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
Victoria Silverwolf, Tangent Online
Sam Tomaino, SFRevu
The Girls with Kaleidoscope Eyes • novella by Howard V. Hendrix ∗∗∗∗
To See the Elephant • novelette by Julie Novakova ∗∗
The Chatter of Monkeys • short story by Bond Elam ∗∗
A Grand Gesture • short story by Dave Creek
Decrypted • short story by Eric Choi ∗∗
Seven Ways to Fall in Love with an Astronaut • short story by Dominica Phetteplace ∗∗
Focus • short fiction by Gord Sellar ∗
Ténéré • short story by Manny Frishberg and Edd Vick ∗∗∗
The Final Nail • novelette by Stanley Schmidt ∗
The Speed of Faith in Vacuum • short story by Igor Teper ∗∗
Facebook Screamed and Screamed, Then I Ate It • short story by Sam Schreiber ∗∗
Vulture’s Nest • short story by Marissa Lingen ∗∗
In the Mists • short story by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg ∗
The Return • short story by Bud Sparhawk ∗
Lips Together • short story by Ken Brady ∗
The Banffs • short story by Lavie Tidhar ∗∗
Where the Flock Wanders • short story by Andrew Barton ∗∗
Proteus • short story by Joe Pitkin ∗∗∗+
Kepler’s Law • novelette by Jay Werkeiser ∗
Region NGC 6357 • cover by NASA
Interior artwork • by Kevin Speidell, Vincent Di Fate, Kurt Huggins
Science Fiction and the Virtue of Simplicity • editorial by Richard A. Lovett
Alien Archaeology: Searching for the Fingerprint of Advanced Extraterrestrial Civilizations • essay by Michael Carroll
Strangers • poem by Allina Nunley
Our Leaking Universe • Alternate View essay by John G. Cramer
In Times to Come
Our Religious Conversion • poem by Ken Poyner
The Reference Library • book reviews by Don Sakers
Brass Tacks • letters
Upcoming Events • by Anthony R. Lewis
The Girls with Kaleidoscope Eyes by Howard V. Hendrix starts with a female FBI agent tasked to investigate the attempted mass-murder of a group of ten-year old girls by one of their teachers. Over the first half or so of the story Agent Onilongo interviews several people and learns of some perplexing events. Most notable is that all the girls were all conceived on the night of the Big Nodoff, an occurrence which involved everyone in the town falling asleep for an hour early in the morning. After this event a number of the pregnant women reported seeing an angel or other visitation, and this was subsequently interpreted as a divine event by the polygamous Mormon sect that constitutes most of the local population. Also, the nearby NSA base has a secret project that involves an autonomous quantum AI called Sifter, whose role is to analyse all the agency’s information and make predictions.
Apart from these plot elements the story touches on a number of other issues along the way, some significantly, and some fleetingly and perhaps satirically: how humanity’s pervasive use of technology may be transformative, gender, post-humanism and machine evolution, childhood bullying, inclusivity and diversity, etc., etc. I can’t recall reading anything by Hendrix before so if I had to give a one-line pitch for the story it would be (spoiler) ‘Greg Egan vs. The Midwich Cuckoos’, although that may undersell this dense and, at times, fascinating story (it has a slow beginning but a great second half). One for the ‘Best of the Year’ collections.
To See the Elephant Julie Novakova grabbed my interest straight away with its clearly drawn characters and setting: an aloof animal psychologist called Adina Ipolla has flown in to a future Kenya to investigate a behavioural problem with a male elephant. The rest of the story concerns her investigation, during which she uses an implant that lets her experience what the elephant is feeling. Unfortunately, the story is too often written (later in the story, at least) in the language of a Biology Ph.D. thesis (the writer’s profession):
Ipolla started explaining: “His amygdala, especially in the right hemisphere, shows quite high activity. The whole HPA axis is firing a lot. The right prefrontal lobe and left inferior frontal gyrus also. I can’t get sufficient spatial resolution from EEG data but I’d say the left insular cortex is also above the norm—though one cannot derive much from these data without context and reliable reference.”
“But—what does it mean for Mgeni?” Robert ventured as he saw the blank faces around him.
“It likely means that he’s experiencing a lot of emotion, especially of the negative kind. Yesterday’s results from the fecal sample showed elevated androgens and glucocorticoids. That is in accord with the HPA axis activity. Basically, these data indicate stress and anxiety. I’ll be able to provide a less obvious insight after I have observed and felt his activity for at least twenty-four hours. “
Kimaiyo stood up. “Alright. Do just that.”
Ipolla shot him a sharp glance. “I intend to, I assure you.” p. 60-61
She eventually solves an esoteric biological problem, which involves (spoiler) the discovery of an intersex condition.
The Chatter of Monkeys by Bond Elam is initially quite a good story about a young woman who meets an alien robot on a future, poisoned Earth. The Alliance forces in orbit want the robot and pursue her and it into an underground tunnel complex.
This has quite good world building but the ending is a little weak and not entirely convincing (spoiler: the robot has a cure for Earth’s problems but is sent as a bomb to the Alliance craft. I was unsure if it was the real robot she sent or a dummy.)
This story is the first of no less than fifteen short stories included in this issue. I think that this number of short stories in a single issue is a mistake for a couple of reasons. First, when you only have one novella and three novelettes it makes the entire issue feel unbalanced. It is also quite hard to get into the issue: no sooner have you started one story you are on to the next. Second, the sweet spot for short SF is the novelette—good short stories are more difficult to write.
To that latter point, nearly all the short work in this issue is deficient to a greater or lesser extent; some are little more than notions that go nowhere, others don’t develop the idea properly. Some are unconvincing, partly because they don’t hang around long enough to suspend one’s disbelief. You’ll hopefully see what I mean as we go on.
A Grand Gesture by Dave Creek is about two explorers on an alien planet. My eyes tripped over the second sentence:
He and his shipmate, Amaia Moreau, trudged across a planetary surface covered with a tar-like substance. p. 78
It took me a moment to realise what was covered in tar. Half a page later we get this:
Kayonga felt they should’ve brought a third crewmember with them to stay aboard the shuttle in case of an emergency, but the Belyanka’s commander, Gina Marianthal, overruled that decision, saying they’d never had a problem with two-person exploratory teams before. p. 78
‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘idiots on an alien planet’ (a common plot device: the movie Promethus, the Werkeiser novelette later in the issue, etc.). Straight away you know the pair are going to get into trouble and, sure enough, en route to a diamond crater on this carbon based planet, they find three small alien creatures in a cave . . . which turn out to be the offspring of the angry adult heading towards them. They end up in the cave with the young aliens, holding off the adult with their stunners (these, by the way, and the scanners they also have, make it read like a defrocked Star Trek story). While all this peril plays out we get a back story full of emotional and interpersonal angst, as if that’s what people would be talking about while menaced by an alien creature.
The planet and aliens are not badly done, but the rest of it reads like something from a poor 1950’s Amazing.
Decrypted by Eric Choi is an interesting piece about quantum computers ending the use of classical encryption techniques, and the resultant change in society (cash and signed credit card clips, long queues at banks, the unmasking of online trolls, etc.). These events are seen through the eyes of a bank teller who ends up at the receiving end of a beating when an online comment he made years ago (and mistranslated from his then native Russian) is traced to him. I liked this but it ends rather abruptly, and so it falls into the ‘not fully developed’ category above.
I thought, before I started it, that Seven Ways to Fall in Love with an Astronaut by Dominica Phetteplace would be one of the highlights of the issue (I loved her recent series in Asimov’s as well as other work I’ve seen). Unfortunately, this is a low-key and rather glum work about a woman biologist on a Mars colony who can’t get her plants to survive. Paralleling this is an account of her feelings for one of the astronauts. Relationship angst, basically.
Focus by Gord Sellar is about riots triggered by two teenage school kids in a world where the workforce is dosed with a drug called Focus. One of the teenager’s fathers gets caught up in the riots (spoiler) and later dies. This is has some interesting ideas but it didn’t work for me as I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on nor was I convinced by what I did understand.
Ténéré by Manny Frishberg and Edd Vick has a camel caravan in the relatively near future arrive at a wadi to find no water and the surrounding plants burnt. This is not the first time this has happened to the travellers, and they are running short of water. That night, the Arabs in the caravan, who are idealists recreating/re-enacting a lapsed way of life, see the light of a local industrial complex and decide it may be causing the destruction of the wadis. So they go to the plant.
Once there they take over the plant and eventually find that the plant’s process—atmospheric carbon capture for graphene manufacture—is releasing an excess of oxygen, causing not only plants at the local wadis to catch fire, but other problems (increased corrosion at the plant, etc.). After a tense stand-off both sides manage to agree on a solution. This is an interesting story, and certainly better than most of the others, but the ending is a little unconvincing in its idealism.
Breaking up the (seemingly endless) run of short stories is The Final Nail by Stanley Schmidt. This is about a rural doctor who starts seeing a number of ‘alpha-gal’ cases. These are normally caused by tick bites and result in the victim having an anaphylactic reaction to mammal meat, which they can therefore no longer eat. The doctor later develops this condition after meeting another of his colleagues at a restaurant to discuss the clusters of cases that have started appearing all over the world.
After a lot of research (which comprises most of the story) and with the help of a geneticist, he discovers (spoiler) that this condition is spread by genetically engineered mosquitoes. Along the way he gets a number of emails that attempt to warn him off his investigation. There are also a number of mentions of an old patient of his, the daughter of a wealthy man, and her decision to become a vegetarian at age six. She later became a geneticist and, predictably, is eventually linked to the emails. The doctor cannot convince her to stop her militant vegetarianism so he calls in the Feds, who arrest her.
For the most part this is a readable and interesting, if predictable, story. Until, that is, the ending, when the doctor meets Darlene and explains that he stopped her because she hadn’t considered the consequences of her plan:
“I sympathize with what you were trying to do, Darlene. I really do. I admire your empathy for your fellow creatures, and the fact that you can extend it beyond your own kind. A lot of people can’t do that.” He paused and she said nothing. “But you were so intent on protecting them from being eaten that you didn’t think beyond that. You didn’t think about what would happen if you succeeded in getting everybody to stop eating them. “Let me ask you a question, Darlene. Why do cows and pigs and sheep and chickens exist?”
Her frown deepened. Finally she said, “What do you mean?”
“Domesticated food animals are only alive because people raise them to eat, Darlene. If nobody eats them any more, nobody will raise them any more.
“So they’ll go extinct. And the final nail in their coffin will be your attempt at kindness. “
She had gone positively pale. Evidently she really hadn’t thought about it. Or maybe she had, but had deluded herself that it wasn’t a real concern. Fanaticism can do that to a person. But she was too smart to deny it when he said it out loud, and it was hitting her hard.
“Furthermore,” he went on, “there will be rippling side effects. If nobody can eat beef or pork or lamb any more, they’ll turn to other things like poultry and seafood. That’s already starting to happen. The economy’s getting shaky—and it will get worse—because ranchers can’t sell their livestock the way they used to, and chicken and fish farmers can’t keep up with demand. Vegetable growers will have the same problem. If you’d been allowed to keep working and got people to stop eating chicken and fish, those would go, too. And then—”
“Okay, okay, stop!” she said suddenly. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. “How could I not have seen . . . That’s not what I wanted, Dr. Strassman! I only wanted to help. …” Her voice trailed off in sobs.
“I know,” he said gently. He wished he could reach through the glass and pat her consolingly. He never wanted to hurt her, either. “But good intentions aren’t enough. You have to think about all the consequences of what you do.” p. 124-125
The ridiculousness of this passage probably speaks for itself but, if it doesn’t, let me suggest that most vegans or vegetarians would rather have a massive reduction in the number of cows, sheep, pigs, etc. in the world than having them born to a ghastly existence in the meat industry. Even to the point of extinction (although, no doubt, some would be kept in zoos, as pets, etc.). As to vegetable growers not being able to keep up with demand, it takes less land, water, etc. to produce vegetables than meat. Chicken and fish farmers not being able to keep up with demand is only a problem of consumer choice and nothing else.
The thing that really grips me about this story is that it fails to realise that all industries are eventually disrupted. If, in the future, you can grow protein that is indistinguishable from the real thing, the moral issues around killing animals for food will become much starker; if you can do it more cheaply, then the economic forces will be unstoppable (do you think McDonalds is going to use real meat in their hamburgers when they can get an indistinguishable synthetic alternative for half the price? Even if they do, how long do you think they will stay in business when their competitors switch?) The other factor affecting this industry will be future population growth and prosperity, both of which may massively increase the demand for meat. As this happens the amount of land and resources required will eventually become unsustainable (not to mention the methane related greenhouse gas effects). It’s a pity Schmidt didn’t write that story rather than one that panders to the current status quo.
In The Speed of Faith in Vacuum by Igor Teper, a spaceship full of ‘immortals’—humans using cryogenic-sleep on long journeys—returns to a colony after three hundred years. Since their last visit the colony has struggled to survive against the ‘Red Mold,’ a lethal organism. Grigorily, the protagonist, tries to force the returning crew to give them the help they need, rather than that which they are prepared to provide. During this (spoiler) he finds that the ‘Immortals’ are not that well positioned themselves, but they maintain a pretence to keep hope alive on the handful of surviving colonies. I just didn’t find this convincing but, apart from that, it is competently enough done save for an awkward first line that I had to read three times to get its meaning:
The white arc of their trail slicing the ever-flawless lavender sky into before and after, the Immortals descended. p. 128
I don’t think this is Yodish1 (the variant of English that Yoda from the movie Star Wars uses) but it’s close. Why not ‘The Immortals descended, the white arc of their trail slicing the ever-flawless lavender sky into before and after’?
Facebook Screamed and Screamed, Then I Ate It by Sam Schreiber is an okay piece about an online AI that eventually does what the title says.
Vulture’s Nest by Marissa Lingen starts with the Yaw family decontaminating and salvaging a ship in the Oort. When they get back to port they find there is a surviving family member who owns the ship and he is not happy about what they have done. The rest of the story is about the fallout, and that the narrator’s family are regarded as ‘vultures’ and accordingly harassed. There is a lot of data dumping going on for a short story, and the events that occur don’t justify the amount of world building done. It should have been a longer piece with a better plot or arc, and I suspect it is a chunk of a novel in progress.
In the Mists by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg has a man stranded on an alien planet. Initially we learn that the other two crew members died on arrival but, after various diarised delusions, nightmares and recovered memories, we find out what really happened. Unlikely, unconvincing, and too straightforward.
The Return by Bud Sparhawk and Lips Together by Ken Brady are notions and not much else. In the first, an early and now very elderly astronaut (Buzz Aldrin I think) moans about how easy space travel is in the future. The second has a Japanese woman travel to the USA to transmit a bacterium that will eradicate tooth decay.
The Banffs by Lavie Tidhar is about a writer (I guess Tidhar himself) who starts circulating in the company of ultra-rich and (spoiler) alien beings. He eventually becomes a house-sitter for their many homes and sees a lot of strange things:
He took me down to the basement the one time and showed me the antique, steam-powered computational devices he kept there, in carefully controlled temperature and humidity. I could not guess at the nature of the brass rings and cogs that I saw there, but was overwhelmed by their complexity.
“The Antikythera Mechanism,” he said, referring to the two thousand year old device found off the coast of Greece, “was merely the tip of the iceberg, you know. The Greeks had an advanced culture of analog computing they inherited from Atlantis, before it sank under the waves. “
I nodded, because I didn’t know what to say.
“Babbage was merely reconstructing the technology,” he told me. “From the technical writings of the Arab scholars who studied the remnants of the technology centuries later. “
They talked like this, sometimes. They’d make references to hunting Yetis in the Himalayas (“Disgraceful sport,’’ Helene once said), or talk about an abandoned colony under the South Pole (“Only Elvis lives there now, the poor creature,” Victor Victor said) or how the Ark of the Covenant was really a communication device (“But I don’t know how the Hebrews got hold of it in the first place,” Felipe said, “considering it was lost in the crash, at least we thought it was”). p. 158
This is moderately entertaining but the story just fizzles out (and so it is little more than an extended idea).
Where the Flock Wanders by Andrew Barton has two explorers in the rings of Saturn looking for ‘Precursor’ artefacts when they discover a wrecked Earth warship. On board they find a safe and, inside, a sealed letter. They disagree about whether to open the letter (they may cause further tension between Earth and the outer planets if it contains what they think it does). One of them, Rho, later does so anyway, and finds out that it is a love letter left for one of the crew. The other crewmember, Static, finds Rho opening the letter and relations between them deteriorate. Okay, but another one that doesn’t amount to much.
Proteus by Joe Pitkin is the second of his ‘John Demetrius’2 stories. In this one a woman called Epic Khorasani and a man called Linus Pauling Moody sign up as crew for a shuttle that will run supplies to Proteus, a gigantic airship that flies the skies of Venus, and which is involved in terraforming the planet. Epic and Moody are really spies, and they are travelling to Proteus to gather evidence of breaches of the Human Transgenic Act.
During her long stay (the launch window for the return trip to Earth is five hundred days after their arrival) she learns that altered Proteans, the lilith, are being hidden away on the lower decks while they are there. A chameleon like human—a clear violation of the Transgenic Act—presents himself to Epic, and takes her below to see them:
They came into what seemed a long workroom. Computer workstations, monitors as broad as landscapes in a museum, stood at intervals along the walls. Natural light streamed in via tubes in the floor, the Sun’s reflection on the luminous acid clouds of Venus.
As if in ignorance of the station’s artificial night, two dozen creatures sat or stood or perched at the workstations. “These are shedim,” Glass said, and though he said it softly, every one of them turned to look at her: leopard skinned people and owl-faced ones, a woman with hands of articulated spindles like slim winter branches of oak, a towering hairless figure as muscular as a Canaanite idol. Epic scratched her bare shoulder in the innocuous way that activated her black widow camera.
“Why are you showing me this?” she asked Glass. Glass seemed just a pair of eyes and a dark mouth where he opened it. “We’re not monsters, Epic. We’re people.” p. 172
This is head and shoulders above the rest of the short fiction in the issue, not least for its concise and lucid prose.
The issue’s fiction ends with Kepler’s Law by Jay Werkeiser. This one is about a mission from a doomed Earth to a planet called Kepler. I didn’t much like this for a variety of reasons. First off, a few of the characters seem entirely unsuited to the mission (one makes a reckless descent in her shuttle and causes a hard landing which damages it and the radio, thus rendering them conveniently incommunicado; another two crewmembers wander off to explore even though it is against the rules, etc.). Secondly, there is too much chatter between the crew about their personal and cultural differences (the pair above include an introvert Japanese and an extrovert American, the latter with an unlikely personality (reckless) and accent. Finally, the maguffin (spoiler) is an obscure biochemical one involving RNA or enzymes in the rain eating away human flesh like acid.
One of Analog’s strengths are its covers, and Region NGC 6357, an astronomical photograph from NASA does not disappoint. There are a few postage stamp-size pieces of Interior artwork by Kevin Speidell, Vincent Di Fate, and Kurt Huggins. If you are going to pay for artist’s work (this page is from the Kindle version of the magazine):
. . . why not use a larger version of the illustration?
Science Fiction and the Virtue of Simplicity by Richard A. Lovett is an editorial that starts with a discussion of the primacy of special effects in SF movies/drama over story telling. This is probably best summarised by this passage:
We simply don’t need all the fancy high-tech eye candy we’ve become so accustomed to seeing.
It’s something we knew long ago as children. How many parents have been startled to discover that their kids would rather play with the boxes their fancy toys came in than with the toys themselves? But when you think about it, it’s not so surprising. The toy is constrained to be whatever its manufacturer created it to be. A box can become anything: rocket ship, racecar, sailboat, time machine—children’s imaginations know no bounds.
Science fiction has long been called the literature of ideas, not the literature of special effects. Could it be that all the high-tech details are too often nothing more than over-engineered toys that strangle our imaginations and stop us from flying to the moons of Procyon IV in cardboard boxes of our own imagination? p. 6
The last page talks about the continual presence of electronic devices making it difficult to take the time to just sit and observe. I didn’t see the connection between the two parts.
Alien Archaeology: Searching for the Fingerprint of Advanced Extraterrestrial Civilizations by Michael Carroll is a science article that starts with the Fermi Paradox (if there are aliens why haven’t they contacted us yet?) and covers a number of other topics, including observational methods of detecting inhabited planets and systems, robot sentinels, travel to other stars, etc. Some of the latter was already familiar to me (e.g. the nuclear bomb powered Orion project), and I started skimming.
There are two poems in this issue. I thought Strangers by Allina Nunley was fairly good (a man’s ancestors lived their lives within five miles of home, but he meets his soul mate in another part of the Universe). Our Religious Conversion by Ken Poyner is about aliens and religion.
Our Leaking Universe is an ‘Alternate View’ essay by John G. Cramer about the Hubble constant, dark matter and unimodular gravity that was way over my head.
The Reference Library by Don Sakers starts off with a potted history of post-apocalyptic SF before the reviews. There are two or three of the reviewed books that sound interesting (and an inexpensive one I bought straightaway, the ‘lost’ novel by Gordon Eklund). I like the useful prefatory information that heads up the reviews, which includes the number of pages and the sub-genre(s) he thinks the book belongs to.
Brass Tacks is only three pages long this issue and has letters commenting on issues of the magazine from the middle to the end of 2016. There is one that mentions a ‘principle/principal’ typo: I spotted a few in this issue myself, many more than I notice in Asimov’s or F&SF (but fewer than here . . . .)
So, overall, and with the obvious exception of the Hendrix and Pitkin pieces, I found this quite a poor issue of Analog. There are far too many short stories. They slowed down my reading rate as, after one of two of these average or mediocre pieces, I was not motivated to keep going. One other thing: considering that Analog readers are (I presume) intelligent, science-orientated people, I would suggest a reduction in the number of idiots in the stories.