Review: Analog, May/June 2019

Analog,
May/June 2019

Original Fiction:

Novelettes

  • “Bonehunters” by Harry Turtledove
  • “Forgetfulness” by J.T. Sharrah
  • “The Dominant Heart Begins to Race” by Dave Creek
  • “Leave Your Iron at the Door” by Josh Pearce
  • “At the Fall” by Alec Nevala-Lee

Short Stories

  • “The Methuselah Generation” by Stanley Schmidt
  • “Galena” by Liam Hogan
  • “Cactus Season” by Frank Smith
  • “12:20 Bus from the Basics” by Wendy Nikel
  • “A Former Planetary Ruler Speaks” by Bruce McAllister
  • “Full Metal Mother” by Joe M. McDermott
  • “The Three Laws of Social Robotics” by Mary E. Lowd
  • “Mulligan” by Bud Sparhawk
  • “The Gates of Paradise” by Edward M. Lerner
  • “Midway on the Waves” by Phoebe Barton (actually another novelette)
  • “The Orca Queen” by Joshua Cole
  • “Paradigm Shift” by Eric Cline
  • “On Stony Ground” by Cynthia Ward
  • “Repairs at the Beijing West Space Elevator” by Alex Shvartsman (reprint)
  • “Welcome to your Machines” by David Ebenbach
  • “Painting the Massive Planet” by Marissa Lingen
  • Probability Zero: “Robotic Space Killers; Autonomous. Broke.” by Guy Stewart

There are quite a few stories in this issue that aren’t science fiction by my definition and some that aren’t by anyone’s. There are also quite a few sub-par stories and not many notable ones, but there are also several adequately entertaining or interesting ones.

The five listed novelettes in this issue of Analog contain very few humans and very little straightforward prose. “Forgetfulness” is really the only one that has both. Interstellar explorers return to Earth to underwhelming response, as an immortality drug, with significant side-effects, has been developed while they were gone and changed perspectives. The reversal of the usual young explorers and old homebodies is clever and interesting, though the exploration of the pros and cons of an immortality drug is more conventional. My main problem with the story is that the drug causes amnesia at each monthly dose and I don’t see why people would want to live forever if they couldn’t remember it – it seems more like committing suicide each month. Also, most readers will have seen the conclusion almost from the start.

Of the stories which lack both humans and straightforward prose, “Bonehunters” involves a Wild Westerner talking in dialect about how he and his adopted native son became guides to a bunch of bonehunters (archaeologists) in native lands and helped a scientist in his rivalry with another unscrupulous fellow. The thing is, all these people aren’t human, but are sentient dinosaurs apparently descended from raptors. Despite featuring the science of archaeology, this has no science fiction as its just an unexplained counterfactual with impossible parallelism. As a Wild West adventure, however, it’s at least competently structured. “Leave Your Iron” is a science fantasy space opera in which entire universes shrink in comparison to a post-woman’s violent attempts to rescue her post-woman love from the clutches of a post-man whether the other woman wants it or not. It’s written in a sort of beat-poet style and is full of cute names like the heroine’s “Minerva Mirv” (MIRVs being Multiple Independently-targeted Re-entry Vehicles) and the villain’s “Satyr Meinhoff” (riffing off the Baader-Meinhof gang). This reads overwhelmingly like someone inserted a lesser Lightspeed story into Analog.

Returning to straightforward prose but sticking with non-human protagonists, “Dominant Heart” involves the last survivors of an alien species whose homeworld has been destroyed. They are looking for a new world which can support them and encounter a particularly interesting solar system which they explore in detail. The reader may have an initial suspicion but will likely be surprised at some aspects of the story and some places the plot does (and doesn’t) go. There are problems with the contrived order of exploration, how the sensors are conveniently non-optimal, and so on, but it is an interesting exploration of a planetary system with a decent “inhuman interest” angle.

While some may both expect and be put off by the ending, “At the Fall” is the most successful of the novelettes. It details a sort of AI soft robot, which is almost more of an artificial organism and which has an ideal range of 30 kilometers per charge, attempting a 4,000 kilometer journey home. It was designed to explore oceanic hydrothermal vents and periodically rendezvous with a ship to transfer its information but, when that ship fails to appear for a long period, the creature’s journey begins. It hops from deep ocean floor micro-ecologies centered around whale carcasses when it can’t find a hydrothermal vent within its recharging range (which is almost always). The lifeforms and the undersea world are described with action and reasonably judicious infodumps and hold interest.

There is also a piece billed as a short story which is actually a novelette (I get a count of 8145 words). “Midway on the Waves” takes place about a quarter-century after a war which resulted in a city on Titan being destroyed. The story focuses on how the event affected a couple of women from each side. This feels like wind-up figures are put through motions for thematic ends rather than having thematic elements arise from characters in action and there is a reversal at the end which undercuts much of the story, dovetailing with a simplistic resolution.

The giant roster of short (often very short) stories includes several stories which range from adequate to bad: aliens paralleled with butterflies, an improbably designed mission to search for life on an alien world, a father and daughter trying to get by in the desert with the help of crashing satellites, yet another anti-basic income story, an anti-colonial piece, one about a woman dying of cancer which is not truly SF, an AI fooling its creator, an alternate history where you get Jesus even in a Macedonian empire of lesbian locomotive builders, a voluntary scapegoat helping to avoid a space elevator disaster, a “story” in the form of a manual just like some other I read not long ago, and a gimmick about people arguing over whether a thing is an interstellar vessel or not.

More interesting stories include “Painting the Massive Planet” which, although it isn’t exactly a story, is an entertaining short-short about effing the ineffable while trying to paint Jupiter from Ganymede; “Mulligan,” about a man trying to figure out if he’s being scammed by an old flame who wants his help finding and selling Shepard’s second golfball on the moon; and “The Gates of Paradise,” whose protagonist coincidentally shares a name with a Stargate protagonist, suffers from being a sequel to a story I didn’t care for and a prequel to some other story yet to come. The latter element impairs its ending which could have been tragic or triumphant and instead just waits on the next story. This one, taken by itself, was a compelling and heart-wrenching tale about a world that had been colonized by a spaceship which is now in a decaying orbit and facing imminent disaster while holding incalculable knowledge. The civilization below had fallen into a state worse than barbarism and has only now recovered to the point where they can mount a desperate expedition to the ship. A man with a kid on the way braves death to get to this ship and see what he can do once there. This suffers from being an improbably limited mission (much like “Galena” and countless others) and from credibility-stretching coincidence and, as I say, its (non-)ending, but the scenario was certainly gripping to me.

The Orca Queen” takes the odd approach of making a pirate its heroine and resolves a bit “out of the hat” and too easily but the tale of a royal-in-exile being a pirate queen and cyborg starship who meets a dreadnaught bearing news and great risk (and potentially death) for her had some nice color, entertaining familial galactic empire politics, and reads quickly, with verve. All that makes it the other “honorable mention” with “At the Fall.”

I’m not sure what it says that “Paradigm Shift” is the best story in the issue and my one recommendation but comes with the major caveat that it’s a sort of hardboiled crime story and not science fiction at all. In 1957, a man who served as a superb sniper in WWII finds himself under the thumb of a mobster who has ordered him to kill a woman set to testify against that mobster. The thing that gets it into Analog is that the paradigm shifts when Sputnik launches and our sniper, who is a science fiction fan, has to process what this all means to him. The character is really well-drawn, his backstory is skillfully woven in, the foreground situation is dramatic, the background situation is obviously of historic proportions, and the ending sidesteps a problem I thought might trip the story up, so it even ends well. If you don’t like hardboiled crime stories with a tincture of science/science fiction, then this probably won’t work for you but I recommend it to anyone who is open to such a story.

Edit (2019-08-09): After a comment by the author, I modified the line about the Stargate character name. After reading the Analog blog, I discovered that one story was actually a reprint and marked it as such. Corrected typo in the word count for “Midway” (had 8125 when I meant 8145).

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Review: Analog, March/April 2019

Analog,
March/April 2019

AFF_Mar_Apr_2019

Original Fiction:

  • “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.

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.

Review: Analog, November/December 2018

Analog, November/December 2018

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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

Analog_2018-07_08
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

Recommended:

  • “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)