Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Review - Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact: Vol. CV, No. 12 (December 1985) by Stanley Schmidt (editor)
The Blacksmith's Tale by Spider Robinson
Runner by Bob Buckley
The Case of the Gring's Mill Goblin by Thomas R. Dulski
The White Box by Rob Chilson and Lynette Meserole
Hatching Season by Harry Turtledove
Science fact articles included:
The Brush that Painted the Man in the Moon by J.E. Enever
Full review: It is interesting to read and evaluate an issue of Analog that is twenty-five years out of date. Most science fiction novels that old that one might want to read are still around because they were somewhat noteworthy at the time. The stories in a science fiction magazine, on the other hand, have no similar guarantee, so there is the substantial risk that they will have aged quite badly. Happily, while some of the peripheral material in this issue is humorously out of date (most notably the On Gaming article concerning then current computer games), the stories themselves have aged remarkably well.
The featured cover story in the issue is Runner by Bob Buckley, a post-apocalyptic story told from the perspective of a somewhat down on his luck "runner", a sort of combination messenger and mailman living in the post-nuclear wasteland. He is paired with a man who claims to be from the past, and who the runner thinks is nuts. Buckley weaves his story, from the runner acquiring a new vehicle, to delivering material to the boss of what used to be Manhattan, to discovering the truth about his somewhat nutty traveling companion. In the end, the protagonist gives up being a runner for what he believes will be a nobler purpose in life.
The longest story in the issue is the somewhat comic The Case of the Gring's Mill Goblin by Thomas R. Dulski, featuring a paranormal Sherlock Holmes and his less than willing Watson who head out to the Pennsylvania countryside to investigate reports of a glowing blue goblin that has been purportedly haunting the local farms. Of all the stories in the issue, this one shows its age most strongly, as the lack of current technologies like cell phones and internet search engines is noticeable. Even so, the story remains a fun and funny mystery that manages to mostly play fair with the reader, and yet avoid giving away the culprit until the end. Also humorous in tone is The Blacksmith's Tale by Spider Robinson, set in his now-familiar Callahan's Crosstime Saloon setting, and featuring a bar regular who meets a new face while both of them are standing naked on the roof of the bar during a rain storm. After an awkward introduction, the two hit it off until one of them saves the world from destruction by another bar patron. The story is, as one might expect, somewhat raunchy, fairly humorous, and in the end, bittersweet.
The White Box by Rob Chilson and Lynette Meserole was my favorite story in the issue. Having discovered a way to construct a device that seems to stimulate the human body to cure itself, humanity finds itself with no real need for most of the medical establishment. However, the story delves into the question of the dangers of relying upon a device whose working no one truly understands. It turns out that the miracle device may not be such an unalloyed miracle after all, and may actually be causing (or merely exacerbating) certain problems while acting to mask those problems at the same time. As with most really good science fiction stories, this one makes a point that is relevant to the real world, and in this case, that point is that understanding is as important as results, if not more so. The story makes a more muted point about the dangers that might be posed by alternative medicine even if it was shown to work, and was not merely chicanery.
Hatching Season by Harry Turtledove is a brief but decent time-travel story about a graduate student sent back to Cretaceous to study duck billed dinosaurs. Left on her own amidst the giants of the past, she finds herself lost and without her technological equipment to help her find her way back to the beacon that will take her home. The story is an interesting twist on the "engineering puzzle" subgenre of science fiction stories, since the puzzle the protagonist must unravel does not stem from the hazardous environment of space, but rather from the living hazards of the denizens of the distant past. The story is engaging and suspenseful while the resolution is both interesting and completely believable.
The science fact article in the issue is The Brush that Painted the Man in the Moon by J.E. Enever. Because the article concerns possible theories as to how the unusual grouping of craters on the northern hemisphere of the Earth facing side of the Moon could have formed, it has aged pretty well. Although the theory presented is essentially unprovable, the explanation given in the article is consistent with the observed data, and is probably the best explanation we will get. I am not aware of one, but it seems like the scenario described would make a good backdrop for a science fiction story. Either I have simply missed such a story, or there is a pretty good framework for a story waiting to be used by the right person.
Despite being published in December 1985, this issue of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact remains an interesting and enjoyable read. With stories running the gamut of the genre from time-travel to post-apocalyptic adventure to medical drama, the issue contains a wide enough range of stories that at least some are almost certain to appeal to any science fiction fan, and the stories are generally of high enough quality that I found all of them interesting and enjoyable.
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