Friday, November 5, 2010

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Vol. CXXX, No. 10 (October 2010) by Stanley Schmidt (editor)

Stories included:
The Rift by John G. Hemry
Midwife Crisis by Dave Creek
The Great Galactic Ghoul by Allen M. Steele
Ghosts Come Home by Justin Stanchfield
The Whole Truth Witness by Kenneth Schneyer
The Alien at the Alamo by Arlan Andrews
Never Saw It Coming by Jerry Oltion

Science fact articles included:
Visit to the Forgotten Planet: What Scientists Are Learning as Messenger Prepares to Orbit Mercury by Richard A. Lovett

Poems included:
We Just Want to Dance by Mary A. Turzillo

Full review: The October 2010 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact is another strong issue of a consistently strong magazine. There is only one weak story in the issue, and it is only about four pages long. On the other hand, there are a couple of very good stories, and the remainder are pretty good as well. This is capped off with an interesting science fact article, and even a fun to read poem about dust devils on Mars by Mary A. Turzillo.

The opening story of the issue is the novella The Rift by John G. Hemry, a sort of Aliens inspired story about a military rescue mission sent to aid a scientific research installation that has been studying the supposedly peaceful alien inhabitants of the planet Imtep. The comparison to Aliens probably makes it seem more simplistic than it is, as the story itself revolves around a cultural misunderstanding between the oblivious humans and the aliens they are studying that leads to tragic consequences. The characters are fairly well-drawn, albeit somewhat stereotypical, and the plot is okay. The only real weakness of the story is that a reasonably astute reader will figure out the source of the cultural offense that set the story in motion. Even so, the Rourke's Drift style nature of the story makes for good reading.

Midwife Crisis by Dave Creek is a kind of reverse version of the Fantastic Voyage story. Instead of miniaturizing humans to fit inside of a normal human to perform surgery, a normal size human (accompanied by an aquatic alien) enters the body of a massive alien to try to help it deliver its unborn child. The story mixes in some genetic engineering, some cross-cultural conflicts, and some of medical science fiction to make a pretty decent story.

The Great Galactic Ghoul by Allen M. Steele is a hard science fiction story about a space rescue operation. The story covers the efforts of the rescuers and the ongoing scientific inquiry as to the source of the disaster against a background of speculation, much of it misinformed and half-baked. This element of the story seems to me to be a direct shot at goofball conspiracy theorists like the "9/11 Truthers", and as such it is pretty well-aimed. The story eventually establishes a very strongly supported rational explanation for the mysterious deaths of six people, but lunatic theories still abound, just like the lunatic "truthers", "birthers", moon-landing hoaxers, and so on. The science in the story is thorough, the mystery is interesting and well thought out, and the commentary is insightful, all of which adds up to a great story. Ghosts Come Home by Justin Stanchfield is another space rescue story, this time set further into the future and mixing in some interesting ideas about genetic engineering and human relationships. The story is well-done, and has a bittersweet conclusion that is still satisfying.

As a lawyer, I was fairly impressed by The Whole Truth Witness by Kenneth Schneyer, a somewhat humorous science fiction story set in a future in which some people have undergone a procedure that is supposed to make it impossible for them to lie. The protagonist, a lawyer having to deal with cases involving such witnesses on the other side is forced to figure out a way to in a case in the face of effectively incontrovertible testimony. The solution is quite creative (and probably a little unethical) which is in line with the humorous nature of the story, although I saw a number of other avenues of attack available to the protagonist that could have been used that would have fit into a more seriously inclined story that examined the impact of such technology on the legal system.

The Alien at the Alamo by Arlan Andrews is a very short and fairly silly story about a man who comes into contact with an alien at the Alamo in Texas. The alien makes a fairly classic comparison between alien and human intelligence (one that showed up in Babylon 5 in G'Kar's mouth) and tests human perception. The whole story is more or less a set-up for a final punch line though, and the punch-line is pretty cliched, which makes the story less than interesting in the end. Also fairly humorous, and touching on the theme of how difficult it is to get bad information out of circulation, is Never Saw It Coming by Jerry Oltion, focused on an amateur astronomer who finds a previously unknown asteroid and accidentally (at first) and intentionally (later) starts a world-wide panic. The story is a well-crafted send up of the science illiteracy and hysteria that permeates much of the media. It is a fairly light-hearted story, so all ends well, but the story is quite fun all the way through.

The science fact article in the issue is Visit to the Forgotten Planet: What Scientists Are Learning as Messenger Prepares to Orbit Mercury by Richard A. Lovett, a discussion of the history and future of the exploration of the planet Mercury. After giving an overview of the past and current efforts to explore the planet, Lovett discusses some of the interesting features that have been uncovered and that scientists hope will be more fully explained by the MESSENGER probe. The article, which serves to bring attention to the "forgotten planet" is quite interesting, and should serve as fodder for some decent fiction stories.

Analog has a well-deserved reputation as a magazine that delivers high-quality science fiction stories, and this issue lives up to that reputation. The Great Galactic Ghoul is probably the best story in the issue, but as a lawyer I have a soft spot for The Whole Truth Witness. However, with the exception of The Alien at the Alamo, every story in this issue is well-worth reading, and Alamo is at least mildly amusing. Consequently, this issue is strongly recommended for any science fiction fan.

Previous issue reviewed: September 2010
Subsequent issue reviewed: November 2010

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