Review: Analog, May 2014

[April 2014 Analog cover]

My issue was very late again and I was very disappointed to find that this issue is composed of almost nothing but short stories after anticipating a novella and novelettes after the serial ending. Serious thoughts of cancelling my subscription went through my head. (But, in all fairness, most of the short stories this time are fairly long short stories.)

Non-Fiction

In this month's guest editorial, Edward M. Lerner argues that when people ask "where's my flying car?" or otherwise express disappointment with the future that is our present, what we're really doing is bemoaning the lack of promised simplicity in our lives, as everything's more complicated. In a not particularly science factual Science Fact article, Karl Schroeder explains what his just concluded serial was doing regarding an STL space opera. (This is all well and good but Charles Sheffield and others have also written STL space operas.) This is followed by Richard A. Lovett's Biolog on Schroeder. (Apologies for last month's review - apparently Lovett's done a few of these each year since 2006 - I thought they'd been discontinued after Klein stopped, forgetting that I've read some of Lovett's.) John G. Cramer's Alternate View is about the thus-far-futile (shocked, I tell you) effort to make the dark matter business come out right. Don Sakers tardily reviews Webster's Past Masters in this issue. He also reviews more "retro-SF" (aka "fantasy"), exacerbating the problem I commented on last month. Brass Tacks deals with sloppy editing* and Dr. Stratmann's November Guest Editorial on the problems with the health care system.

There's also Robert Lundy's poem, "God May Love Us Today, But What About Tomorrow" which is about as annoying as the title would indicate, even though people really do need to be aware that the human race can be extinguished at any minute.

Science Fiction

"Cryptids", Alec Nevala-Lee (Novelette)

If you like implausible neo-lost-world horror stories where bad things happen in bad places, then this is for you. But I will grant that, allowing for a character reveal late in the story which was presented as a surprise but was no surprise at all, this is a very effectively written, very unpleasant, and pulse-elevating tale. An entomologist is talked into going to an obscure island by a former student who is now a drug company researcher on the trail of biological poisons that can be turned into drugs. Things go rapidly and catastrophically downhill from there.

"In Perpetuity", Ellis Morning (Short Story)

I thought this moon-based tale was well-written and intriguing (if a little paint-by-numbers and too focused on making sure it touched all the bases - can't see gestures in spacesuits, check; should have someone check your suit, check; head honcho has real earth wood, check; etc.) until I reached the end and felt like I'd missed something, as the story seemed to end in a completely insignificant way. I still feel that way after a reluctant re-read.

It opens with two guys finding ilmenite where it isn't likely to be (which, aside from such a thing likely being beneficial to a lunar colony if it were present in quantity, seems to be as much a red herring as the references to a female scientist of interest to one of the selenologists which goes nowhere) and continues with one of them going to the head of the Information Science department to get some help with the rock. Meanwhile, the budget axe is falling and we learn that Project Alexandria and the IS department is being shut down. The IS head retreats to his time capsule and one of the selenologists goes after him. There appears to be a daring theme of the short-sightedness of bean counters and the need to take the long view, but not much plot or characterization to go with it. And (huge paper fan, here) what good is producing a library that doesn't require power or special technology when it's on the moon? That requires some power or special technology in the first place unless you somehow (massive loads of ilmenite, about which we've been told nothing?) create a self-sustaining lunar colony. But then, as hinted at in places, you have a large permanent human presence which introduces instability, taking away many of the preservative virtues of the moon as we know it. Strange story.

"Bodies in Water", Sarah Frost (Short Story)

We don't know why we're in a post-collapse dystopia but it doesn't seem to be a nuke war or anything. So we also don't know why the protagonist is physically damaged. But she finds an old robot fish and - skip the rest of this if you don't want the "plot" spoiled, but this is a theme/symbol story whose plot doesn't really matter - after a hurricane that washes away a starship wreck, she returns it to the sea. Uh huh.

"Our New Overlords", Jerry Oltion (Probability Zero)

Despite an ending as tiresomely cliched as the title, this tale of our qualifying for joining the galactic continuum of folks due to our achievement in 1969, and perhaps failng to stay qualified and reap any benefits due to our regression since, was very funny and sad.

The United States, of course, deliberated fiercely in congress for a month and a half before giving NASA the authorization [for a space mission] and a budget of a dollar thirty-eight.

"Snapshots", Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Short Story)

I originally thought this was going to be a story about race but it turned out to be about gun control. I guess Rusch either thinks that gun violence is an "inner city" problem (isn't it nice when the left and right wings come together?) or that she can capitalize on tragedies like Emmett Till's to push emotional buttons on her gun control topic. Either way, she ends up spending much of her story's energy on labors unrelated to its point. Also, it's not science fiction at all until the end and then, while there might be non-facist ways to ameliorate gun violence, she opts for proposing one that is fascist but cops out with a lady or the tiger sort of ending, morally.

"Repo", Aaron Gallegher (Short Story)

This convoluted story is one where I think the author outsmarted himself. It involves the excellent idea of a woman repossessing a spaceship and nicely complicates matters by adding a man in another ship who's intent on "repossessing" the guy who owned the ship the protagonist has taken (whom the woman claims to have no interest in), even if they improbably intersect in the small region between the moon and Pluto. But then it goes on with reversal after reversal of each of them trying to get the upper hand or come to some sort of truce. An example of a highly problematic element is where the man has moved his ship away from the repo'ed ship and locked the woman out of the latter, yet falls for it when she pretends to have gotten aboard his ship when it hasn't been moved and then, when he comes out of the airlock, she is waiting just outside of it, though she has threatened to shoot him from his own ship but would have thus relinquished her supposed ability to do so. And so on. But, if you can ignore problems like that, this was pretty nifty.

"Another Man's Treasure", Tom Greene (Short Story)

Something in me responds badly to hyper-negative tales that feel manipulative and this tale of a widow scrabbling through a toxic landfill looking for anything of value in an impoverished future while feeding her kids rat scraps and trying to deal with the thugs who rip off the pitiful fruits of their dangerous labor suffers from that. Surprising, no? But this was a gripping tale, nonetheless, and I liked the "you never know what random information may be useful" motif as well as the vigorous and novel literalization of the trite title phrase.

Back on the negative, there's also a problem with the ending that I can't get into without spoilers. I'm also not sure of the science of the story, in that there is anaerobic decay as decay (or at least transformation) can hinge on more than just aerobic micro-organisms.

"All Human Things", Dave Creek (Short Story)

If you are Dave Creek, you probably want to quit reading. (Sorry.)

In my head, I read most of this story in the overly loud, overly earnest way of a bad actor because that was really the only way to read the truly bad dialog (as well as some narrative voice) in this completely emotionally inauthentic tale of the godlessness of artificially created humans, of the pathetic nature of people who live mostly in virtual reality (a theme in Analog I am thoroughly sick of), and, oh yeah, of an alien invasion of the earth. The ending is as badly acted and inauthentic as most of the rest. This is one of these no-kidding, "stop and scratch your head and wonder how something like this got published" sorts of stories. Thing is, this is one of a series of stories and I've apparently read at least one of them and don't recall it being remarkably bad - I don't remember it at all. Anyway, this gets a Penguin of Disapproval.

Summary Fiction Ratings:

2.5"Another Man's Treasure", Tom Greene (Short Story)
2.5"Cryptids", Alec Nevala-Lee (Novelette)
2.5"Repo", Aaron Gallegher (Short Story)
2.5"Our New Overlords", Jerry Oltion (Probability Zero)
1.5"Snapshots", Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Short Story)
1.5"In Perpetuity", Ellis Morning (Short Story)
1.5"Bodies in Water", Sarah Frost (Short Story)
1"All Human Things", Dave Creek (Short Story)

Final Word: Though I can't see my way to giving the Greene or Nevala-Lee 3s or of giving the Gallegher or Oltion 2s, the first two are probably the pieces most people would enjoy most and I actually liked the Greene in a way, but there's really not much to this issue.

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* There was one typo in a fact article I neglected to record, as well as at least

Spoiler warning! for "Another Man's Treasure". Go back! or (in graphical browsers, highlight the text and) continue:

The spoiler is in revealing that the ending is positive when, given the brutality of the bulk of it, I was expecting a negative ending and the problem is that, while it's certainly earned in the specifics of the moment, it just felt too easy given the overall scope of her life and that society.