Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Volume CXXIX, No. 6 (June 2009) by Stanley Schmidt (editor)

Stories included:
But It Does Move by Harry Turtledove
Chain by Stephen L. Burns
Monuments of the Unageing Intellect by Howard V. Hendrix
The Affair of the Phlegmish Master by Donald Moffit
Solace by James van Pelt
The Cold Star Sky by Craig DeLancey
Attack of the Grub-Eaters by Richard A. Lovett

Science fact articles included:
Futureopolis: How NASA Plans to Create a Permanent Presence on the Moon by Michael Carroll

Full review: The June 2009 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact contains uniformly good stories. Even my least favorite story in the issue, Turtledove's alternate history But Does It Move is a good one. Most of the stories in this issue are very good and both Chains and Monuments of the Unageing Intellect manage to combine excellent stories with serious food for thought.

The lead story in the the issue is Harry Turtledove's alternate history But It Does Move in which advances in one area of thought progress more quickly than they did in reality, and as a result seemingly retard the advance of humanity's scientific body of knowledge. I have some small quibble with Turtledove's characterization of the alternative thought system being dealt with in the story as a "non-hardware technology", as this seems to elevate something that I consider to be less than persuasively supported as fact to a level of certainty that I think is unwarranted. I also think that Turtledove makes too much of the conversion of a single individual's attitude towards scientific inquiry would necessarily derail the progress of science, especially given the political rivalries in Europe in the time period that the story is set. Despite these failings, Turtledove is, as usual, an incredibly adept weaver of alternate history, and the story is quite good.

Chain by Stephen L. Burns is a very good story about the implications of sentient artificial intelligence and the abuses that could result from humanity's efforts to keep it under control. The story posits a system of control that is almost religious in nature, and highlights the absolute abuse that this could allow. Given my general lack of belief, the story simply confirms my view that religion is an insidious and damaging method of thought that is highly conducive to enslaving those who believe in it. It is not usually applied to humans in a way quite in so systemically a harmful way as it is applied to sentient AI's in this story. This is probbably the best story in the issue.

Monuments of the Unageing Intellect by Howard V. Hendrix deals with the problems that might be faced by humanity if some form of clinical immortality were to be discovered. The blessing of incredibly extended lifespan comes at a price that few are even able to recognize. The story is told over the course of many years as Moira, an artist that has rejected the choice to partake of the technological fountain of youth, creates massive works of art that illustrate her concerns. Meanwhile, Hisao, a childhood friend of Moira's who had opted for immortality drifts into and out of her life while spending his time wasting the years in a manner that simply confirms her fears. The story raises the question as to whether the huge benefit of massively extended lifespan is worth the sorts of costs that are posited in the story. Solace by James van Pelt deals with another form of extended lifespan by means of two loosely intertwined stories linking a grizzled frontiersman fighting a bitter winter storm with the story of a woman on an extended space voyage. Her story is told in short punctuated periods of wakefulness in between extended periods of cryosleep, which are used to draw a parallel to the life of a man living through a harshly cold snowstorm. Both stories are connected by a candleholder and a Bible verse. Van Pelt does a good job an interweaving these two seemingly disparate stories in a way that makes sense, and in conveying the utter cold and hardship faced by both of the central characters.

The Cold Star Sky by Craig DeLancey is a physics problem of a story overlaid with the problem of the difficulties of negotiating with alien minds with the further added complication of a strange alien pet tagging along. The story makes the physics interesting, the aliens pretty alien, and the funny comic relief alien pet turns out to be more important to the plot than one would expect. Attack of the Grub-Eaters by Richard A. Lovett is a funny story about alien invasion told in the form of a bunch of internet posts on a gardening message board. The storytelling style is funny due to the limited information many of the participants in the fictional message board exchange have, requiring the reader to deduce the course of events. The Affair of the Phlegmish Master by Donald Moffit is a fairly standard time travel story as a member of the noveau-riche tries to force his entrance into high society by using time travel technology to journey back in time to commission a painting of himself and his wife by Vermeer. Vermeer does paint a new masterpiece, but the trip doesn't turn out as he expects, and in fact, things go quite badly. The story is diverting, but little more.

The science fact article in the issue titled Futureopolis: How NASA Plans to Create a Permanent Presence on the Moon by Michael Carroll appears to have been overtaken by events as lunar exploration seems to be once again on hold. Despite the current state of politics (and whether or not you agree with the idea of choosing not to return back to the moon) the article lays out a very well thought-out plan for both going to the moon and establishing a permanent presence there that would be much like humanity's presence in Antarctica to serve as a toe hold for exploration still further into space.

This issue is one of the better issues of Analog due to the overall strong set of stories it contains. Anyone who likes mostly hard science fiction that doesn't pull punches will find this issue an enjoyable read.

Subsequent issue reviewed: July/August 2009

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  1. Excellent, well thought out review, Aaron. "Analog" was one of the SF magazines I used to read back when I was more into SF geekdom. I also used to read "The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction".

    This particular issue definitely has an interesting mix of stories! I'm particularly interested in "Monuments of the Unaging Intellect", and "Solace". Both sound very intriguing!

    As for the article about the permanent colony on the moon, I've always thought that we should have had one by now. How sad that Arthur C. Clarke's prediction of a voyage to Jupiter, which he thought might conceivably happen by the year 2001, did not take place that year.....Who knows when it will?

    Thanks for the very interesting review!! : )

    1. @Maria Behar: Thank you. I try to be thorough with each issue of these science fiction magazines I review. In addition to Analog, I also read (and review) Fantasy & Science Fiction and Asimov's Science Fiction. Before it folded, I also read Realms of Fantasy. I have a stack of older magazines that I have accumulated from years of going to used books stores, library books sales, and conventions, and I'll be reading and reviewing those as well someday.

      I agree with you on the issue of space exploration. I have written elsewhere on this blog that I consider one of the great tragedies of the modern era is that we stopped going to the Moon when I was four. We accomplished so much with the Apollo program, and then we just gave up due to a lack of will and imagination.