Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Volume CXXIX, No. 9 (September 2009) by Stanley Schmidt (editor)

Stories included:
Turning the Grain, Part II of II by Barry B. Longyear
Evergreen by Shane Tourtellotte
The Last Resort by Alex Nevala-Lee
From the Ground Up by Marie DesJardin
Attitude Adjustment by Eric James Stone

Science fact articles included:
From Atlantis to Canoe-Eating Trees: Geomythology Comes of Age by Richard A. Lovett

Full review: Featuring the conclusion to the two-part Barry Longyear story Turning the Grain, the September 2009 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact is full of interesting but mostly unspectacular stories even though one seems out of place in a speculative fiction magazine.

The out of place story is The Last Resort by Alec Nevala-Lee. The story centers on an eco-terrorist attack against a pumping station to be used to develop the mountains around a crater lake into a ski resort. The story is decent and well written, but there is no science fiction (or even fantasy) element to the story unless one believes that the idea that a group of committed eco-terrorist anarchists would blow up a pumping station would qualify. This sort of story always annoys me when it is included in a magazine like Analog, not because these sorts of stories are bad, but because they simply don't belong in this type of publication.

The two short stories in the issue are From the Ground Up by Marie DesJardin and Attitude Adjustment by Eric James Stone. From the Ground Up features a disillusioned former astronaut cast off from a moribund NASA space program remembering a crashed alien spacecraft filled with tiny aliens on her family property. She, of course, waits until the space program has collapsed to reveal her secret (it seems to be common in science fiction stories these days that those who discover amazing things keep them secret for prolonged periods of time, see, for example, Lambing Season and The Last Apostle). The story is okay, but not much more. Attitude Adjustment, detailing the efforts of the crew and passengers on a lunar tour shuttle as they struggle to survive attempted sabotage seems to have been inspired by the classic "engineering puzzle" science fiction of Clarke and Asimov such as A Fall of Moondust and Marooned off Vesta. The story is good, if a little predictable.

The real meat of the issue is in the novelette Evergreen by Shane Tourtellotte and the conclusion of Longyear's two part story Turning the Grain. Evergreen is about well-meaning genetic engineering, featuring a pair of characters whose parents had them genetically altered to never age beyond childhood. The protagonist chafes at the enforced immaturity of his body, reacts bitterly to those who treat him as an actual child, and fights against a world that doesn't know where he and others like him fit in. He strikes up a relationship with another one of the "frozen", a woman who, despite being a brilliant computer programmer, plays the part of a little girl for her parents, reveling in her ability to partake of child-like pleasures. The story raises serious questions about genetic modifications, whether a condition that one dislikes is actually a disability, and what sort of responsibility parents might have for imposing (with good intentions) changes that might be at best a mixed blessing for their progeny. The story doesn't come to any solid conclusions, but it does not need to. The questions and the varied ideas the characters have as to what the answers should be is what makes this story so compelling.

Turning the Grain, which began in the last issue, finishes in this one. The story started well, and this portion does not disappoint despite being somewhat predictable. Gordon Redcliff, having been marooned in the distant past in the previous installment, settles into his new life by taking a wife, a profession, and adopting a son. After solving the problem of why the older men in the village can't perform their "manly duties" (to put it politely) and a superstitious chieftain who threatens his life, Gordon deals with the dilemma of what duty he owes to his future and whether to allow his new found community to be destroyed as they are "supposed" to be, or to act and save them. I'm not sure if it was because Gordon was so well drawn a character that his actions were mostly predictable, or just that the story was predictable. In any event, the story is well-written, with solid characters and a satisfying conclusion.

The issue also includes the science fact article From Atlantis to Canoe-Eating Trees: Geomythology Comes of Age by Richard A. Lovett, which is an interesting look at the field of geomythology, the science of connecting local mythology to geologic events, attempting to unravel the inspiration behind many of the fanciful stories told about gods, heroes, and monsters by relating them to geologic events.

Overall, this is a good issue, with a few average stories, a few good stories, and no weak stories. It is marred only by the including of the non-science fiction The Last Resort (although the story itself is not bad, just out of place), and consequently this is an above average issue of Analog.

Previous issue reviewed: July/August 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: October 2009

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