Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Volume CXXX, Nos. 1 & 2 (January/February 2010) by Stanley Schmidt (editor)

Stories included:
Neptune's Treasure by Richard A. Lovett
Thus Spake the Aliens by H. G. Stratmann
The Possession of Paavo Deshin by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Simple Gifts by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
Shame by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn
On Rickety Thistlewaite by Michael F. Flynn
Rejiggering the Thingamajig by Eric James Stone
A War of Stars by David L. Clements

Science fact articles included:
Twins: Never Identical by Victor Raggio, M.D.
Take Off Your Hat: You're in the Presence of Culture by Stephen R. Balzac

Special features included:
Making Reality Ring Untrue: Writer's Tricks for Bringing Stories to Life by Richard A. Lovett
Across My Life . . . by Ben Bova

Poems included:
Undocumented Alien by Robert T. Lundy

Full review: As usual in a double issue, this edition of Analog has more than the usual ups and downs, which is to be expected as it has more content. Unusual for a double issue, there are more ups than downs, resulting in a pretty good issue.

Brittney and Floyd return in Richard A. Lovett's Neptune's Treasure, a hard science story about finding evidence of aliens in the outer solar system. Having previously appeared in Brittney's Labyrinth the two companions, a taciturn outer system engineer and his hyper intelligent juvenile self aware AI continue their adventures in the even more dangerous territory of Neptune's moons (having left the relative safety of Saturn's moons). As usual, the story is well-executed and interesting. Lovett also contributes an article on effective fiction writing, focusing on making a story seem real by using indiosyncratic background details.

Also returning are H.G. Stratmann's Katerina Savistskaya and Martin Slayton in the story Thus Spake the Aliens, who had previously appeared in Wilderness Were Paradise Enow. This story picks up where that one left off, as Katerina, having apparently failed the aliens test in the previous story and doomed mankind to extinction, attempts to figure out a way to reverse this mistake. As usual, dealing with aliens of Godlike power is difficult at best, and Katerina and Martin muddle through to an ambiguous and somewhat hopeful ending.

Another story in the hard science fiction genre is A War of Stars by David L. Clements, which takes interstellar war to an extreme future without breaking any known laws of physics on the way. The future he describes is bleak and harsh, and in the end you aren't even sure who to root for.

Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn contribute the story Shame, which seems to be a Western redressed as a science fiction story about a covert operation gone wrong, and the awful consequences of jumping to the wrong conclusions. The story is okay, but a little predictable. On Rickety Thistlewaite by Michael F. Flynn is also somewhat predictable, although its more exotic setting and strange court politics makes it more interesting.

Rejiggering the Thingamajig by Eric James Stone, featuring a sapient tyrannosaurus Buddhist, a buggy interstellar travel network, a sentient (and enthusiastic) gun and a less than honest help line is my favorite story of the issue. It is funny and serious, and accomlishes the difficult feat of merging these two elements without it seeming forced while telling an interesting story. Also humorous is the Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff story Simple Gifts, although the humor mostly emerges as it turns out that the seemingly simple minded aliens are not quite as simple minded as some of the humans seeking to trade with them believe.

My least favorite story was Kristine Kathryn Rusch's The Possession of Paavo Deshin in which terrible birth parents and terrible adoptive parents engage in a legal battle over a young boy. An opportunistic lawyer seeks to use the case to right a clear injustice in the structure of the laws humanity has bound itself too, but loses her will because she decides that an arrogant father is worse than a mobster father. Almost everyone in the story drips indifference for the boy at the center of it (which I think was kind of the point), but even those who supposedly care for his welfare are shockingly indifferent, and set up a situation where it is inevitable that more children will be subject to this sort of legal shuffle. Despite the fact that the story was well written I found myself just wanting every character in the story to die and get the misery over with.

Victor Raggio contributes the science fact article Twins: Never Identical, which discusses the genetic differences being found even in identical twins. The article doesn't offer much more than that, which is a pity, as drawing some conclusions or even engaging in some speculation based on this data would have been interesting. Stephen R. Balzac's fact article Take Off Your Hat: You're in the Presence of Culture is, in my opinion, a better article. It focuses on how culture is created and transmitted, and how this could be applied to science fiction stories. Ben Bova contributes a retrospective about his life as a science fiction editor and author in Across My Life . . . , which I found quite interesting.

Overall, with only one poor story (and it was only poor because I hated all the characters) and several good ones, this is an above average issue of Analog. Anyone who enjoys the straightforward mostly hard science fiction bent of Analog will not be disappointed by this issue.

Previous issue reviewed: December 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: March 2010

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