Review: Analog, June 2013

[June 2013 Analog cover]

A couple of things about the June 2013 issue of Analog may finally be indicating definite change. One is that K.S. Patterson's story, "In the Green", may be the first Analog story ever to make me say, "What the f...?" and Maggie Clark's "Hydroponics 101" and even David D. Levine's "Wavefronts of History and Memory" felt atypical. Another is the existence of numerous errors indicating poor editing and/or proof-reading which actually first manifested on last month's cover but have crawled inside and become more numerous:

Jamie Todd Rubin has the guest editorial advertising his website while talking about great stuff from the 40s that aren't as famous (to some) as some other pieces. Given the spread of historical amnesia in the field, I guess I can't complain but this had little new for me. Kooistra's Alternate View is an entertaining thought experiment about "sucking out" inertia. The reference library tells us to go buy five more books. Brass Tacks actually has a good nitpicky letter this time, as well as a response from the author thanking the writer for the observation, along with one eulogizing Stanley Schmidt again. Richard A. Lovett brings us the fact article on "Waves of the Future: Where Will the Next Tsunami Strike?". Not the most fascinating subject to me but he makes it interesting, though the answer seems to be "most anywhere". Part of the interest derives from presenting little-known details and also introducing a discussion of more theoretical long-term macro-historical changes wrought by these (and other) natural events. Lastly, there's a Special Feature by Jeff Mitchell in which he talks about "Working on the Space Shuttle". The sentence structure is short and it is more a reminiscence than a structured essay but it's interesting and enumerates some of the disasters and the many accomplishments of the space shuttle program during his time from 1983-2011. The conclusion is: "Quite a series of accomplishments that all Americans should be proud of. I know I am." I have no disputes there. We should have done and should be doing much more but the shuttle itself, with the reusability, experiments, telescope/satellite deployment and repair, and space station construction and provisioning and so much more, was definitely a productive program.

All in all, this wasn't the best batch of non-fiction but it was still okay.

I have to confess to skipping the last half of this month's segment of Edward M. Lerner's Dark Secret serial. Apparently this is not a novel about putting our heroes in a vise as they try to save the human species but is an extremely contrived and gimmicked piece detailing one evil psychotic super-b--ahem... and five morons. I don't find her manipulation interesting or convincing and find their stupidity even less so. Dana's gone missing, Antonio's somehow become more boring, Rikki's become an outright pain, and I'd already long hated Li and Carlos and, as I say, even Blake is an obtuse idiot so I just have the eight deadly words at this point. If we were actually doing anything other than changing diapers and being manipulated into some climatology, I might not mind that I didn't care about the characters but I don't care about the plot either. From peeking at the next issue's synopsis, it seems I quit just when the melodrama kicks in but all I want is for Li to suffer a long and painful death and all her damage to be undone. The first is not a Good Reason to keep reading and the second can't occur plausibly, so would be damned if it did and damned if it didn't.

Jack McDevitt's another big name with a small story (the name looks good on the cover) and his Probability Zero piece, "Glitch", is not quite in the Adam and Eve territory of hackneyed concepts but it's not far removed. And, as briefly mentioned, Patterson's "In the Green" has a strange sister and troubled brother walk down a green path on a strange planet before straying off past the yellow borders around the path and being attacked by a bird before getting back into the green and home. Oooo...kay.

Much more traditional and interesting were Mark Niemann-Ross' "A Cup of Dirt" and Linda Nagata's "Out in the Dark". "Dirt" is a tale of a private-sector space station under construction and the quirky character who perceives an engineering challenge (of sorts) when a colleague wants a real soil-grown tomato. Hijinks ensue and, while the story ends too conveniently, it's quite a feat to make a story about dirt interesting and gives you an unexpected appreciation for the stuff. "Dark" is a "cop in space" tale which deals with a repressive society that has mind transference/cloning capabilities to achieve basically light-speed travel but allows only one embodiment per consciousness and deals with the complications that can arise from this. The "Dark" refers to the comet mining areas outside the society's control and our cop is called in to investigate the granting of citizenship to a "new" person from out there. A very proficient tale with a nice control of tone and, while a bit contrived, raises interesting thoughts.

Less traditional and, in ways, more interesting still are Maggie Clark's oddly blandly titled "Hydroponics 101" and David D. Levine's "Wavefronts", both mentioned above. "Wavefronts" turns out to be a little more conventional than it initially felt but adopts some intriguing narrative strategies in detailing its fascinatingly conceived "radioarchaeology", not to mention its: fractured history of a Japanese-descended world studying 9000-year old events; body augmentation; VR methodology; and many more ideas and motifs which are handled in a clean, uncluttered fashion. As unusual as some of the narrative segments are it's perhaps even more unusual in that it turns personal and emotional and reveals something simultaneously unsurprising but satisfying (for the reader, in an aesthetic sense - it's painful for the protagonist). Ordinarily, the shift from large to small scales is unsatisfying but works here. "Hydroponics" is a more narrowly focused story and much stranger, but not so strange as to turn it to vice, as in "In the Green". Basically, criminals are consigned to a hydroponic sphere where they live with a sort of psychic tree that is supposed to rehabilitate them via a sort of push-pull of empathy. For everyone so far, it doesn't work but serves as well as a prison cell. For our protagonist, it may be working but maybe too well.

Perhaps it's my imagination but this issue may indicate some of Quachri's stamp. (I must confess to being at a disadvantage here as I haven't read Analog for the past few years despite having read many issues for many years before that so, while I think I have a good feel for the Schmidt era, I don't know what all he might have gotten up to, especially lately.) If so, I'm not sure what I think of it yet. I could do without more "In the Green" but wouldn't be averse to more "Hydroponics" but, either way, I wouldn't want it taking over the magazine. But the Levine (and Levine is not a new author to Analog) was actually a pretty good blend of a "real Analog story" with a little something else.

Summary Fiction Ratings:

3.5"Wavefronts of History and Memory", David D. Levine
2.5"Out in the Dark", Linda Nagata
2.5"A Cup of Dirt", Mark Niemann-Ross
2.5"Hydroponics 101", Maggie Clark
1.5Dark Secret, part III of IV, Edward M. Lerner
1.5"Glitch", Jack McDevitt
1"In the Green", K.S. Patterson

Final Word: Definitely a hit-and-miss issue but with enough hits of enough variety to make it worth my while and hopefully yours.