT that their supply lines may be cut off. Then perhaps some paragraphs go missing (perhaps not the first to do so) and the Sgt. and her Cpl. are suiting up and saluting.

I was forced to read this very short story twice but I give up. The characters meant nothing to me; the plot less. Theme? Nobody knows where they’re going or why? Suffer the consequences of going along for the ride rather than taking responsibility? Whatever the case, why is this in my Analog?

“Throw Me a Bone” by Stanley Schmidt (short story)

I shoulda seen it coming. This “Probability Zero” short-short involves a paleontologist finding a single bone of a Titanosaur. People assume he’s involved in some sort of hoax and his career is ruined. One day, while he’s working at a grocery store, a fellow paleontologist shows up with a job offer and an explanation.

This economical and unpretentious story hit its mark.

“Dall’s Last Message” by Antha Ann Adkins (short story)

Dall is a “seasaucer” living in a “pile” with other seasaucers, dealing with storms and apparently dumb predatory “waterwraiths” and, indeed, is caught by one. Seasaucers seem to communicate in a tactile way with their bodies and, when they die, they harden to become their own tombstones with some last message written on themselves. Dall wants his to be a good one and his experience of being captured by the waterwraith may provide him with material.

The action within the rather vague milieu was hard to follow, the ending was strangely anti-climactic, and I do not share the fascination with weird, fuzzy, very short (non-Probability Zero) stories that Analog has developed but these approximately three pages weren’t completely uninteresting.

“The Last Mayan Aristocrat” by Guy Stewart (short story)

The title character is trying to run her village after her father’s disappearance. Things aren’t going so well, with villagers leaving and conquistadors taking over. Then, one day, a god calls her for an audience. Being a god herself, she’s a bit put out but eventually goes. No points for guessing what the god is. It is cut off from its people and dying but has a plan to help both itself and the Mayan leader attain a sort of immortality.

I don’t know what an “authentic Mayan story” should feel like but this still wasn’t it. One of the few things I know of the Mayans is that the major cities were abandoned and they were precipitously declining centuries before any conquistadors so the date of the tale is an odd choice. Either way, this is just another “let’s explain history mysteries by making up things behind the scenes” story and not a compelling one.

“The Shallowest Waves” by Thoraiya Dyer & Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (novelette)

Charlotte and Jurek are in two different times and two different places but share familial dysfunctions and both look to Europa, knowingly or unknowingly, for forms of solace.

While Charlotte could react to her misfortune any number of ways, given that Europa connected to it the way it did and given that she reacted at all the way she did, her looking to it for anything is psychologically unconvincing. Further, these sorts of character/psychology pieces (especially suicidally depressing ones) in which there’s no real interest in the science – “Hey, we’re swimming around under the ice of Europa with our super high-tech toys! Let’s be depressed and focus on things 19th century Russians wrote about!” – do not generally appeal to me. But they obviously appeal to many folks and, aside from a glitch or two like the main one I mentioned, this is done well enough.

“Necessary Illusions” by Tom Greene (short story)

This is apparently a long short story but feels more like a novelette with a great deal of backstory exposed very well. Basically, humans have spread throughout the galaxy and most worlds have fallen under the dominion of the Pax Capricornus. One world, that is still free as the story opens, is ruled by an elite which manipulates the people (and itself) through the power of myth – crafted narratives, assumed personas, and ritual. How this stands up to the Pax’s habit of conquering worlds, often bloodlessly, with a handful of people is shown in the course of the story.

As I say, this story had a complex milieu but it all came out easily and cleverly, never impeding the story’s flow. The focus was on the fates of worlds and empires as it should be, but the depiction of Ilra, the leader-in-waiting, and her brother, the current leader, gave the story an individual human interest. As another example of that and of one of the several effective scenes, her interview with the long-imprisoned and tortured emissary of the Pax was particularly vivid and memorable. Another thing I particularly liked was the naturalness with which the technology was handled. The concern with myth and ritual gave it a primitive feel but the high-tech was seamlessly integrated and gave it a futuristic feel so that it seemed to project forward and backward in time almost equally. An interesting dramatization of and reflection on truth and power.

“Paradise Regained” by Edward M. Lerner (short story)

Through the eyes of a man with only vestiges of human culture, we learn that humans came to Paradise in a multi-generational starship and realized they would cause the extinction of the native ecosystem without extensively modifying themselves. They produced an airborne retrovirus which changed their biology and sociology to keep their population down and cause them pleasure when the environment was thriving and pain when it was not. When a single-generation ship arrived much later, the crew found a ruined society and became infected themselves. The captain set the shuttle’s AI to work on the virus problem and established a lineage of ship keepers, of which our protagonist is the latest… and perhaps the last, as the ship is running out of its helium-3 fuel.

This is a pretty transparent statement against excess environmental passions, promoting the idea that humanity needs a large population utilizing natural resources. But, ideology aside, the colonists are improbably stupid and foolhardy, the protagonist’s grammar is inexplicably unaffected in comparison to his general knowledge and vocabulary, the timing of the finale is remarkably convenient, and the entrapment of two incommunicado starships is contrived.

“Briz” by Jay Werkheiser (short story)

Aliens, for whom “podless null emitter” is a mortal insult, are choosing which destination to take in their search for boron-11 and/or survival after their starship was damaged and lost most of its supply. They have both personal and pod identities, with their ability to mate with the queen being determined by their success in problem-solving and winning her favor. Briz has a good idea involving a hot star whose planet is emitting what seems to be artificial radiation but the villainous Squeech has its own ideas.

Basically, if the above holds no interest for you, you can safely skip the story but, if it does, you (like me) will probably like it.

“Split Signal” by Joel Richards (short story)

An unscrupulous villain has made a copy of a dead novelist’s mind state and is forcing it to write novels he can pass off as his own. The only slightly more scrupulous dead author sends a couple of lawyers out to deal with him, culminating in a courtroom scene.

This is another “new technology leads to new legal issues” story and another “consciousness upload” story. It was doing pretty well until it stopped plotting and just skipped over some tricky stuff. Further, the courtroom scene had a sort of logic that could almost be construed as clever but, really, seemed quite illogical and unbelievable.

“After the Harvest, Before the Fall” by Scott Edelman (novelette)

A man has developed or adopted a religion of rewards in the afterlife to make his villagers calmly accept being harvested by the rich folks who want the villagers’ bodies for lived-in status symbols that the rich peoples’ brains can be dumped into, supposedly keeping them immortal. One of the villagers doesn’t want to go gently into that good night and those two folks’ conflict (and the threat posed by the rich folks’ soldiers) forms the bulk of the tale.

This was hard to summarize because it had such a contrived milieu and even more contrived climax. This had a potential for religious satire but seemed to do nothing interesting.

“Whending My Way Back Home” by Bill Johnson (novelette)

This is a sort of Changewar tale dealing with a man, who has destroyed his future, being somewhat stuck in 9,000 BCE in the vicinity of Carthage and surrounded by almost as many sightseers from a future in which Carthage defeated Rome as he is natives. Along with his sick AI, a Carthaginian-timeline woman who comes and goes, and an even sicker Roman-timeline woman, he tries to bend history in such a way that his future can be recreated.

I’m not sure how much clearer this would have been if I had read the previous two stories in the sequence but each story should stand alone and the exact nature of this multiverse and the nature of the time traveling society and even the nature of the change to be effected in this story was not particularly clear at first (the first two elements still aren’t crystal). That said, it was nicely written, remarkably interesting given that I didn’t know the parameters of “success” and “failure,” and had a complete foreground plot arc (though the big background picture is, of course, unresolved).

Summary Ratings

Rating “Title” by Author (category)
3 “Necessary Illusions” by Tom Greene (short story)
3 “Throw Me a Bone” by Stanley Schmidt (short story)
2.5 “Twilight’s Captives” by Christopher L. Bennett (novelette)
2.5 “Briz” by Jay Werkheiser (short story)
2.5 “Whending My Way Back Home” by Bill Johnson (novelette)
2 “The Shallowest Waves” by Thoraiya Dyer & Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (novelette)
2 “Orbit of Fire, Orbit of Ice” by Andrew Barton (short story)
2 “The Proving Ground” by Alec Nevala-Lee (novella)
2 “Catching Zeus” by Tom Jolly (short story)
2 “Long Haul” by Marie DesJardin (short story)
1.5 “Paradise Regained” by Edward M. Lerner (short story)
1.5 “Split Signal” by Joel Richards (short story)
1.5 “Dall’s Last Message” by Antha Ann Adkins (short story)
1 “Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns” by Marissa Lingen (short story)
1 “After the Harvest, Before the Fall” by Scott Edelman (novelette)
1 “The Last Mayan Aristocrat” by Guy Stewart (short story)