Bob Blough: 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
Jason McGregor: Featured Futures
Sam Tomaino: SFRevu
Editor, Trevor Quachri; Assistant Editor, Emily Hockaday
The Proving Ground • novella by Alec Nevala-Lee ♥♥♥
Twilight’s Captives • novelette by Christopher L. Bennett ♥
Orbit of Fire, Orbit of Ice • short story by Andrew Barton ♥
Long Haul • short story by Marie DesJardin ♥
Catching Zeus • short story by Tom Jolly ♥♥♥
Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns • short story by Marissa Lingen ♥
Throw Me a Bone • short story by Stanley Schmidt ♥
Dall’s Last Message • short story by Antha Ann Adkins ♥
The Last Mayan Aristocrat • short story by Guy Stewart ♥♥
The Shallowest Waves • novelette by Thoraiya Dyer and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro ♥♥♥
Necessary Illusions • short story by Tom Greene ♥♥♥+
Paradise Regained • short story by Edward M. Lerner ♥♥♥+
Briz • short story by Jay Werkheiser
Split Signal • short story by Joel Richards ♥♥♥
After the Harvest, Before the Fall • novelette by Scott Edelman ♥♥♥
Whending My Way Back Home • novelette by Bill Johnson ♥♥♥
Cover • Kurt Huggins
Interior artwork • by Eldar Zakirov, Josh Meehan,
Canons to the Left, Canons to the Right • editorial by James E. Gunn
Poetry • Ken Poyner, F. J. Bergmann
Rendezvous with a Comet: How ESA’s Rosetta Mission is Decoding Ancient Planetary Mysteries • science essay by Richard A. Lovett
The Discovery of Planet Proxima B • science essay by John G. Cramer
Biolog: Tom Greene • autobiographical essay by Richard A. Lovett
In Times to Come
The Reference Library • book reviews by Don Sakers
Brass Tacks • letters
It’s Anlab Time Again: The Analytical Laboratory
Upcoming Events • by Anthony R. Lewis
There are a couple of particularly good stories in this issue and a handful of good ones. The two that fall into the first category are the stories by Tom Greene and Edward M. Lerner.
In Necessary Illusions Tom Greene appears to be channelling early 1950’s Charles Harness, and I mean that in a good way:
Ilra took the corridor from her armory-boudoir and came into the Ouranos by the hidden door at the back. Her brother Pallaton already stood in his place on the raised Pontus at the center of the dome. Prismatic light from overhead colored the white skirts of his allcover, a twin of her own. Ilra walked with the small steps that her armored skirts allowed and mounted the Pontus. She found her place on Pallaton’s left, as always, by feeling through her slippers for the depression in the marble where generations of Successors had worn away the stone. p.118
She looked up at the inner surface of the dome, six meters overhead, at the amphorae in their copper brackets. Though most believed them to be purely decorative, the whole room was in fact a relic of the Ship, its secrets intelligible only to those in the line of succession. Ancient sensors, also salvaged from the Ship and concealed in commemorative arches built in every population center on Iolus, collected data on the emotional state of citizens who passed near them. Those data were transmitted here and rendered as a real-time map of the collective mood of the citizens in each region. There, in a scattering of vessels small as perfume bottles, twinkled the amber sense of purpose that suffused the pioneers in the Ilgezg mountains. There, in a barrel-sized tank representing the coastal towns, glowed the teal satisfaction of the newly prosperous merchant class. And here, at the apex of the dome, shone the steady crimson of the capitol itself. The sensor network had been used for the same purpose during the long generations of the Passage, giving the Auruspex ample warning of where trouble lay well before it could manifest. p. 120
This tale of the brother and sister rulers of a five hundred year old Terran colony called Iolus, and the Dey and Rakane representatives of a Galactic Empire seeking to absorb it, is gripping stuff. If it hadn’t been for the fact that it tails off a little towards the end this would have been a four-star job. Even with that minor criticism its engaging plot and succinct, lucid prose makes this a striking example of the ‘Good Old Stuff,’ and hopefully it is the start of a series. I look forward to seeing more of this writer’s work regardless.
The Biolog by Richard A. Lovett that follows the piece identifies Tom Green as an English professor at a community college in Massachusetts. It is not the kind of story you would expect from an academic.
The other highlight of the issue is Paradise Regained by Edward M. Lerner. This starts off as a fairly standard generation starship/devolved civilization story, although in this case the settlers reached their destination before it all started going wrong.
The hunter/gatherer-like protagonist wanders the winter landscape until he sees that his father has not completed the daily flag change at the ship. When he goes there he finds his father has died. Later, he has a conversation with the ship:
“Ship? How can I help you?”
“I don’t think you can.” As always, Ship’s colored lights blink just a little faster when it speaks. I do not know why. “At least not yet.”
“How did Father help you?”
“He taught you to read. And he waited.”
“Waited for what, Ship?”
“For me to finish.”
Father said Ship is always right. That, I remember, though I do not understand. Why make me promise to come back? To wait? To do nothing?
I say, “You must need something.”
“Yes,” Ship says. “I need helium-3.”
I think I understand. When his leg went bad, Father could not walk. “I will go. Where can I find this . . . helium?”
“Nowhere on Paradise,“ Ship says. “Perhaps on what you call Big Ship.”
I twitch. “How can I get to Big Ship?”
“What can I do?”
“Read the diary.”
I do not understand how reading helps Ship or me. “What else can I do?”
Ship says, “You can wait.” p. 132
The second part of the story recounts, through his examination of the diary entries and the ship’s explanations, what happened when the ship arrived, which was the genetic modification of the livestock and humans on board to enable them to survive on the planet. As a result, humans are now compelled by pheromones released by native vegetation and each other into certain behaviours. These involve avoiding each other in the winter months, and children leaving their families at the onset of puberty. All this has had an adverse effect on the level of civilization that humanity has been able to maintain.
Meanwhile, the ship is running out of fuel but, before that happens, it is trying to create a retrovirus to undo the changes.
When I started reading this my initial thoughts were that we didn’t really need any more generation spaceship gone wrong stories, but this is a pretty good and interestingly novel variation on the theme.
Finally, I’ve criticised a couple of stories recently for not really having an appropriate last line or paragraph. Look at the final two paragraphs and last line of this one when you get to them: they are spot on.
The stories that fall into the ‘good’ group start with The Proving Ground by Alec Nevala-Lee. This novella is set on the Marshall Islands (the location of Bikini Atoll and the H-bomb tests). It is a mixture of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds, corporate skulduggery, and the island’s residents attempting to engineer their way out of a global-warming induced sea level rise.
The atoll had an average elevation of two meters, and the estimated increase in sea level meant that the high tide would sweep over the few spots of land that survived. If they wanted to remain a country, at least in the eyes of the courts that would award reparations from developed nations to regions destroyed by climate change, they had to make some new real estate of their own. Seen in the right light, it was almost comical. A country could be compensated for the loss of its territory, but without any land, it would not be considered a country.
Hence the artificial island. Turning back to the seastead, Haley reminded herself that it was only a beginning. They had a few decades to set up wave turbines, to make the bases of the wind towers watertight, to build up fish farms and bioreactors until they could live here indefinitely on their own, no matter what happened elsewhere. It had all been born of trial and error, and they had made big mistakes already. But as she looked out at the lagoon, reflecting on what else lay sunk below its surface, she knew that she could not trust anyone except for herself. p. 13
It’s a slightly uneven read (it has a rather humdrum start) but by the end it manages to have covered quite a lot of ground, and it also provides a scientific explanation of the birds’ homicidal mobbing behaviour.
Catching Zeus by Tom Jolly is set in an iron-rich area of Quebec where two scientists are searching for a naturally occurring superconductor—when the Russians aren’t slashing their tyres or the Chinese shooting at them. This has a breezy, engaging style and reads a little like a modern Western.
The Shallowest Waves by Thoraiya Dyer and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro has a narrative with two strands. The first is about a scientist called Charlotte who is trying to get money to send a probe to Europa to search for life. Her story is set in a future Norway that has been subject to extreme climate change (the Gulf Stream has stopped) and involves her young son. The second story is set over a hundred years later on Europa and concerns a diver called Jurek. His job is as a diver in the Europan waters, sampling for native life-forms.
Both of these threads are neatly tied together at the end, and I enjoyed the story well enough, but there were a number of aspects that had me reaching for my wannabe editor’s hat.
First off, there is enough drama in here for the Christmas Special of Eastenders (foreign readers insert your own national soap opera here). We have (spoiler): a child’s death, a suicide, and a character’s major emotional angst about leaving his mum in an old folk’s home on Mars. I realise there wouldn’t be a story without the first, but the second is just superfluous.
The other problem I have is with Jurek. Apart from his ever present angst, he is one of those law-unto-himself types who continually breaks the rules (he modifies his telemetry data and ignores his suit alarms while diving in this extreme environment). You would hope that people like that would be weeded out in the selection process before their reckless behaviour killed them and/or their crew mates. Oh, and spare me the data-dump reveries about your mother when you are supposedly in the middle of a hazardous mission: I’m pretty sure your mind would be otherwise occupied.
Two minor observations about the first couple of paragraphs:
Clouds catfight over the isolated island, hissing lightning and pissing rain.
Distantly, on a horizon only made visible by a silver glimmer on the night-time sea, a small cloud clearing allows the moonlight through, and Charlotte hopes it’s a sign, even as she taps her earpiece to turn the wide balcony door from window in to smartscreen. p. 106
I don’t have a problem with bad language (Bug Jack Barron could have done with being swearier if you ask me) but ‘pissing’ is a completely inappropriate word choice given the tone of the rest of the story, never mind that there is a quote by Ovid preceding it. Also, by ‘a small cloud clearing’ do you mean ‘a small clearing in the clouds,’ or maybe ‘a break in the clouds’? And yes, I’m aware I’m lobbing bricks out of my greenhouse here.
Split Signal by Joel Richards starts off with a female PI being hired by a dead writer, or more accurately his computer persona. She is briefed that an unauthorised copy of the writer’s persona was made during the upload process, and it is currently being held captive by a sleazy computer consultant and forced to produce new best-selling books.
Slicky written and cleverly worked out, this (spoiler) climaxes in a courtroom scene that determines whether personas have the same rights as humans.
After the Harvest, Before the Fall by Scott Edelman tells of a group of people who are born to be ‘harvested.’ It starts with their religious leader, Daniel, waiting at the gates of their reservation to collect ten new arrivals (babies) and take them back to his village. En route he encounters Erza: he is a rebel who will not submit to the harvestings that periodically occur. Daniel tries to change his mind, driven by an intensely religious belief that this is the destiny of the people in the reservation.
Once back at the village Daniel distributes the babies to various families. By the next morning they have grown into young children. Soon after they are led astray by Erza, and are missing when the soldiers turn up to undertake a harvesting, i.e. take some of them away so their bodies can be used as hosts for the personalities of the wealthy people who live in the city outside the settlement.
To be honest the story’s set-up is a little hard to accept, but there is an interesting tension between religious belief and atheism in the story that makes up both for this and an ending that isn’t as good as the rest of it.
It is probably the most un-Analog-ish story here and I wonder if it was submitted to Asimov’s SF first.
Whending My Way Back Home by Bill Johnson is the third story in his ‘Martin & Artie’ series. Martin is a time-traveller and Artie is the AI he has plugged into his head. It would appear that Martin is stranded in the past and cannot time-travel to the future. If I understand the concept correctly, the only way Martin can get ‘home’ is by ensuring his current timeline evolves the way he wants it to, while Artie the AI maintains his body. Presumably this means he is going to live thousands of years in the process.
In the meantime, the pair collect information from the natives while Martin makes beer and carves arrows out of flint. One female time traveller departs and another one arrives. She contracts the plague and is cured by Martin using tetracycline in his beer. At the end, (spoiler) two individuals from the future come for Martin, a priest and a military man, but they don’t manage to prevent him from eliminating a certain type of wheat mutation that would keep the course of history on their timeline (Hannibal would be able to feed his army and take Rome), and they disappear.
I enjoyed what I read here and kicked myself for not reading the two other stories first: the rating partially adjusts upwards for my omission. I’ll dig the other two stories out directly.
One minor point: the proofreading generally seems quite good in Analog: how did the unnecessary possessive apostrophe in ‘“The army protects its’ own,” Ianna said.’ on p. 173 sneak through?
Of the rest of the stories The Last Mayan Aristocrat by Guy Stewart is the only one I’d rate as OK. This is about the last of the Mayan princesses and an alien who convinces her to take his bones, after he has died, to a meteorite crater so that his people can find them when they return to Earth. This is well enough told and has an interesting setting, but the story doesn’t quite convince: what was her motivation to do this exactly?
I didn’t much care for the following, and would note that this group contains the majority of the short work: there is a marked quality versus length correlation in this issue.
Twilight’s Captives by Christopher L. Bennett is set in the author’s ‘Only Superhuman’ series and has a human-alien conflict where children are being held hostage. Trying to negotiate their release is an ambassador called Madeleine, so long-lived that she has twenty six generations of descendants.
There is quite a lot I didn’t like about this one. To begin with, the alien names are hard to follow, which is not helped by the now hackneyed habit of shoving an apostrophe in the middle of them.1 It also goes on for far too long, the entire story being little more than a marathon talking-heads session as Madeleine tries to negotiate the release of the children (it didn’t surprise me to later find out that most of this writer’s output is at novel length). Finally (spoiler), it climaxes in a mawkish ending where, essentially, the mothers on both sides sort things out by exercising their maternal common sense in the middle of an armed uprising. All of which leaves you wondering why you had to read through thousands of words of negotiations in the first place.
Orbit of Fire, Orbit of Ice by Andrew Barton sets two astronauts aboard a derelict future Skylab to move it from its collision course with another satellite. After the manoeuvring burn their shuttle malfunctions and they are stuck in a decaying orbit. They (spoiler) go EVA to attempt a high-risk rendezvous with their shuttle.
All the above is pretty much by the numbers. I also found the emotional state of one of the two completely unconvincing (Chizuru withholds information from the other astronaut and acts semi-hysterically and suicidally at points—there is a subsequent data dump about childhood trauma and the fact she ‘has no-one left’).
Long Haul by Marie DesJardin has Jubrin, a cargo pilot, visit a pet shop while wandering around town. She buys a translucent, tentacular alien, and time passes. Later, when revisiting the same port, her alien is mistreated by one of the dock workers. She subsequently hooks up with a bar owner. The final section (spoiler) has the dock worker killing Jubrin’s pet (even though it is locked up in her spaceship at the time) and then she kills him in a fight before fleeing the planet.
Apart from its simple, depressing plot (woman buys dog, man kills dog, woman kills man) this has a style that doesn’t match its content and is, at times, quite crudely written. The pickup scene between the bar owner and Jubrin is particularly cringe-inducing:
Nirmalia was a reassuring bulk against her breastbone, dozing in the dim light. But Jubrin was keenly aware of the warm body next to hers, its owner exuding confidence and strength. Her mouth grew dry.
“You don’t know me from Hesperus,” Molk continued. “And there’s no hard feelings either way. But if you want someone to keep the hounds at bay—and I don’t mean that backbiter Halik, but the dogs that gnaw at your soul in the reaches of the void, well—I’ve been there. It’s the touch of a human hand you need, the warmth of good rich blood under the skin. “ He lightened his tone. “There. I’ve said my piece. But let me add, no one’s ever left my place with a heart heavier than when they came in. And both couch and bed are very comfortable!”
Jubrin chuckled. “Do you mean comfortable for two people together, or one in each?”
“I would say that’s up to you. Talk is another kind of bridge, only thinner. “
“To humanity. To what you are.” Gently, Molk caressed the back of her neck, gathering her hair into his huge hand. Jubrin closed her eyes, relishing the touch. “Talk helps, too. You’d look fine sitting in my room, with the yellow light touching your skin. But finer still with your soft hair spread over the pillow, your lovely eyes closed, and a smile on your face. “ p. 70-71
Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns by Marissa Lingen is set in an army fort in an alien jungle. Here the protagonist issues the veterans psychotropic frogs to calm them. Nearby there are modified humans called gliders that are later tasked to carry bombs to the enemy.
I wanted to like this odd and quirkily engaging story more than I did, but it doesn’t really go anywhere.
Throw Me a Bone by Stanley Schmidt is a Probability Zero (tall) tale about a palaeontologist whose career is ruined when he finds a single huge bone. You may be more entertained by the punch line than I was.
Dall’s Last Message by Antha Ann Adkins is set in an alien ecosystem and involves a sea saucer being captured by a water wraith just as it is about to harden and leave its last message. This one is a bit pointless.
Briz by Jay Werkheiser introduces aliens that communicate by magnetic fields and absorption emission spectra.
Proximity to the ship’s prime was a rare pleasure. Briz studied her light curve, radiating far up the infrared and studded with absorption lines in a pleasing pattern. Her magnetic field washed over him enticingly, rippling with information.
He cooled his blackbody temperature apologetically.
Her magfield hissed at a frequency indicating the ship’s fusion reactor, while her light curve intensified to show danger. Magfield modulations conveyed detailed information—explosion, hull breach, a pod of workers and much of the boron-11 fuel vented to space. p. 140
The ship is compromised and there is an onboard rivalry between two pod leaders to savage the ship. They end up heading towards a hot star with anomalous transmissions. Presumably this is Earth and this is the first in a series of stories.
This is all rather hard to follow, as you can probably gather from the extract above.
The Cover by Kurt Huggins is done in a flat comic book style that I don’t particularly care for (and I note that F&SF have done something similar with their last two issues as well. I hope this is not a new trend in SF cover artwork.) There is some Interior artwork by Eldar Zakirov and Josh Meehan but the illustrations are (in the electronic edition anyway) rather small and inconsequential. I’m not really sure why they bother.2
Canons to the Left, Canons to the Right is a short editorial by James E. Gunn about the books that he used in teaching a course on SF.
Rendezvous with a Comet: How ESA’s Rosetta Mission is Decoding Ancient Planetary Mysteries by Richard A. Lovett examines the discoveries made by the Rosetta probe. If, like me, you kept an eye on the TV news about this mission to the comet 67P/Churyumov—Gerasimenkot, you’ll find this article particularly interesting. It discusses what was learned, mostly summarised in the penultimate paragraph:
That means that for writers, Rosetta is a godsend. It shows that comets have jets, giant pits, caverns, amorphous ice, goosebumps, D/H ratios worth studying, wildly complex topographies, and escape velocities so low you could accidentally leap into orbit . . . and who knows what else. The Rosetta scientists have even seen windblown dust dunes on the comet’ s surface, something that’ s only possible if gases are spewing out at speeds up to three hundred meters per second—a staggering 670 miles per hour. On a body with an escape velocity of only 2.2 miles per hour, you would not want to be stepping at the wrong time across a fissure from which such a jet might emerge. p. 38
The Discovery of Planet Proxima B by John G. Cramer is another science essay, and it looks at the habitability of the nearest planet to our solar system, Proxima B. This is concisely done, but given the planet’s distance, and the speculative nature of much of the information used, it seems a rather pointless exercise.
There is Poetry by Ken Poyner (which I thought was OK) and F. J. Bergmann.
The annual Circulation Statement shows an average print circulation of almost 20,000 copies.
In Times to Come starts off with a notice about the change in publication schedule to bimonthly before discussing next issue’s contents.
The Reference Library by Don Sakers looks at several books, including one that appears to be self-published (A Crack in the Sky Above Titan by Andrew D. Thaler). Sakers says it ‘is the sort of story you’d expect to be the two-part serial starting in Analog’s next issue.’
There is a very short Brass Tacks letters column, and a 2016 Index plus its associated It’s Anlab Time Again: The Analytical Laboratory annual reader’s vote. Finally there is a list of Upcoming Events by Anthony R. Lewis.
To conclude, there is some interesting material in this issue, mostly at longer length. I note that the weakest of the material is much poorer than the equivalent in Asimov’s SF or F&SF.
- Try saying Aksash’sk, Ch’kihha or Mufii-kalaa out loud a few times. How well can you remember their names a few minutes later?
- One of the internal illustrations: