Review: Analog, January/February 2014

[January/February 2014 Analog cover]

Apologies for being behind but my January/February 2014 issue arrived very late and then I just decided to wait until the next came and read them back-to-back and then, while that one came on time, I'd gotten busy with other things at that point. So now I've given up on reading the March issue right away and will be late with it, too. Anyway - on with the show.

Non-Fiction

Quachri's editorial on "Checklists" is good - he takes an unusual angle on a reader's complaint about PC checklists manifesting in a story, using it as a launching point to talk about how, while PC checklists in fiction aren't a good thing, a genuine lack of diversity in reality may imply that the US educational system is not fully utilizing our population resources and that, if we don't do that, we may have to have a multi-national checklist instead of a multi-ethnic American list. The Chinese gizmo on the moon right now puts an exclamation point on that concept.

On the other hand, I didn't appreciate Kyle Kirkland's supposed "Science Fact" article, "Lighting Up the Brain: The Use of Electromagnetic Radiation to Stimulate Neurons". It's hard to explain exactly why this annoyed me - it does deal with science, so is fair game, yet it extrapolates into tin-foil hat nightmares that really make it a piece of boring science fiction. I prefer my science fact articles to stick a little closer to what is in fact fact. Anyway - as many news articles have indicated, we're getting to the point where we can mess with the inside of people's heads from the outside with the electromagnetism in the title, so here's how a real dystopian Evil Group could go about making it as bad as possible and look out! In a not entirely dissimilar piece, Kooistra's Alternate View talks "On Investigating Heretical Gizmos" and tries to explain how to separate the wheat from the quacks.

Sakers' The Reference Library focuses on Mars, reviewing a novel by Bova and a non-fiction piece on the decent box-office bomb, John Carter, as well as other books by Moriarty, Flynn, and Gunn. And Brass [At]tacks has letters taking issue with "Sucking Out Inertia", "Tethered", and "The Death of the Rocket Equation", as well as a couple of cries to make classic Astounding/Analog stories available in various forms, which Quachri regretfully says can't be done, which I don't understand because I remember, way back when, that you could get all kinds of stuff on microfiche, so I don't see why you couldn't work out something these days.

There are also two poems, or things called that. Kate Gladstone's "Nothing to Fear" gives us a nicely put satire on the self-destructive lunacy that excesses of patriotism and xenophobia can produce, while Mary Turzillo gives us a faintly amusing non-poem that translates ancient mythology into "Product Recalls".

Science Fiction

"Music to Me", Richard A. Lovett (Novella)

This is a sequel to previous stories that I've missed and seems to depend on them a great deal, resulting in a lack of emotional and historical depth that may be present in the group of stories as a whole, but is markedly deficient in this one, taken alone. In a world of ubiquitous non-sentient "AIs", an apparently randomly produced sentient AI, named (no kidding) Brittney, has become embodied in a ship after a falling out with a prior human companion and is then shifted into being a sort of internal governess for a "spoiled rich brat" who is actually supposed to be a misunderstood person of some depth. This is being done at the behest of another secret sentient AI (or now differentiated cluster of them) who expect Brittney to kill the human and translate herself into the internet where she can hang out with the other hidden AIs. As this story is missing a beginning, it is also missing an ending, stopping firmly in the middle of things with a sense of things to come. But it does decide the main quandary presented in this story, at least. The AI's perspective was perhaps too easily human but was somewhat different and interesting and the human was somewhat conventionally unconventional but was also potentially interesting.

"Mousunderstanding", Carl Frederick (Short Story)

This is a notably old-fashioned and science-free story turning on a gimmick of social mores when a trade mission of "Angloterrans" and one of "Club Francophone" compete on a world called "Madhya Loka". It hinges on the concept of non-violence and, while cleanly and lightly told, is also very thin.

"Wine, Women, and Stars", Thoraiya Dyer (Short Story)

This story begins with an excessively inverted and obfuscated beginning, perhaps to hide what is eventually shown to be a completely implausibly stacked deck of plot cards laid out to achieve its thematic goal. A fortyish woman happens to be best friends with someone who happens to have a twentyish daughter and they both happen to be vying to go to Mars and happen to finish one-two, with number one twentyish girl just happening to need surgery when her doctor just happens to have to leave to be with his wife who has gone into labor and he just happens to be willing to suffer criminal or professional charges to switch with, why, the number two fortyish woman who spends the rest of the story deciding whether or not to make a little medical error that would result in the girl being scrubbed from the mission, leaving her as the doctor going to Mars. It's completely ridiculous. Given, that, the flashbacks that occur during the operation and the older woman's thoughts gradually deepen the story, complicate the moral calculus, and make it more interesting. However, some could argue that the dilemma, as presented, is no dilemma at all and others could argue that the resolution is false or otherwise unsatisfactory [spoilers]. But if you leave aside the setup and have no problems with the ending, the bulk of the tale is fine and has a secondary function of obliquely but interestingly updating an aspect of Fred Pohl's Man Plus.

"This Is as I Wish to be Restored", Christie Yant (Short Story)

I don't know if I want to get into the specific connotations of the "objective correlative" but, suffice to say, this story makes me think of a cross between an aspect of the movie, Laura, and an aspect of the X-Files episode, "Roland" (or any number of other takes on the idea), and, somewhat after the fashion of Laura, the objective reasons for the protagonist's emotional state do not bear the weight (a great deal of weight, in the case of this story) of his internal state. Basically, this second medical story involves the faulty preservation of bodies for revival and the steps one employee takes to deal with this in a specific case. And it has a similarly philosophically problematic ending. But it's very nearly a good story and would be worth telling if done with either a little more measure or a better rationale.

"The Tansy Tree", Rob Chilson (Novelette)

If you like novelettes with an almost complete lack of plot coupled with an exercise in "that style thingie" like

Their meridional meal was but a light repast, as was their custom: she for lack of appetite, he also for lack of appetite. Afterward, Ziana was able to sit up, and even essayed to do a little fancywork on her current project.

and which also achieve a significant fraction of their wordage from repeated uses in dialogue of "eh", "heh", "ho", "ha", "huh", and "och" (though, granted, those syllables take on semantic or at least emotional significance in the tale), then this is the story for you.

With the story being named "The Tansy Tree", I would expect that object to form the crux of the plot or be the primary symbol or have some other central purpose but I can't see it. And I'm not sure what the main character wrestling with "duty" to his sick wife vs. that to his country vs. his love for his lover (socially required in this classist and archaic-seeming society of beings of an indeterminate type in an indeterminate setting) was supposed to signify. So maybe this is a superb story for those who wish to decipher it and can. But, aside from some medicinal references (for the third consecutive story), their method of communication (almost presented as magic), and perhaps other stray background noise, this was science fiction only in the negative sense of being non-contemporary and non-fantastic.

"The Problem with Reproducible Bugs", Marie DesJardin (Short Story)

This is a very short, modest, (and not entirely contrivance-free) story that's still pretty nifty. A brain-scanning scientist is suffering from multiple bouts of short-term memory loss and the trick is figuring out why.

"Just Like Grandma Used to Make", Brenta Blevins (Short Story)

I'm very pleased that someone understands and portrays that what should be manna from tech will likely be artificially controlled by the various MAFIAAs of intellectual property and will deprive of us of Star Trek-ian replicators but, somewhat like "This Is as I Wish to be Restored", I'm not sure the internal emotions of the protagonist would lead to her taking the actions she does in the face of the factual nature of things. But maybe she would. Anyway - in this ultra-short, a woman wants to let her son experience a holiday like she once knew in a world of IP cops and climate change.

"Racing Prejudice", John Frye III (Short Story)

Perhaps inspired by a (now likely ruined, if ever appealing) relatively recent event, this extrapolates that into the story of an AI/robot who has become partially cyborged to be organic enough to qualify for the Olympics. There's not enough story in this second consecutive ultra-short, but it's still interesting enough.

"Technological Plateau", Michael Turton (Short Story)

This is a good old-fashioned "planetary survey" story and was quite enjoyable, if a little gimmicky. This is one of the "why is this planet too hospitable to be true?" type.

"This Quiet Dust", Karl Bunker (Short Story)

There's something to be said for placing similar stories in proximity to compare and contrast but there's even more to be said for putting similar stories further apart (or, hey, even in separate issues) for the variety one expects in a magazine. This is another "planetary survey" story and was quite enjoyable, if featuring a lifeform I don't entirely understand or accept. This is one of the "why are there no animals" type. On the down side, one of the characters (Emilie regarding Henrick) was insufficiently motivated and the conclusion was perhaps too easily reached but, on the plus side, it achieved a sort of unpretentious poetry and was generally good.

"Determined Spirits", Grey Rollins (Novelette)

This was a well-plotted story that breaks into two halves. The first is a mystery when an interstellar colony starship crew member is awakened prematurely and has to determine why and the mystery grows and becomes even more life- and mission-threatening as he learns more. Then it suffers a shift of gears into a simplistic good-vs.-bad conflict and almost lost me but the individual conflict is so well done until the (again) simplistic resolution [spoilers] that I was soon caught up in it again. So it's an uneven story, but has a good mystery and a good action element.

"Lockstep", Part II of IV, Karl Schroeder (Serial)

Given that the conclusion will be out soon, I'm deferring the serial until I read all the remaining parts. EDIT: this part of the serial got a little slower and infodumpy as Toby plays the tourist in the new worlds for parts of this installment but I was still enjoying it and would have given it a generous 3.

Summary Fiction Ratings:

3"This Quiet Dust", Karl Bunker (Short Story)
3"Lockstep", Part II of IV, Karl Schroeder (Serial)
2.5"Determined Spirits", Grey Rollins (Novelette)
2.5"Technological Plateau", Michael Turton (Short Story)
2"The Problem with Reproducible Bugs", Marie DesJardin (Short Story)
2"Music to Me", Richard A. Lovett (Novella)
2"Wine, Women, and Stars", Thoraiya Dyer (Short Story)
2"Racing Prejudice", John Frye III (Short Story)
2"Mousunderstanding", Carl Frederick (Short Story)
2"Just Like Grandma Used to Make", Brenta Blevins (Short Story)
1.5"This Is as I Wish to be Restored", Christie Yant (Short Story)
1"The Tansy Tree", Rob Chilson (Novelette)

Final Word: The editorial and "poems" are better than usual but the rest of the non-fiction didn't light me up and there are some good stories, especially the last three, but nothing that quite lit me up, either. This is a mostly solid issue but a very disappointing double issue. Very mildly recommended.

_____

Spoiler warning! for "Wine, Women, and Stars". Go back! or (in graphical browsers, highlight the text and) continue:

The ending, while practically "correct" and philosophically plausible from a certain point of view, involves a sort of "happy sour grapes" and is one of a few stories (such as "Ready, Set" (July/August 2012)) that I have seen in Analog lately which embrace an abnegation of space dreams. I'm getting tired of this.

Spoiler warning! for "Determined Spirits". Go Back! or (in graphical browsers, highlight the text and) continue:

I really liked the protagonist using his knowledge and skills and, while that's not absent from the ending, it boils down to a basically physical brawl at the end.