Review: Analog, May 2013

[May 2013 Analog cover]

Analog's May 2013 issue brings us an excellent guest editorial by Edward M. Lerner (who seems to be writing half the magazine these days) about NASA's foolish attempt to "celebrate" the retiring of U.S. space capability and how we need both private and public sector investments to help accomplish things in space. "Victory Lapse" is close to what I think of when I think of Analog editorials: slightly contrarian (to anti-space, pure public, and pure private people, which covers a lot), and realistic (which is to say, both negative and positive).

In the other departments, John G. Cramer brings us this month's Alternate View which discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the Standard Model of particles and fields and recent electron-beam ion trapping (EBIT) experiments at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) which may show a crack (theory/results variance) in quantum electrodynamics (QED). Don Sakers tells us of another four out of four books we must read, bizarrely talking about books into movies because one such book is movie-related while two of the others have train and railroad (!) in the titles. I'd have felt compelled to talk about SF trains, myself. Brass Tacks gives us some farewell letters to Dr. Schmidt and one bizarre letter that was printed only to be slapped down. And the featured science fact article is Richard A. Lovett's excellent (if verbosely titled) "The Golden Age Comes to Seattle: Is Asteroid Mining Really Part of Our Near Future?" which, naturally, deals with the, um, prospects of the recent commercial asteroid mining startups. And, while not non-fiction, Mary A. Turzillo brings us a poem. I like poetry and I like SF, but few SF poems do much for me.

May's non-fiction array is quite good - better than the last issue's.

For fiction, Martin L. Shoemaker's novelette, "Not Close Enough", touches on one of my soapboxes: the wrong-headed idea that we should explore exclusively with robots and don't need boots on the ground. In this, a manned international mission to Mars is to hold orbit and send down remote probes without actually landing. And this has each nation scheming behind the others' backs to modify material into a manned probe so they can put a (wo)man on Mars because, hey, what's the point of going there without going there? The problem is that the setup is implausible and the actions of the crew seems wildly unprofessional. If you ignore those two issues, it's pretty well done, but those are hard to ignore.

In short stories, David W. Goldman continues to impress with "Sentinel Chickens", a nice story about a guy with a shiny new Ph.D. in epidemiology getting to learn how to clean out chicken coops for the CDC and then combines a bit of observation here and a bit of theory there to achieve a fair twist with a great scale-shift. Walter F. Cuirle's "Enjoy the Fishing" is a strangely similar story in ways but not quite as satisfactory. Perhaps the failing is in me as I just found the narrative a bit too elliptical. Suffice to say, an ordinary fishing trip is not so ordinary on an alien world.

I often enjoy "old-fashioned" stories but they're usually of a 40s space travel sort. Analog goofs on the cover/spine, honoring "H.G. Straymann" (ouch) but H.G. Stra*t*mann's "Prometheus" brings us an "old-fashioned" story of the 70s "cetaceans are so great" sort which doesn't do anything for me. That said, this tale of dolphins trying to train humans 400,000 years ago is done well enough.

Patty Jansen gives us the worst story of the issue with "Geospermia" which features cardboard characters illustrating a straw man argument recapitulating one of the worst parts of Robinson's Mars trilogy even if Jansen's anti-rock-hugger point is the correct one. I still don't care for such easy moral "dilemmas" and preachy stories. Basically, a good guy's potato fields on Mars have been destroyed by mutated overpopulated pandas so he hunts them to try to restore some sort of ecological balance while mystic "areospermia" loons hunt him for being a poacher. Another issue with the story is that it reads like a novelette that was truncated into a short story because it could only preach for so long. Not a good story, but it did have one part I liked, sharing something with "Enjoy the Fishing". "Truck" can mean a lot of things and the illustration depicts a "Space Truck" but the description gives an impression of a Ford jouncing down the Martian road and, like the fishing, gives a homey impression of an alien world.

Lastly, the second part of Edward M. Lerner's (who's he?) serial, Dark Secret, is less satisfying than the first. I was already annoyed by one character's verbal tics (though I like the character okay) and disliked one character (the arrogant sex maniac) and now Lerner's gotten around to revealing the true nature of the psychiatrist and she's psycho and I really despise her as the worst of all. Either her manipulations are the main point of this novel, in which case, they were introduced far too late, or they are not the main point (and damn well shouldn't be), in which case they've already gone on for too long and she's taken over too much of the novel. It also annoys me (as is frequently the case with stories of this type) that we descend from cosmic catastrophe to mental quirks of random psycho humans. It would be one thing if we'd nuked ourselves and we were replaying the petty evils that resulted in the disaster for thematic resonance but the GRB was not due to any failing in our character and this just seems silly. That said, even if I'm down to 3.5 characters that I still like, the non-character parts of the story are still good.

Stray note: most "politically correct" blather I read on the net where people count up gender and color ratios and deem something good or bad based on that rather than the storytelling and idea quality drives me up a wall. But I can't help but notice that the dictatorial manipulating schemer is of Asian descent and the arrogant sex maniac is of Indian descent, while our good (if Asperger-ish) guy is of Italian descent and our three really good folks are probably just good ol' British Isles types (McElwain of London and the Westfords of Boston - Rikki Westford may be Scandinavian). I'm sure it's purely accidental and I'm not going to get bent out of shape about it, but I raise it as something Mr. Lerner might want to be wary of in this day and age if he's not actually looking for combat with the quota forces and the "nothing is ever just a cigar" forces.

Summary Fiction Ratings:

3"Sentinel Chickens", David W. Goldman
2.5"Not Close Enough", Martin L. Shoemaker
2Dark Secret, part II of IV, Edward M. Lerner
2"Enjoy the Fishing", Walter F. Cuirle
2"Prometheus", H.G. Stratmann
1"Geospermia", Patty Jansen

Final Words: take it or leave it - with the non-fiction, a good Goldman, some lesser stories that still had good points, and some interest still in the serial, I mildly enjoyed it. But I do almost feel like they might be thinking, "We've got the serial to lock people in, we can take it easy with the rest of the fiction for awhile before we have to raise our game without a serial."

Random note: if you want to stick out as a writer, don't use any initials in your byline.