Review: Analog, March 2014

[March 2014 Analog cover]

The March 2014 issue includes the usual departments, a serial installment, and six pieces of short fiction, three of which involve space exploration, two of which involve gender/orientation politics, and one of which involves both. (Two of the three gender/orientation pieces are primarily about other things and would have been better served to be more focused on their main points.)


Trevor Quachri's editorial, "I, Editor", is by the editor about editing which could have used some editing. It says, near the end, "--that there are a great many number of things that go into being a good editor; that there are a great many number of ways to be a good editor--". Worse, even with the dashes (and even if that dashed bit were correct), it fails to fit the sentence it's embedded in.

Mark H. Shellans' fact article, "The Probability and Nature of an Interstellar Information-Trading Community", supposes that there must be a lot of sentient species out there; that they must want to communicate with each other and us; and that they must do so cheaply and efficiently with lasers. It is at once logical and illogical, general and anthropocentric, and... well, just completely naive and optimistic. But it's an interesting view through rose-colored telescopes.

Although familiar with quantum entanglement, I confess I didn't always follow John G. Cramer's Alternate View ("Entanglement, Spooks, and Superluminal Signals") as he advocates a "transactional interpretation" of his own vs. the Copenhagen and Many Worlds interpretations of quantum mechanics. Appositely, in Brass Tacks, Cramer responds to a reader (who believes stars are electric-powered and disbelieves in the Big Bang and thus didn't care for Cramer's "Big Bang Sound") by lumping him in with flat earthers. While this is just, I sympathize with the letter writer's feeling that much of modern physics has become only a complicated mathematical game of turtles all the way down, only with the refusal to stick to something as simple as turtles or even just turtles and elephants. (Other letters in that department come from two people criticizing Quachri's editorials and one wishing him well, and a good one relating Ken Walsh's "The Evaporation of Worlds" to Hal Clement's Iceworld.)

The Reference Library reviews five items, two of which present an interesting irony as it repeats the current party line about SF's quota failings and encourages people to buy a consciously "literary" anthology of African-related tales. Then it proceeds to encourage people to buy a book about a "plague that turned most humans into savage, mindless beasts" except those obviously genetically superior people "who have natural immunity to the plague" and involves our heroes fighting off "the brutish subhumans". This puts me in mind of Adolf Hitler's novel, The Lord of the Swastika, as presented to us by Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream. Science fiction, like fantasy, like prosaic fiction, has always produced a variety of works which receive the approbation, neutrality, or condemnation of a variety of contemporary and later moral arbiters and we'd do better to concentrate on aesthetic quality and scientific correctness rather than social conformity. If science fiction must reflect current demographics to be "good" then I guess we can't write about aliens or AIs any more, as they are over-represented and that's not fair to humans.

And there's an item billed as a poem (Ken Poyner's "Discovery Mission") which is wrongly typeset so that several lines repeat from one page to the next, though I'm not sure it makes much difference.

Science Fiction

"Life Flight", Brad R. Torgersen (Novelette)

This guy must have written something bad, right? But I have no examples of it. All I've got on the negative ledger for this story is that I sincerely hope we are not using MP3s in the far future (everyone should be using FLAC even now); I hope interstellar mission planners do a better job than the ones in this story (in other words, it's a bit implausible); and I seriously question whether anyone could remain remotely sane living through the events described, especially the solitary confinement (so, again, a bit implausible). Otherwise, this "audio journal transcript" of the first interstellar voyage of mankind to a new world is splendidly done and very effective. At first, it seemed kind of schmaltzy and the teenagers (or at least the protagonist and his friend) were unbelievably "clean cut kids" but it got through those literal growing pains and became one of the kinds of tales I read SF for - a tale of hard-earned optimism, of tech and of people and, most of all, a tale of a future I'd want.

"Rubik's Chromosomes", Megan Chaudhuri (Short Story)

Another tale of genetic engineering involving designer children and focusing on gender and religious politics. A slight, very short story but competently done.

"Not for Sissies", Jerry Oltion (Short Story)

A sort of parody of the "right to die" concept which deals with a future society in which people almost universally commit suicide when the going gets tough. Our protagonist takes a different tack. An adequate story (depending on your tolerance for didacticism) but with one reservation. I am uncertain about the homosexual aspect of the story. If it were casually dropped in or if it were a significant point, those could be valid approaches but this seems to make the homsexuality of its characters a big deal but to no discernible point except to possibly make a play on the connotations of "sissies". I'm not sure if this would be offensive/patronizing to homosexuals or not but it's certainly puzzling to me.

"The Teacher's Gamble", Stephen L. Burns (Short Story)

When an alien AI probe arrives over Earth and we find that it's 1908, most of us will be able to guess some or all of the ending right then. But some very short stories are slight while some are short but open up wider vistas. This one does a better job painting the fascinating backstory of the aliens than with the forestory of the humans but the backstory alone would be enough to make it an interesting tale.

"The Avalon Missions", David Brin (Short Story)

This is a piece of "flash" fiction in more ways than one and it hardly seems long enough to have three reactions to it but, nevertheless, within the first paragraph, I felt like I knew what Brin was doing and was instantly bored. However, while I did know what he was doing generally, he managed to ring specific changes on the concept of multiple leapfrogging interstellar missions which were interesting enough that I came to like it in a fictional sense. But, speaking of didacticism ("Not for Sissies") I actually "disagree" with this story in the sense that it would seem to encourage the usual "do nothing" attitude we already have, where "the perfect is the enemy of the good". We've got to do what we can do when we can do it. I'll take an interstellar mission of any kind. (But this doesn't affect the artistic merits of the story.)

"We Who Are About to Watch You Die Salute You", Maggie Clark (Short Story)

This is tricky to write up. This is not flash fiction, being of decent length for a short story and is not only not thin, but is actually too dense. It appears to be a satire of the trivial sleazy media-saturated culture we currently inhabit, turned up a notch, which mixes in gender politics in a way that confuses the story for me, though it may be the point for others. Also, it strikes me as being clumsily exposed as the reader only finds out what's going on in inverted drabs (much like this writeup). It takes the form of a future journalist interviewing the four women somewhat inexplicably being sent as a rescue mission (though also apparently as a scheduled mission if the disaster of failed radiation shielding at the Mars colony hadn't happened) and compiling a general report which the fictional audience would be able to easily follow because they would know the back story but which this real audience had to re-read to make sure he got all the plot pieces and chronology--and he still isn't sure. But, thematically, it seems to be saying a voyeur dies a thousand deaths and the hero but one - and the voyeur never lives at all, unlike the hero. So there's that. But the story is hoist on its own petard - the dominant impression I'm left with is a tale of trivial sleazy media-saturation rather than a tale of Martian colonization.

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

As with last month's review, "[g]iven that the conclusion will be out soon [in fact, I should already have received the April issue but it's late again], I'm deferring the serial until I read all the remaining parts." EDIT: This installment felt like it was in a bit of a holding pattern or "piece positioning" mode as Toby goes to Corva's world and Corva's brother tries to decide how to use Toby. As with the second installment, I was still enjoying this and would have given it a generous 3 despite not a whole heck of a lot happening in this one in retrospect.

Summary Fiction Ratings:

3.5"Life Flight", Brad R. Torgersen (Novelette)
3"Lockstep", Part III of IV, Karl Schroeder (Serial)
2.5"The Avalon Missions", David Brin (Short Story)
2.5"The Teacher's Gamble", Stephen L. Burns (Short Story)
2"Rubik's Chromosomes", Megan Chaudhuri (Short Story)
2"Not for Sissies", Jerry Oltion (Short Story)
1.5"We Who Are About to Watch You Die Salute You", Maggie Clark (Short Story)

Final Word: While most of the stories are well done, I didn't care to have some of them done at all. And, again, there are too many short (and very short) stories. Still, the Torgersen (and hopefully the serial), as well as the Brin and Burns make this a worthwhile issue.