Review: Analog, November 2014

[November 2014 Analog cover]

This month's issue mostly brings us AIs, crimes, and ecotastrophes. Continuing the inconsistency, this issue is better than the last but needs to be much better still. But note: while the cover art is not good, it is actually illustrating an actual cover story!

Non-Fiction

In yet another guest editorial, this time by Howard V. Hendrix, the question "To Vax or Not to Vax" is posed. Since Analog internally has titles in all caps, the computer-inclined among us maybe excused for thinking of VAX computers but it's being used here as a silly abbreviation for "vaccination". Hendrix goes on a political rant in which he considers the refusal to get vaccinations due to crazy government conspiracy theories to be a symptom of the widespread problem of general unreason. I have a one link rebuttal to that: "How the CIA's Fake Vaccination Campaign Endangers Us All". Now, one would hope the US government would never do such things to its own citizens and certainly nothing any worse than that and some people may think the fluoride is corrupting their precious bodily fluids but some may reasonably distrust government officials with drones, wiretaps, or just needles. Regardless, this is hardly the bucking of conventional wisdom that Analog editorials are famous for. Hendrix says vaccinations are good. Goin' out on a limb there, bud.

W.R.L. Anderegg's Science Fact article, "Predictable Futures: Climate Fiction and Climate Fact" accomplishes the unusual feat of being a Fact article with zero footnotes to any substantiation (and messes up the attempted parallelism to Analog's subtitle by referring to an older version of it). While the Analog readership may tilt conservative/libertarian, it definitely tilts scientific, so I doubt there are all that many among its readership who deny climate change but I still figure Quachri will get a few letters on this and no one, whatever their viewpoint, should be impressed by this article which is to science fact as these reviews are to professional reviews. ;) But it does try to perform a valuable service by encouraging more science fictional stories - even if I hope it fails in this specific mission because I've read too many climate change stories already, thanks. Let's just do what we can to ameliorate the problem as much and as soon as possible in fact and be more creative in fiction.

Jeffrey D. Kooistra's "Blast from the Past Part 1" is this month's Alternate View in which he rhapsodizes about Tesla at the expense of Marconi (which is at least an alternate view but posits a false dichotomy when it's not so simple as either). We'll get more of the same next month.

If I didn't feel it was a part of the general CYA pre-emptive strike of the non-fiction pieces propagandizing the direction of the fictional changes, I'd appreciate Don Sakers' prefatory essay to The Reference Library in which he says we shouldn't let politics dictate the fiction we enjoy but should like to encounter different and even opposing viewpoints as part of SF's general mission of expanding ideas. I agree, up to the point that politics damages the fiction, of course. Some authors can even get away with speeches and tracts but most authors need to remember to put the story first. Anyway, he then goes on to review seven military SF novels of varying kinds.

And, as always, the non-fiction is rounded out with some letters in Brass Tacks.

Science Fiction

"Persephone Descending", Derek Kunsken (Novelette)

"Persephone Descending" is marred by an implausible political background in which we are to believe, e.g., Quebec has seceded from Canada and has the resources to colonize Venus, and by an implausible ecosystem of native Venusian life floating in the clouds. Perhaps also by focusing almost exclusively on a single character who, while given what should be sufficient characterization by her connections to the political and ecological milieus and her life and death struggle, still remained rather vague and mechanical for me. (She's caught up in political fighting - some Venusians want to secede from Quebec - by being head of the Engineering Union, despite being apolitical herself, and demonstrates her toughness and engineering skills throughout.) These would seem to be insurmountable flaws but the ecology, plausible or not, is so interesting and creative and so much fun that it ought to be plausible and the tried-and-true narrative strategy is executed in an above-average way with the ending actually kept in suspense and the struggle made extremely difficult and gripping through multiple stages.

"Superior Sapience", Robert R. Chase (Short Story)

Something's not right at the company called "Superior Sapience", which uses autistics and hypnagogics (intuitive dreamers) as a "football team" of intelligence (different skill sets being valued for their contribution to the team effort), treating the conditions not as defects but alternative modes of thinking. This story feels about as far from PKD as possible, but is akin to Clans of the Alphane Moon in this regard. The HR guy is fired when he looks into it too closely, and rehired by the big boss when his evidence is looked at, but that's only the beginning of the conspiracy. This has some interesting ideas but is thinly and conventionally plotted and is all in the service of a rather flat, bald, literal final statement.

"An Exercise in Motivation", Ian Creasey (Short Story)

An AI researcher is stuck on a problem - he has developed AIs but they can only be pointed at a problem and react. He wishes them to be self-starters - they need self-motivation. (The issue is complicated by several strictures he puts on the acceptable types of, and routes to, motivation.) So he brings in a psychologist-type and she and the story proceed to reduce humanity to status-seekers and decide to make the AIs seek status as well. The story is ambivalent about itself, though, as it should be. Not particularly compelling.

"Habeas Corpus Callosum", Jay Werkheiser (Short Story)

A very interesting idea that must have been done many times before, but I actually can't recall examples: what would happen to people with "life sentences" if immortality became widely available? This story explores a repentant killer, the bereaved mother of the victim, and this idea. It perhaps doesn't have the aesthetic chops to fully carry the weight of this very deep and emotional content but it makes a good effort at it. It might be easy for each individual to answer the question simply to their satisfaction, but it wouldn't be easy for everyone to answer it the same way, so this is an interesting weighing of several viewpoints.

"Conquest", Bud Sparhawk (Short Story)

When a story starts, "High Imperator Dax Fusioner, Commander of the Imperial Empire's Conqueror Class warship Raptor, scanned the status board as the starship prepared to emerge and return to real space," it's safe bet the story is supposed to satirical or comic but this just isn't funny. The High Imperator must adapt to changed conditions when he attempts to bring a system into line but has taken too long in transit to do so in this overly long (less than four pages) story.

"Elysia, Elysium", V.G. Campen (Short Story)

This is a story which ties in with the climate-change article as a guy from one post-catastrophe culture interacts with another in an adequately done tale whose idea can't be stated because the story seems to intend to save it as an ending "a-ha".

"Mercy, Killer", Auston Habershaw (Short Story)

This tale of a medical AI named "Mercy" facing trial for the murder of another AI is annoying in that it initially reminds me of David H. Keller's "The Revolt of the Pedestrians" (1928, Amazing) and then seems like it's going to be a riff on Isaac Asimov's "The Feeling of Power" (1958, If) but then goes off in a completely different and very uninspired direction. And, even if it hadn't, while the first story is neat and the second is excellent, I don't know that repeating them would be a great thing to attempt, either.

"Flow", Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Novella)

Somebody needs to smack Quachri and these authors who don't know how to write story series. A story series is a series of complete stories which build upon and resonate with each other. This is a stealth serial (like Lerner's "Championship B'tok" and Flynn's "The Journeyman: Against the Green" and others). More middle. Worse, this middle doesn't even have any plot. Like the previous installment, you get the idea the author genuinely loves his setting but it doesn't do anything for me. This story of a geologically far future earth (which also fits the climate change motif) focuses on the other brother (not Daryl) as he wanders around the river and the theocracy further down it until he finally (and oh so shockingly) gets in trouble with them and, in a jarringly repulsive scene, begins to make his escape. This has a lot of the same virtues and flaws as the other one but has many more flaws and the one virtue of more cleanly exposing the milieu than, ironically, the first one. Andrews also got plenty of buck for not much bang - I got sick of the word-count-bloating "he carved this" and "he carved that" and the constant correction of the character's "dimward" to the theocracy's "east" and so on.

Summary Fiction Ratings:

3"Persephone Descending", Derek Kunsken (Novelette)
2.5"Habeas Corpus Callosum", Jay Werkheiser (Short Story)
2"Elysia, Elysium", V.G. Campen (Short Story)
2"An Exercise in Motivation", Ian Creasey (Short Story)
1.5"Mercy, Killer", Auston Habershaw (Short Story)
1.5"Superior Sapience", Robert R. Chase (Short Story)
1"Flow", Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Novella)
1"Conquest", Bud Sparhawk (Short Story)

Final Word: It's mostly a near-future Earth issue but there's a reasonable amount of topical variety. It includes a good, if flawed, story and another that's almost as good, but the bulk of the fiction and non-fiction is not particularly inspiring.

(BTW, shame on Analog again. I'm not going to enumerate them but I probably noted about half the typos and came up with seven in this issue, which is above the acceptable professional threshold.)