Colleen Chen, Tangent Online
Greg Hullender and Eric Wong, Rocket Stack Rank
Lähettänyt Tpi Klo, Tpi’s Reading Diary
John Loyd, There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch
Sam Tomaino, SFRevu
Editor, Trevor Quachri; Assistant Editor, Emily Hockaday
Nexus • novella by Michael F. Flynn ***
Europa’s Survivors • novelette by Marianne J. Dyson *
Eli’s Coming • short story by Catherine Wells ***
Time Heals • short story by James C. Glass *
Shakesville • short story by Adam-Troy Castro and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro ***+
Host • novelette by Eneasz Brodski **
The Snatchers • short story by Edward McDermott *
Unbearable Burden • short story by Gwendolyn Clare **
Hidden Intentions • short story by Mary E. Lowd
Grandmaster • short story by Jay O’Connell ***
Alexander’s Theory of Special Relativity • short story by Shane Halbach ∗∗
Concerning the Devastation Wrought by the Nefarious Gray Comma and Its Ilk: A Men in Tie-Dye Adventure • short story by Tim McDaniel *
Ecuador vs. the Bug-Eyed Monsters • short story by Jay Werkheiser *
The Human Way • novelette by Tony Ballantyne ***+
Plaisir d’Amour • novella by John Alfred Taylor ***
Cover • Tomislav Tikulin
Interior artwork • Vincent Di Fate, Kevin Speidell, Josh Meehan, Joel Iskowitz
Future-Proofing the Near Future: Design Fiction for Global Education • editorial by Nickolas Falkner
Sustainability Lab 101: Cuba as a Simulation of Possible Futures • essay by Stanley Schmidt
Barriers • poem by J. Northcutt, Jr.
Hypothesis/Assertion • poem by Daniel D. Villani
Testing the Neutrino Hierarchy • essay by John G. Cramer
In Times to Come
The Reference Library • by Don Sakers
Brass Tacks • letters
Upcoming Events • by Anthony R. Lewis
There are two particularly good stories in this issue: the first is The Human Way by Tony Ballantyne. This starts with the narrator driving in a Ferrari 456 on an almost completely deserted planet. It isn’t long before we find out that an autonomous AI built the infrastructure for human settlers who never arrived. We also learn that the (female) narrator is a soldier in the second Antarctic Army, and they are on the planet looking for the kidnappers of an alien ‘S.’ As she is driving she sees a woman and two children:
My attention focused in on what the scanners revealed to be a woman and two children, standing blown by the sea breeze at the edge of a wide parking area. I opened up a visual channel, zoomed in. They’d seen me coming. They were waving at me to stop.
“Can you see this, Captain?”
I tapped at my console, brought up the weapons systems.
“I’ve got a clear line on their upper vertebrae. If I take out the adult first, I’d be able to pick off the children before they make it for cover. Get the heads plugged into life support before brain anoxia sets in…
Captain Elton thought it over.
“. . . no. The scan shows the area’s clear. We’ll take a risk. See what they want. “
We’ll take a risk? I thought. What’s this “we”? Still, that’s what I was there for. . .
I stepped down my weapon systems. I could see the woman clearly with my own eyes, now. She was shortish with dark curly hair and looked nothing like a soldier. Still, who does nowadays? I guided the car to a halt right beside her and pushed open the passenger door. p. 147-8
The rest of the story involves the army’s search for the S, and it is a fast paced, lively and inventive account:
. . . And all the windows on the train shattered, all at once. A wide band of dust arced to the side, flickering as it engaged with a bullet pattern sweeping down from my right, and then I was rolling, checking the feed from my satellite, firing off to the top corner, rolling again, off the platform, onto the tracks, four more shots. . . .
That’s the euphoria of battle. You need to take a couple of hours to sit back and replay it in slo-mo if you are to truly follow what has happened. In real time, this battle ended in less than fifteen seconds with me pushing a metacarbon knife deep into the belly of a Dalkeith mercenary, just as he grabbed hold of Joanna, me using my body mass to push him off his ridiculous chicken legs and bear him to the ground, my face up close to his, watching the life ebb from those grey eyes as I twisted the knife and sent the narcotic shock into his system.
And then normal time resumed, and I was panting, looking up at Joanna, seeing the horror in her eyes, aware of the blood on my face, hearing the shushing noise the magnetic dust swarm made as it returned to the container on my back. p. 155
The only thing that didn’t quite work for me was what the kidnappers hoped to achieve by kidnapping the S. It is explained earlier in the story that The Human Way wanted to start a war, but the final rambling conversation loses that focus somewhat. If it hadn’t been for this slight failing it would have been a very good story.
Sharing the honours with this story is Shakesville by Adam-Troy Castro and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro. This is a dense, philosophical piece about a man who has fifty quantum echoes of himself from the future in his apartment. They have all traveled back to warn him about a soon to occur fulcrum event that will decide his future path in life. But only one of them is the real ‘him.’
He was the one who told Me that the fifty familiar strangers who had just rung my doorbell, who had waited for Me to open it and had then marched through the threshold, were not of equal legitimacy.
Though they looked like the Me of tomorrow, the Me of five years from now, the Me of forty years from now, the Me who I could aspire to and the Me who I desperately needed to avoid becoming, and though they all claimed to have traveled here from their own particular versions of my future to offer vitally important but mutually contradictory advice, though they are all only projected duplicates who do not need to eat and drink and eliminate wastes, one of the fifty is more real than the others, since he reflects my true future and all the rest are merely flawed reflections created by an error in chronal translation. I did not have to reconcile the paradoxes. I just had to understand that the rest of my life depends on figuring out which Me is giving Me the proper information. p. 88
I’m not as familiar with Analog as I used to be, but this strikes me as a rather atypical piece for the magazine. It is also a very Malzbergian piece, both in its dense style and solipsistic agonising. I am not entirely sure what the story is about. Is it about the unknowability of the future? Not second guessing the life choices we make? Seizing control of our lives? Probably all of these and more. This is one that will reward repeated rereadings (maybe in the Best of the Year anthologies).
Following closely behind these two (perhaps it should be in the same group) is Plaisir d’Amour by John Alfred Taylor. This has a sociologist called Ben who joins the inter-solar system ship Agricola to do research on their society. A new species of humanity crews the ship:
Ben had watched videos of gibbons after someone told him that Ceelies reminded him of the great apes. Not really like gibbons, he decided now, though his companions had the same long arms and short legs. But their chests were narrower, and their wrists normal—not the ball-and-socket joints that allowed gibbons to brachiate from tree to tree. No need to brachiate here.
Ben marveled at the arrogance of last century’s genetic engineers, their ruthless decision to remake humanity for space. Homo sapiens sapiens caelestis. He wondered how happy Ceelies were in their niche. p. 161
Over the next few months he roams the ship interviewing and observing the inhabitants and their society:
Wu messaged Ben that he’d want to attend the mass wedding. Ben wouldn’t miss it for the world, because it was a ritual special to what he privately called his tribe.
Ellen couldn’t come—something about a new crop of lettuce.
The stretch of Main Street outside Wu’s office was magic with blue light. There was low synthesizer music, seemingly East Indian with a drone, but shot through with pizzicati-like birdsong. Wu was holding onto the apex of a conical frame with his toes, and the couples to be married were in an arc at the base. They were dressed fresh from the ship’s fabbers: the grooms, whether immigrants from L5 or citizens of Agricola, wore navy blue studded with tiny gold stars; the brides wore peach. Ben was close in because he wanted to hear the words, but there was no need—the ceremony was unobtrusively amplified.
The marriage service was simple and dignified. After the wedding vows, the newcomers promised to accept and uphold the ship’s articles, and Wu granted them a share in Agricola. Ben realized they weren’t just marrying their partners, they were wedding the ship as well: a new twist on exogamy. p. 174
During his stay, Ben falls in love with Ellen, the woman who was his guide when he first arrived. Both of them are aware that their relationship will be strictly time-limited and that he will leave the ship at the end of his visit.
And that is pretty much it for this low-key slice-of-life piece. There is no plot as such, and only the slightest of narrative arcs, so it is a measure of the writer’s skill that this is an absorbing story.
I have a minor criticism, which is that the first line of this piece is one of the worst I’ve read:
Ben Niehaus knew all about tribes and moieties and phratries, endogamy and exogamy, as well as the pitfalls of participant observation, but never imagined falling in love. p. 161
I had to look up four words and, even after I had, that sentence still didn’t make much sense.
There are other good stories in the issue too, three of which are time travel stories (this is one of the themes of this issue). Nexus by Michael F. Flynn initially appears as if it is just a straightforward example of that sub-genre, but it ends up with considerably more moving parts. But I’m getting ahead of myself. . . .
It starts with a time traveller in a bar who recognises a woman on the TV news (she has just saved a baby from a burning building). He realises that he recognises her from a earlier trip to the past, and wonders if she is the person who has wiped out his timeline. When he leaves the bar two events happen in short succession: he gets in a fight with three guys trying to steal his van, which is actually a time machine in disguise, and sees them off, only to have a monstrous alien appear and pursue him as he is getting in the van. He quickly shifts to another time. Later, he picks the woman up and interrogates her, coming to the conclusion that he may actually be the one who has annihilated his timeline.
After this relatively straightforward opening, the tale becomes considerably more complicated, and introduces (multiple spoilers) an Air Force officer called Zendahl who is actually a member of a secret alien community on Earth called the Apakallu (some are purebred, others are ‘reverts’ or are genetically modified to fit in with humanity like he is). They have noticed the alien creature’s appearance on Earth: it is an aggressive species they call a headhunter, and an enemy of their race from the ancient past. He and two others are tasked to investigate.
In short order we find out more about the alien, who may cause the end of life of Earth if it gets its ship repaired and summons the rest of its people, and are also introduced to a Pentagon analyst called Annie, who is actually an android, as well as Jane, a telepathic PI, who is investigating the fire the baby was saved from. This may all sound a little kitchen sink, and it feels a little like that to begin with, but the writer manages to blend these various elements together quite well. I didn’t entirely buy it, but it is an entertaining enough piece.
Eli’s Coming by Catherine Wells is a time-travel story that gets off to a clichéd start in the present (arrogant CEO/founder/owner swans around the company building doing his own thing) but improves as he travels to 67 CE, just as the Romans are due to breach the walls of Masada. The people inside the town are about to start committing suicide to avoid falling into the hands of the Romans.
This is one of those time travel tales that are really a historical story in disguise, but there’s a clever twist ending I didn’t see coming.
Grandmaster by Jay O’Connell opens with a woman writer reading her sleeping husband’s overnight work on a collaborative manuscript before she continues the piece. A knock at the door disturbs her, and she opens it to find that the visitor is a strangely dressed young woman. The writer invites her into the apartment and discovers the woman is a time-traveller who can only stay for five minutes in this time period. The time-traveller wants to use that time to tell the writer that she should have been given a Grandmaster (Nebula) award in the future but wasn’t. The time-traveller shows the writer a smartphone with a mocked-up picture of the award, explaining she couldn’t bring any physical objects back. The writer asks:
“No twonkies allowed?”
The girl shakes her head. “Artifacts brought back from the future? No’’
“It’s not fair that you know my made up words but I don’t know yours.”
The girl shimmers. “No it’s not, I guess.”
“Memories?” the woman says quickly. “You leave those?”
The girl nods. “Oh yes! Yes, you should remember this. Um.” She checks her screen. “There’s more I wanted to say but the ligature is collapsing. I’m almost done. Can we hug?” She asks.
The woman nods grimly. “Why not?”
The embrace lasts only a few seconds. “Thank you,” the words whispered hotly in her ear smell like peppermint. And without any transitional oddness, the woman finds herself completely alone again, the whiff of candy still in her nostrils. p. 125
The ‘twonkies’ reference suggests the writer is C. L. Moore (and the sleeping husband Henry Kuttner). I didn’t quite understand the point of the piece until I had a quick look on Wikipedia,1 which states that a later husband quashed the proposal of a Nebula Grandmaster Award for Moore due to the writer’s advanced Alzheimer’s, for fear of the upset and confusion it might have caused her.
The story is a touching tribute, and it’s fitting that it has appeared in Analog (Astounding published many of Moore/Kuttner/Padgett/etc.’s best stories).
One minor point: the Vichy France references at the beginning made me think the story was set there until I was further on.
The also-rans include a few that are OK, such as the Brodski and Clare stories, but don’t entirely work for whatever reason. Host by Eneasz Brodski is about a boy called Julian, who lives on an outer system habitat and regularly skips school. During one of these absences he attempts to get to the other side of the habitat and reunite with a friend who has moved. During this preamble we also learn of the Abominations, who have attacked and destroyed habitats around Neptune. Once Julian arrives at the other side of the habitat he is caught up in an attack. The Abominations are zombie/Borg-like humans whose bite infects the recipient and thereafter links it to the hive mind. There are also a number of sidebars that present more philosophical material. Ultimately there are interesting parts to this but it doesn’t entirely convince.
Unbearable Burden by Gwendolyn Clare Is narrated by an AI who talks about his own existence and that of several others, one of whom has committed suicide. This is quite interesting as far as it goes but is little more than the opening act in a longer piece. The obvious editorial response should have been, ‘Where is the rest of it?’
Alexander’s Theory of Special Relativity by Shane Halbach has a time machine malfunction causing a woman to return to her partner after eleven years in the future, whereas only ten minutes have passed for him. Relationship difficulties ensue.
Europa’s Survivors by Marianne J. Dyson has a narrator called Carrie, a scientist with terminal cancer who goes to a research outpost on Europa. On landing her spaceship punches through a thin ice layer to the station which is below below a thicker protective one, the ship damaging one of the pumps that stops the access shaft freezing shut on the way through. After landing she meets Dr Lee, her fellow research scientist, and Olsen, who runs operations. Lee then goes out in a pod to recover a filter on the damaged pump, runs into difficulties, and gets stuck in ice at the surface, a high radiation environment. Cassie goes out in another pod to rescue him.
The other part of the story is the science nugget, which is about the bacteria in the filter. These bacteria may be of Europan origin (or are maybe just contamination from Earth). The scientists want to recover them as they are radiation resistant and propagate few mutations in their DNA.
For some, this will be an OK story, I guess, but there are several things you’ll need to overlook to think so. Apart from the two-dimensional characters (Cassie and Olsen start flirting like teenagers almost immediately they meet), I could also have done without the cutesy artificial pets they all have to monitor their health. There is also a ridiculous attitude to risk for people in such a hazardous environment: when Lee is in trouble, Cassie just decides she is going to go off and rescue him. No risk assessment, no chain of command, etc. I would suggest this is just not how people would conduct themselves in this type of environment. Well, not unless they all want to experience quick and horrible deaths. There is also an ending that you can see coming a mile off and one which is far too pat, not to say mawkish (you can probably guess what it is from what I’ve described already).
Time Heals by James C. Glass has a man going back in time to kill the abusive stepfather he had as a boy. He learns something that makes him change his mind about the man. A rather unengaging by-the-numbers time-travel story, with any possible paradox questions sidestepped; and another mawkish ending.
The Snatchers by Edward McDermott is about ‘snatchers’ who go back in time to seize the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery from Corsica in1944. Once the narrator and his female accomplice get there they start carrying out their plan. This is well enough done for the most part—there are various complications, including Time’s attempt at killing them to restore the status who—but its pessimistic end is rather abrupt.
Hidden Intentions by Mary E. Lowd is an awful, twee Probability Zero piece (is there any other kind?) about a dragon like alien being irritated by a small child she is babysitting. Solution: put her in a spacesuit and fool her into going into the airlock, before spacing her for an hour’s peace and quiet.
Concerning the Devastation Wrought by the Nefarious Gray Comma and Its Ilk: A Men in Tie-Dye Adventure by Tim McDaniel starts with a man waking up in the middle of the night to find two men digging up the plants in his garden. They later explain to him that these plants attract butterflies, and that certain instances of butterflies flapping their wings cause tornadoes, cyclones, hurricanes, etc. Leaden humour.
Ecuador vs. the Bug-Eyed Monsters by Jay Werkheiser is an SF sports story: these are generally not my cup of tea and this one proved no exception. An Ecuadorian football team play football in an orbiting alien habitat where the low grav environment and Coriolis effects caused by its rotation cause the players difficulties. Added to this are a rivalry between two players for a woman, and suspicion about the opposing alien teams’s intentions. I found the game play descriptions boring and ended up skimming through those parts of the story.
The Cover by Tomislav Tikulin illustrates the Flynn story. I’m not a big fan of alien covers, at least not on current day magazines.
There is the usual postage stamp size Interior artwork by Vincent Di Fate, Kevin Speidell, Josh Meehan, and Joel Iskowitz. I’m curious: is the art the same size in the physical edition? I presume they shrink it for the digital version, but can’t think why.
Future-Proofing the Near Future: Design Fiction for Global Education by Nickolas Falkner is an interesting editorial that if, I recall correctly (my summary note disappeared), starts off talking about the moon landings and segues into ‘design fiction’ being written to aid education in the future. I think these two quotes will give you a flavour:
Many works by science fiction authors in the area of space exploration are examples of what Bruce Sterling has referred to as “design fiction,” a term coined by Julian Bleecker of Near Future Laboratory.’ Design fiction is “the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” This is not just storytelling; this is designing prototypes and examples of a world that has somehow been changed. In this changed world, we now have new possibility, and this provides room in which creative human thought can posit solutions and pathways to reach this new state.
The design fiction may not be real, but it allows visions of new possibilities. p. 5
Many authors portray a system rejected by the American pragmatists one hundred years ago, not reflecting what we do in 2016. Education has changed and improved. Active learning, where students participate in the educational activity, is now used much more frequently, because it increases student performance. Student creativity is harnessed. Groups are used to form highly effective learning clusters. Educators now have serious debates as to whether they should expose students to a sequence of lectures (with an information retention rate around 20%) when they could be working with the students in active learning (retention around 60%). p. 6
My heart sank a little when I read the last sentence: when I completed a postgraduate teacher training course in the mid-1990s, the lecturers were trying to nudge the profession to adopt pupil-centred learning (which I presume is analogous to active learning). To find they are still having a debate about it some twenty years later is really quite depressing. The idea that you only need to stand at the front of a class and talk at your pupils—thereby filling them up with education as if they are empty vessels—belongs with the dinosaurs.
Sustainability Lab 101: Cuba as a Simulation of Possible Futures by Stanley Schmidt is another interesting piece, this time about Cuba’s ‘Special Period,’ when the country had to make massive changes to its society in the late 1990s to respond to cancelled Russian oil imports. Schmidt notes that, while the Cubans managed this very well, and that the change to a lifestyle (more work on the land, more use of pushbikes, etc.) has health benefits, it would be better to not get into the situation in the first place, as they now have less leisure time, ability to travel, etc.
People who don’t have to live it have often extolled the supposed virtues of “the simple life.” Even this magazine, back in its Astounding days, published Fredric Brown’s short story “The Waveries,” in which some rather unusual aliens quietly made it impossible for Earth’s humans to continue using electricity, and everybody wound up happier with the quieter, more limited life that resulted. Much as I admire Fredric Brown, it has always seemed to me that that particular story glossed over the difficulties of the transition way too casually and made the end result look a lot rosier than I think it would be. p. 46
He then goes on to discuss the issue that almost no one mentions when they talk about resources or global warming, which is that any advances you make in tackling those problems will be undone by an ever-increasing population, and that latter issue is the one that needs to be urgently addressed. It’s hard not to like an article that reinforces your own opinions!
There are two poems in the issue, Barriers by J. Northcutt, Jr. and Hypothesis/Assertion by Daniel D. Villani, both of which struck me as rather ponderous.
Testing the Neutrino Hierarchy by John G. Cramer is a rather rarefied article on neutrino mass hierarchy.
The Reference Library by Don Sakers starts with a potted history of action/adventure SF. Unfortunately, this kind of thing just brings out the nit-picker in me:
The New Age period of the 1960s and 1970s was largely idea-oriented, although quintessential New Age author Michael Moorcock produced his own share of action/adventure SF. p. 194-195.
It’s ‘New Wave’ not ‘New Age,’ an error that occurs twice. Although he did produce some adventure SF during that period (The Ice Schooner) Moorcock produced mostly fantasy.
Some of the reviews are of work that could be described as ‘product,’ i.e. StarCraft Evolution by Timothy Zahn, an entry in a ‘military science fiction media franchise,’ but there are also reviews of books from Bova, Spinrad, Dickson, etc.
Brass Tacks has an interesting letter form Robert P. Odenweller of Bernardsville, New Jersey:
I first started reading Astounding in 1948 or 1949, and have been a subscriber for almost all of the years since. Until recently, I have read each issue from cover to cover, but some stories in the last few years have just not worked; they happen to be those written in present tense, with a few notable exceptions.
Where this style of writing came from puzzles me, but I’ve been told that it is normal for People magazine, which I have never seen, so cannot comment. The voice of the story is important, and this style loses me. One such story recently was so difficult to follow that I gave up on it, a great rarity for me. p. 200
That is almost seventy years as an Astounding/Analog reader.
There is also this from Elka Tovah Davidoff of Malven, Massachusetts:
I was frustrated that the Journeyman story in June didn’t have any “previously appeared in” notes. I spent the whole story trying to remember what had happened previously, and which characters we had seen before, which made it much harder to immerse myself in the story.
Conversely, I was thrilled that “Fall” in July /August started with a synopsis. I was able to begin the story with the backstory firmly in mind, and therefore enjoyed it much more. Please continue doing this for serial stories! p. 201
I mentioned the potential problems with series stories in a recent F&SF review. These sound like they are badly written and/or structured.
Overall a mixed bag, but there is a lot of good longer work so worth a look.
- From Wikipedia: She developed Alzheimer’s disease but that was not obvious for several years. She had ceased to attend the meetings when she was nominated to be the first woman Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America; the nomination was withdrawn at the request of her husband, Thomas Reggie, who said the award and ceremony would be at best confusing and likely upsetting to her, given the progress of her disease.