Review: Analog, April 2014

[April 2014 Analog cover]

I've basically been reading the last few issues of Analog just like any others, not having an eagle eye on the "pulse of Quachri" but the April 2014 issue marks the beginning of his second year on the masthead (he's been picking all the stories since September at the latest and likely earlier) and, unless this is a fluke, he now appears to be cutting loose. And, alas, the proofreading errors are getting out of hand again*.

Non-Fiction

Some stranger called Stanley Schmidt writes this month's guest editorial, "Meditation on a Bar Stool", where he notes that the current obsession with the pictorial to the exclusion of the verbal (such as in bar stool assembly instructions) is like fighting with one hand tied behind your back. This is just one of the problems with multi-national corporations selling to polylingual nations and being stupid about it, though that's not really his point.

Edward M. Lerner's Science Fact article, "Alien Dimensions: The Universe Next Door" seemed to be even more of a literary discussion and less of a scientific one than usual, but he did eventually delve into a variety of extreme physics theories. William of Ockham could hand his razor to Sweeney Todd and it still wouldn't begin to be a sufficient corrective for the craziness that is modern physics, though it produced a funny footnote, when Lerner notes the abbreviation of "membrane" to "brane": "Eleven dimensions aren't too many for some physicists, but two syllables are. Go figure." But the key line comes when talking about the inexplicable homogeneity of the universe given observed rates of expansion. So we ignore what we observe and come up with the "inflation theory" where we posit that, despite not seeing it, we just assume the universe used to expand faster than it does now. "The math works if..." The math works. Eric Temple Bell wrote a book called Mathematics: Queen and Servant of Science. There's entirely too much Queen and not enough Servant. The math is supposed to be the handmaiden to the observation, not its own castle in the sky. I digress. The point is, the article details a lot of ways in which you can write fantasy and pass it off as science fiction by referencing certain mathematical confections and then heads off into the "our universe may just be a simulation" woods again.

The Alternate View is unusual in that Jeffrey D. Kooistra promotes "Bud Webster and the Past Masters", that being the author of the named book of fan history of some authors Webster thinks may be falling into obscurity. It is also unusual in that it ties in with an irregular (apparently new) column by Cat Rambo called In Conversation: Bud Webster (reminiscent of Jay Kay Klein's "Biolog"s) on the same topic. Oddly, Don Sakers does not discuss the book in The Reference Library, instead celebrating his 50th column by having a pseudo-interview about his review policies (much as Kooistra recently did with his 15th (year) anniversary in the November 2013 issue) and going on to review a couple of "retro-SF" Mars books and three others. So it promotes what can be seen as a kind of anti-SF (impossible Marses and Burroughs pastiches in new books) which ties in with the next department.

Brass Tacks is disturbing to me because the letters (which include discussing stories from 1964 and the September 2013 issue) seem designed to say "some people don't like these new-fangled unscientific Quachri stories and some folks do and, besides, not everything in Analog has always been the rock-hardest, so that and the some folks doing is license for Quachri to keep doing". I hope that's not the case. I have no problem with trying some new things but, as I said in the notes to the AnLab vote that I submitted, there are a lot of great hard SF authors who don't appear in Analog and I would like to see Quachri go recruit them to his magazine. That could help refashion and re-invigorate hard SF. But, to do that, you have to keep the "hard science" part.

Elsewhere, the remainder of the non-fiction includes a nice one-page memorial to Fred Pohl and, shockingly, two interesting poems. Robert Lundy's "The Passionate Astrophysicist to His Love" references Marlowe's poem in the title but does not mimic the form and isn't even a form I recognize, appearing to be a sonnet with an extra quatrain. The scansion is rough and the near-rhymes are somewhat annoying. And I can see how the close would come off as ludicrously anti-climactic. But, all that aside, I found the close to be appropriate and the whole thing was a genuinely scientific and poetic concept. Similarly, Mary Turzillo's "The View from Cruithne" is nearly crippled by a cutesy tone and a half-unscientific conceit but handles its meter and rhyme somewhat better and produces an actual science fictional sensawunda comparable to a story though it is primarily a single poetic image.

Science Fiction

"A Fierce, Calming Presence", Jordan Jeffers (Novelette)

A government functionary (Federal Ecologist) arrives at Ceres from earth where people are involved in rare earth mining but are having problems with 'gulls' which are a "subhuman species of high intelligence" and can apparently be "nearly three meters tall" with "thick necks" and can be (unwisely) "slapped... square in the face". There are oddities with cultural stratification, rules, and respect and the Cerens don't know about "nieces" and the ecologist is freaked out by white skin and, especially, green eyes. It makes one think of Asians but, with a name like Hugh Hacker, maybe he's black. Many people hate the Federation. There's a weird aspect to religion and a sort of police state and odd mining allegiances and local political strife. There is a usual gimmick with a magic drug called "pomum". And the ecologist (and the title) is all about this magic "fierce, calming presence" which appears to be how you're supposed to handle 'gulls' (and people). So perhaps a black/Asian dystopia has taken over the earth and put its thumb on the asteroid miners who are maybe cloned from Irish stock where crazy bird/man things have been engineered for no apparent reason (or this is a fantasy land where Ceres has native life) and the standard cloak-and-dagger plot ensues, involving the weird lifeforms and the drug.

If you like "show, don't tell" then this is the story for you because absolutely nothing of this assemblage of oddities is explained and almost none of it makes any sense on a literal level and it's not interesting enough to try to decipher on any symbolic level that may or may not be there. I look forward to reading other reviews on the web to understand why either this story is such a mess or I've made such a mess reading it. I prefer "show, don't tell" myself, when it skillfully exposes a sensible milieu or indicates why it might seem to be nonsensical.

"Pollution", Don Webb (Short Story)

This is a "Nippophile" zombie story. I looked again, and, yes, the cover still said "Analog". See, these zombies have been infected with a virus and their eyes and brains have been replaced with machinery and they've been turned into slaves (much like Martin's "Override" - published during Bova's relatively brief tenure at Analog - and others). The title refers to the socially "unclean" concept rather than the ecological one. Our protagonist is an American who is doing his best to turn Japanese. He also meets Japanese outcasts and tries to befriend one of them. He is as successful at each as one might expect. I disliked this vigorously and it is (intentionally) exceedingly unpleasant and portrays really repugnant aspects of society and people including the protagonist but it must be said to be technically adequate.

Quachri will be getting letters about this one, though.

"The Oracle of Boca Raton", Eric Baylis (Short Story)

Two and a half pages of metafiction that takes much more effort than two and a half pages should, which riffs Leiber's The Silver Eggheads, though it's pointed at a different personality. If Kay Tarrant were still around, it'd be a page and a quarter. Summary: A guy talks with another guy about prying good ideas for South Park-like "profit!" using stored crazy visionary personalities. Whee.

"Wind Reaper", John Hakes (Short Story)

Two pages on a post-collapse world in which crazy people fly planes into storms to harvest energy. The mayor of a town has built energy collectors of her own and is displeased when her storm is powered down. The political and entreprenurial elements are faced with a problem. Pretty cool and concise tale with, appropriately, a lot of energy.

"First Contact: Moms Rule", Diane Turnshek (Probability Zero)

I guess it's inappropriate to expect much from this page but.... A joke built up from a first contact gift-trading scenario.

"It's Not 'The Lady or the Tiger?', It's 'Which Tiger?'", Ian Randal Strock (Short Story)

I'm an Asimov fan but Asimov's Asimov. This story is just as talky as "Oracle" and neither of these guys is Asimov. It starts as a chat with a bartender which becomes a chat with a time traveling grandson that deals with entreprenurial matters and one's mission in life. The title referencing another story is appropriate as the contents are also nothing but previously used parts.

"Whaliens", Lavie Tidhar (Short Story)

If "Pollution" wasn't metafictional enough for you, there's "Oracle" and if that wasn't metafictional enough for you, here's "Whaliens". On Rigel, have we got a rabbi! A tale of "hyper-advanced space whales", the secret cat domination of the world, and barbs at John W. Campbell himself, and libertarians, scientologists, Mormons, Jews, and most everybody else. I have to confess that this was the liveliest Tidhar story I've read and had a couple of spots where I actually laughed but it still seemed somehow a bit listless.

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

I finished the stories in this one by the 27th of January and it somehow took me the remaining time to read the last three parts of this serial. One of the characters becomes too omniscient all of a sudden and everything is resolved in a quick, easy, unearned way but this is more "disappointing because it could have been great" rather than "it was terrible". It was still a good read overall. (The rating below is for the final installment. The serial as a whole gets about a 2.5.)

Summary Fiction Ratings:

2.5"Wind Reaper", John Hakes (Short Story)
2"Lockstep", Part IV of IV, Karl Schroeder (Serial)
2"Pollution", Don Webb (Short Story)
2"Whaliens", Lavie Tidhar (Short Story)
1.5"It's Not 'The Lady or the Tiger?', It's 'Which Tiger?'", Ian Randal Strock (Short Story)
1"A Fierce, Calming Presence", Jordan Jeffers (Novelette)
1"First Contact: Moms Rule", Diane Turnshek (Probability Zero)
1"The Oracle of Boca Raton", Eric Baylis (Short Story)

Final Word: If you're really into the Schroeder serial or you must read a couple of SF poems or an interesting two page story, have at it. Otherwise, you can probably safely skip this issue. While I did enjoy the serial overall, I look forward to serial-free issues for awhile and more (hopefully good) novellas and novelettes and fewer bits of flash fiction.

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* These are only some of the errors in this month's issue. Before realizing how bad it was, I let some go, and I forgot to note some others, and I couldn't read one of the notes about another.