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.

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Summation: September 2018

Edit (2018-10-12): added Analog review; updated noted stories, story/word count. (2018-10-17): as above, but for Galaxy’s Edge.

Apologies for running behind this month. I intend to get to F&SF and I’ll update this post accordingly but, in the meantime, I’ll get this much out. So far, I’ve read 79 stories of at least 454K words. This netted thirteen noted stories (four recs), with Lightspeed‘s special issue, Asimov’s, Analog, and Galaxy’s Edge contributing multiple tales.

In other magazine news, while I mentioned it in a “Links” post, I neglected to note in the last “Summation” that Grievous Angel (speculative microfiction) closed at the end of last month. This month, word came that the YA zine Cicada (which published SF & F as part of its mix) is now defunct.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Science Fiction

  • “In the Sharing Place” by David Erik Nelson, Asimov’s, September/October 2018 (short story)
  • Nine Last Days on Planet Earth” by Daryl Gregory, Tor.com, September 19, 2018 (novelette)

Fantasy

  • Jump” by Cadwell Turnbull, Lightspeed #100, September 2018 (short story)
  • Shadowdrop” by Chris Willrich, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #261, September 27, 2018 (novella)

Honorable Mentions

Science Fiction

  • “3-adica” by Greg Egan , Asimov’s, September/October 2018 (novella)
  • “Hard Mary” by Sofia Samatar, Lightspeed #100, September 2018 (novelette)
  • “Harry and the Lewises” by Edward M. Lerner, Analog, September/October 2018 (novella)
  • “It Came from the Coffee Maker” by Martin L. Shoemaker, Analog, September/October 2018 (short story)
  • Lions and Gazelles” by Hannu Rajaniemi, Slate, September 27, 2018 (short story)

Fantasy

Reviews

Magazines

News

Review: Asimov’s, September/October 2018

Asimov’s, September/October 2018

ASF_Sept_Oct_2018

Original Fiction:

  • “3-adica” by Greg Egan (science fiction novella)
  • “The Witch of Osborne Park” by Stephanie Feldman (fantasy short story)
  • “The Huntsman and the Beast” by Carrie Vaughn (fantasy novelette)
  • “R.U.R.-8?” by Suzanne Palmer (Capek-derived playlet, not reviewed)
  • “The Grays of Cestus V” by Erin Roberts (science fictional short story)
  • “DENALI” by Robert Reed (science fictional novelette)
  • “The Callisto Stakes” by Doug C. Souza (science fiction short story)
  • “Survivors” by Sheila Finch (fantasy-like short story)
  • “The Wrong Refrigerator” by Jean Marie Ward (science fictional novelette)
  • “In the Sharing Place” by David Erik Nelson (science fictional short story)
  • “Best Served Slow” by Leah Cypess (fantasy short story)
  • “The Secret City” by Rick Wilber (alternate history novella)

The lengthy reading of this issue and writing of this review has been plagued by innumerable problems and I apologize for the result.

The Secret City” is an alternate history story which deals with a baseball playing spy (Moe Berg, who is based on a real person) but it seems too similar (if separate) or too different (if connected) to a story from a couple of issues ago by the same author. In this one (also reminiscent of Steele’s “Einstein’s Shadow” (Jan. 2016 Asimov’s) down to having big planes), a couple of parallel-world-shifting spies try to get Fermi successfully into a 1940 US to help build an atomic bomb to answer Germany’s recent destruction of Dublin with theirs and get Rommel’s Texas Korps off the US’s doorstep. This is readable enough but has errors even for alternate history (why would an essentially identical Me-262 be in production in 1940 when it wasn’t even test flown in our timeline until 1941?; why would the Afrika Korps have fought in El Alamein and Tobruk in 1940 when these were 1941-2 battles?; etc.) and doesn’t make any coherent historical argument, seeming to change things randomly (this world’s President Roosevelt is Eleanor and Texas has seceded again without problems because it was so simple the first time). Perhaps worse, the protagonists (including the unnamed but repeatedly referenced “woman”) aren’t especially engaging and the novella is just a middle with a dramatic pause more than an ending.

Moving to supernatural tales, “Witch” deals with modern suburban witches and involves the family unit moving to a new place where bad stuff happens. A familiar-feeling domestic tale in which witchery is taken for granted and the twist is unsatisfying. “Beast” bucks the prevailing trend of male-oriented stories by the unprecedented means of retelling “Beauty and the Beast” with the genders reversed. (I think it says something that my favorite part was actually bad because, while the Prince and Mr. Beauty arguing about the latter’s sanity was funny, it was also out of place, tonally.) “Best Served Slow” is probably the best of the outright fantasies or it could be my enjoyment of “posthumous fantasy” kicking in again. This one deals with an old woman accompanying her family on a return vacation to Greece where she has a murder mystery to deal with. Problems include an otherwise good opening that is helped along by a little too much artifice, a confusing couple of critical conversations, and a necessarily but unsatisfyingly inconclusive conclusion, not to mention the odd aspects of a Delphic oracle being more summoner than sought, and being associated more with the Erinyes/Furies than Apollo. But the zesty protagonist is portrayed well and the story is interesting.

Grays” is very loosely SF, with tropes clothing a social tale of folks working bad jobs in a bad environment in which, to the basically insane artist protagonist, drugs and death seem like the only solution. Similarly, “DENALI” is more pseudo-SF as aliens leave us a magic machine which allows the political will of the people to manifest, making the world switch tracks through parallel universes or the like. Disturbingly, it seems to throw in the towel on democracy though its (perhaps overly symbolic) main couple and their relationship was interesting. “Survivors” is nominally about an “indistinguishable from magic” visitor trying to help out a PTSD vet but the whole thing takes place in a creepy, metmorphosing cemetary and feels like fantasy. It didn’t seem especially emotionally convincing. (Also, no American vet would have a “row” with his wife.) “The Wrong Refrigerator” is a fantasy which applies “quantum entanglement” to people and tangles that up with time travel as a woman who wants kids to paper over her unhappy marriage finds herself connected to an old flame who has been “killed” in a scientific experiment gone awry (akin to Larson’s recent “Carouselling”). Things come to a head when her husband tries to trade her to his boss for a promotion. (Oddly this story references Jessica Rabbit but made me think of what little I’ve seen of Peggy Sue Got Married.)

Moving up a notch, “Callisto” is narrated from the point of view of nanobots charged with keeping a kid alive in a futuristic drag race as he circumnavigates Callisto in a homemade gizmo, ostensibly trying to win some prize money to (akin to “Grays”) ease his horrible and abusive domestic and social situation. The complication is that the kid really has been suicidal and he’s got his kid sister with him in the machine. The viewpoint is interesting, as is the contest within the contest (boy vs. nanos, boy vs. racers). The sentimentality, especially of the nanos with their constant concern for “little Sandi,” is a bit much and much of the story is questionable, but it’s a decently paced adventure with some depth.

3-adica” is a “hard math fiction” computer virtuality story in which a couple of sentient game pieces have discovered a really clever GPU hack and are using it to try to make their way to the promised land of the 3-adica game but have so far only made it to a gothic, gaslight, Dracula/Ripper sort of horror game which gives us SF vampires and such. The milieu and the main character are well done but its two phases seem disjointed and it ends abruptly, ultimately feeling like the opening of a novel more than a novella. Also, while 3-adica is intrinsically interesting and symbolically significant, I’m not sure that it’s used in practical plot terms in a way that justifies so much focus on it, especially given what the protagonist actually encounters there.

(By the way, there are several odd word choices early on: “misogynous Ripperology” should probably be “misogynistic,” “desanguination” should be “exsanguination,” and “resile” is an intransitive verb meaning “to return to a prior position” so “I will not resile from the task” doesn’t seem quite right. Leaving aside language, I have no idea why the Shelleys were used the way they were but it seemed pointlessly bizarre.)

Finally, “In a Sharing Place” does everything “wrong” and is the best story in the issue. It’s a second-person present tense tale with lots of Capitalized Concepts which leaves the reader confused about exactly what is going for quite awhile but (apart from an inexplicable reference to “li’l hijackers”) has such a mastery of tone and a well-judged intimation of weirdness (including the easy but effective drama of traumatized kids going off to meet sometimes horrible fates) that it easily holds interest until all is revealed. This story of a strange invasion which has destroyed civilization is ultimately quite powerful and its point-of-view allows it to seem ambiguous and not preachy. The closing segment is an extremely powerful depiction of inside and outside in both physical and psychological ways.

Summation: August 2018

This month has been doubly strange. Despite reading 42 stories of about 201K words from the August magazines, I’m in the unprecedented and unpleasant position of only being able to note one story (and that’s not even fully recommended). Counting a late July story and things for a couple of Tangent reviews, I read 59 stories of about 324K words this month and can at least add two recs and another honorable mention, all from the July/August Black Static, but only one of those is even speculative with the other two being straight horror.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Fantasy

  • “The Monstrosity in Love” by Sam Thompson, Black Static #64, July/August 2018 (dark fantasy short story)

Horror

  • “The Blockage” by Jack Westlake, Black Static #64, July/August 2018 (non-speculative short story)

Honorable Mentions

Science Fiction

Horror

  • “Why We Don’t Go Back” by Simon Avery, Black Static #64, July/August 2018 (non-speculative novelette)

Reviews

Magazines

Books/Other

News

 

Review of Black Static #64 for Tangent

If you’re not picky about genre, this issue of Black Static is a good one. A third of it is non-fantastic horror dealing with insanity. Oddly, the fantastic stories, while generally very readable, aren’t as good except for the last (fourth overall), which is superb and the best of the issue.

Full review at Tangent: Black Static #64, July/August 2018.

Recommended:

  • “The Blockage” by Jack Westlake (non-speculative horror short story)
  • “The Monstrosity in Love” by Sam Thompson (dark fantasy short story)

Honorable mention:

  • “Why We Don’t Go Back” by Simon Avery (non-speculative horror novelette)

Review of Solarpunk for Tangent

Solarpunk is composed of Brazilian stories from 2012 which aim to deal with green energy and ecology. The preface cites Le Guin, Callenbach, and Robinson as exemplars but notes that Brazilian green energy is not necessarily seen as an issue of the Left or as a good thing. It also notes that these stories are not as utopian as many on similar topics. My reading confirms this, as only a couple touch on things which are obviously political to this American and are often quite dark.

Full “Special Double Review” (Chuck Rothman and I both review this) at Tangent: Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World, ed. by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro.

Summation: July 2018

Here are the fifteen noted stories (four recommended) from the 92 stories of 503 Kwds I read from the July issues along with links to all their reviews and the other July posts on Featured Futures. This month’s wombat was a remarkable number of mostly print SF honorable mentions while all the few other items (except an excellent F&SF dark fantasy) came from the web.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Science Fiction

  • Chasing the Start” by Evan Marcroft, Strange Horizons, July 9, 2018 (novelette)
  • The Nearest” by Greg Egan, Tor.com, July 19, 2018 (novelette)

Fantasy

  • “Hainted” by Ashley Blooms, F&SF, July/August 2018 (short story)
  • A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds” by James Beamon, Lightspeed #98, July 2018 (short story)

Honorable Mentions

Science Fiction

  • “Broken Wings” by William Ledbetter, F&SF, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • “A Crystal Dipped in Dreams” by Auston Habershaw, Analog, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • “Left to Take the Lead” by Marissa Lingen, Analog, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • Resigned” by Floris M. Kleijne, Galaxy’s Edge #33, July/August 2018 (short story)
  • “Starship Mountain” by Allen M. Steele, Asimov’s, July/August 2018 (novella)
  • “True Jing” by Zack Be, Asimov’s, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • “Until We Are Utterly Destroyed” by Frank Wu, Analog, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • Your Face” by Grace Tang, Nature, July 11, 2018 (short story)

Fantasy

Reviews

Magazines

News