Analog Science Fiction and Fact v136n04, April 2016


Other reviews:
Colleen Chen, Tangent Online
Greg Hullender and Eric Wong, Rocket Stack Rank
Lähettänyt Tpi Klo: Tpi’s Reading Diary
Sam Tomaino, SF Revu
Various, Goodreads
Mark Watson, Best SF (forthcoming)

Seven Ways of Looking at the Sun-Worshippers of Yul-Katan • novelette by Maggie Clark ♥
Soap Opera • novelette by Edward M. Lerner ♥♥
Alloprene • short story by Stephen R. Wilk ♥♥
Early Warning • short story by Martin L. Shoemaker ♥
Sleep Factory • short story by Rich Larson ♥♥
Most Valuable Player • short story by Eric Choi ♥
Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs • novelette by Rosemary Claire Smith ♥♥
Playthings • novelette by Stephen L. Burns ♥♥♥

Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs • cover by Bob Eggleton
Internal artwork • Tomislav Tikulin, Vincent Di Fate
The Autumn of Modern Science • essay by Michael F. Flynn
Maggie Clark • biographical sketch by Richard A. Lovett
Composing Speculative Cities • essay by Mark C. Childs
Final Dispatch • poem by Robert Frazier
A Certain Uncertainty • essay by Edward M. Lerner
In Times to Come
The Reference Library • book reviews by Don Sakers
Brass Tacks • letters
Upcoming • by Anthony Lewis

I’ve been meaning to get back to reading Analog for a few months now and should have really started with the January issue; however, I was so taken by Bob Eggleton’s beautiful cover for this one that I picked up it up instead. One of the criticisms I made of a recent F&SF cover was that its limited colour palette made it look rather bland; there is a limited palette here too, but the painting glows.
On the debit side, I’m not sure there is a T. Rex in Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs, and it is a pity they couldn’t have moved the title of the magazine up the page and given the work a bit more room to breathe (the same criticism I have of Asimov’s SF).

Seven Ways of Looking at the Sun-Worshippers of Yul-Katan is the first of four novelettes in this issue. The main character is a woman who comes from a distant planet with a sun-worshipping religion, and she is on a science spaceship investigating a nearby planet when they pick up an emergency signal. They retrieve a lifepod and find one of the seventh plateau priests from her home world in stasis. This is surprising in a couple of ways: first, he is far from home; secondly, a priest’s final journey on his Ascension would be to the heart of the sun….
As they are trying to revive the priest from stasis, other members of the science team on the nearby planet are taken hostage and one of them is killed. The rest of the story concerns the resolution of this hostage crisis and her subsequent journey back to her home world for answers to why this happened.
This isn’t a bad story but I couldn’t really get into it, probably as there is nothing here I haven’t read a thousand times before. I also thought the story too long and the resolution rather perfunctory.
Soap Opera by Edward M. Lerner is the second novelette and describes itself perfectly, but perhaps not in the way the author intended. This one is set at the end of the radio age and the beginning of the TV one. A soap powder magnate wants the live organ music on his sponsored radio show replaced with pre-recorded material on vinyl discs. Subsequently, sales soar….
Ultimately, this story focuses more on (spoiler) a radio engineer trying to prevent the married magnate seducing one of the female radio show members than on the show’s subliminal messages. So the SF element in the story is really just stage dressing to what is, as I said above, a soap opera. On the plus side, it is a readable enough story.

Next up on the fiction front are the four short stories, and they are all short, less than twenty pages combined. Alloprene by Stephen R. Wilk is an interesting story about a man and a small robot paired up to complete some physical tests as part of an experiment. The only thing that stops this from being rated quite good is that it fizzles at the end.
Early Warning by Martin L. Shoemaker is a rather unlikely story about a man going back in time to convince his younger self to make up with his girlfriend and avoid twenty lost years. He shows his younger self the time math to prove that he is who he says he is but (spoiler) although the younger man agrees to make up with the girl he has other ideas….
Sleep Factory by Rich Larson is about a Nigerian couple who work at a facility where they jack in to control drones in Dubai, London, etc. They are woken up at the start of the story when there is a ‘neural surge’ that kills one of the other workers. They then discuss if they are going to continue this hazardous occupation or quit. This is rather like Stephen Wilk’s story above in that I enjoyed reading it but it but ultimately doesn’t amount to much in the end.
Most Valuable Player by Eric Choi is a slice-of-life squib about a baseball player who has lost his hand and become embittered. His brother-in-law, who is a mathematician, has been working with batting averages. This is the second1 of what will probably be several unrewarding stories about the minutiae of American sports that US magazine editors publish every year. I cannot recall one of these that has ever been any good.

The final two novelettes close out the fiction for this issue. Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs by Rosemary Claire Smith is the cover story and is about biologists and diamond prospectors going back in time to Antarctica in the Cretaceous period. There is a certain amount of light corporate and dinosaur intrigue between the two teams that are there. It is an easy enough, if shallow, read.
Playthings by Stephen L. Burns is a strange story of a policeman in a hierarchical society who is attempting to solve the murder of ‘regulators’, fixers for A and B class citizens who are virtually immune to the law:

Jomo sighed. “The world works like this, John: Class A citizens, and to a lesser degree the better connected Bs, are denied nothing. If they want it, or want to do it, then it is by definition not only legal but also desirable. They are almost completely insulated from lower status people, and the needs, opinions, and desires of those of us below them mean almost nothing to them. With me so far?”
“Yes.” I had never heard the unspoken rules stated so baldly before. Or so harshly. Some would consider what he had just said subversion, others an expression of class warfare that rose to the level of treason. p.91

The policeman eventually discovers that the murders may be related to children abducted for sex and for organ transplantation, but his ability to pursue this is limited by his supervisory AI and a conditioning drug he takes called Cop.Ascetic:

You’ve been discouraged from thinking about it. By social rules, cop culture and structure, and chemically. “
I could not argue with this assertion. Most of the regulators were Cs, occasionally a B. As a D, I was not permitted to even consider questioning the privacy, motives, or activities of a higher status citizen, especially one invested with a semi-official status. As for his last assertion, there were times I wondered what other effects Cop.Ascetic might have on me, but the drug itself kept such questions from gaining any meaningful traction. p.90-91

He eventually starts trying to work around his restrictions and subsequently receives aid from another quarter.
I’m not entirely sure that this all hangs together but there is enough that is interesting here, combined with a certain darkness and a slight Dickian vibe, to make it quite absorbing.

As the title says ‘Science Fiction and Fact’, there is more non-fiction than in most other magazines. The editorial space this is issue is given over to The Autumn of Modern Science by Michael F. Flynn. This essay is about the problems science has in the modern age, I think. It was hard to tell: either I am a lazy reader or this bounces around all over the place and tries to cram far too much in to too small a space. Have a look at the summarising last section and you will see what I mean. I would also point out there are eighteen (!) footnotes for a three and a half pages of text.
Composing Speculative Cities by Mark C. Childs is a fact article about cities in fiction that started interestingly enough but I ended up skimming. Part of the reason for this was that, in places, it feels like an endless list of questions:

Of course, buildings are not living organisms interacting in the city ecosystem. But what if they were? In a literal ecosystem of buildings, how might mutualism, parasitism, predator-prey dynamics, species invasions, or climate shifts play out? Might an invading big-box store eat local corner-groceries, a grove of house-trees encircle a playground meadow, or garbage beetles eat the fur shed by buildings in the spring? Might the well-considered undertakings of intelligent semi-mobile beach houses escaping a rising sea provide insight into how we might leave the Outer Banks? p.33-34

A Certain Uncertainty by Edward M. Lerner is a short ‘Alternate View’ essay about quantum mechanics and causality.
The Reference Library is a book review column by Don Sakers that starts with an introduction about various SF awards before he moves on to cover the latest Nebula Awards anthology and other books. I thought this a pretty good essay, in particular the way he contextualises what is reviewed, e.g., the aforementioned introduction, the mention of those who have been in Analog, won awards, etc. When he describes one book which has a plot that sounds rather fanciful he reassures by saying that the ‘author [ ] somehow makes the gimmick work…’, which was just what I needed. I look forward to reading more of his review columns.
Brass Tacks, Analog’s letters column, is only a couple of pages long this month which, recalling some of the tedious and/or barmy letters of the seventies and eighties, was a relief. However, some of the letters are as, ah, ‘entertaining’ as ever. Richard J. Armstrong from Ontario, Canada, weighs in on interstellar travel:

An isolated small community cannot spare the resources required to deal with its misfits, be they physical or psychological. The disabled/handicapped/challenged/insane and the criminal will have to be eliminated. Special facilities are expensive, and consume valuable human resources. p.107

Am I the only one who thinks that there is no point sending humans to the stars if you leave their humanity behind?
Elsewhere, Don Baker of Tulsa, Oklahoma, lets the editor know he doesn’t like some of the fiction:

Since I subscribe to Analog for diversion and entertainment, I stopped reading Mr. Sparhawk’s story [“Footprints in the Snow,” December 2015] after a couple of pages. In my book, pounding A Significant Liberal Message into a short story, repeating the point every single paragraph, doesn’t make good science fiction. If I want to hear an over-the-top conservative caricature talk like that, I can go listen to some of my family. The hard SF stories that Editor John Campbell used to print make much better reading [ ] than some of the nihilistic, dead end and depressing stories that Analog has, for some reason, recently seen fit to print. p.106

John W. Campbell died in 1971, forty-five years ago, and I think it is fairly widely accepted that Analog was in the doldrums for some considerable period before that.2
There are also one or two other bits and pieces of non-fiction: a biographical sketch, a poem, an upcoming conventions page, a next issue page, etc.

Overall, this is quite a disappointing issue: not only is the fiction not particularly good (with the exception of the Burns, and perhaps the Wilk and Larson) it seems be rather backward looking. I don’t have problems with time travel (two in this issue) or space opera stories (one) but you need to bring some quality or something original to the table. I can’t say I was that enamoured of some of the non-fiction either. Here’s hoping that other issues will prove superior.

On final note: there seems to be a single page piece referred to in some of the reviews I have subsequently read, Lonely Hearts of the Spinward Ring by Paddy Kelly, that is not included in the Kindle version.

  1. See also Diamond by Chris DeVito (F&SF, March-April 2016).
  2. For reviews of early 1960’s Astounding/Analog’s have a look at Galactic Journey.

Leave a Reply