Sunday, September 2, 2012

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Vol. CXXX, No. 4 (April 2010) by Stanley Schmidt (editor)

Stories included:
Swords and Saddles by John G. Hemry
Snowflake Kisses by Holly Hight and Richard A. Lovett
The Robots' Girl by Brenda Cooper
A Sound Basis for Misunderstanding by Carl Frederick
Nothin' but Blue Skies by Stephen L. Burns
When We Were Fab by Jerry Oltion
The Planet Hunters by S. L. Nickerson

Science fact articles included:
What's in a Kiss? The Wild, Wonderful World of Philematology by Richard A. Lovett

Full review: The April 2010 issue of Analog isn't quite as good as the previous month's but is hardly a disappointment as a result. With several strong stories, with a few merely decent ones mixed in, the issue is overall above average.

The centerpiece story of the issue is the John G. Hemry alternate history story Swords and Saddles in which Ulysses Benton's lost cavalry patrol in the 1870s turns out to have accidentally slipped into an alternate reality in which the land bridge between North America and Asia never went away, allowing for colonization of the continent from the West. The troopers find themselves in a world of warring medieval era principalities with differing social mores from the ones they are used to. While this could have descended into a facile morality play in which the enlightened Americans lecture the savages on the evils of slavery, but the story is substantially more nuanced than that, which makes it a much better tale.

The Planet Hunters by S. L. Nickerson, while not alternate history, loops loosely into the time travel genre as a collection of astronomers fighting for telescope time on the new big eye stumble upon a little bit more than they expected. Though the story is told with a humorous tone, the subject matter isn't really funny per se, but rather the humor is used by the narrator to cover up the intensity of professional infighting, and the difficult nature of his work. Overall, because the story ended before exploring any of the serious implications of the discovery made by the astronomers, this was the weakest story of the issue, although still adequate.

Richard A. Lovett adds a science fact article about the effect of body chemistry on emotion in What's in a Kiss: The Wild, Wonderful World of Philematology, and follows it up with a fiction collaboration on the same subject with Holly Hight titled Snowflake Kisses that sort of meandered and came to no real conclusion. I found the story surprisingly weak for a Lovett story, which was disappointing. Brenda Cooper's The Robot's Girl is another sotyr that also focuses on the nature of love and human interactions, in this case what happens when a child is denied human interaction. Sad and frustrating, I think the story evokes exactly the emotions it intended to, and while it wasn't fun to read, it was certainly engaging.

On the lighter side Carl Frederick's A Sound Basis for Misunderstanding adds yet another story to the science fiction subgenre of comical alien trade negotiations. Cultural misunderstandings make for some slapstick comedy in the story, and the end is appropriately humorous. There isn't anything deeply insightful about the story, it is just diverting fun. Nothin' but Blue Skies by Stephen L. Burns also falls into the comical alien trade negotation subgenre, but it has some slightly more ominous tones that inject a hint of darkness to the humor. Still, the story if mostly funny and well-written.

Finally, When We Were Fab by Jerry Oltion deals with the commercial implications of nanofabrication technology from the perspective of a small business owner struggling to survive. It injects current in vogue freemium model into the story, as well as touching upon the "long tail" idea of marketing. While there is little particularly exciting about the story, it is well-thought out and well-presented.

With only two less than good stories, and a bunch of strong ones, this issue makes for a good example of the flagship science fiction oriented periodical. While not a great issue, this one remains well worth reading for any genre fan.

Previous issue reviewed: March 2010
Subsequent issue reviewed: May 2010

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