Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Volume CXXIX, No. 11 (November 2009) by Stanley Schmidt (editor)

Stories included:
To Climb a Flat Mountain, Part I of II by G. David Nordley
Amabit Sapiens by Craig DeLancey
Joan by John G. Hemry
Foreign Exchange by Jerry Oltion
Thanksgiving Day by Jay Werkheiser

Science fact articles included:
Rock! Bye-Bye, Baby by Edward M. Lerner

Full review: November 2009 seems to be a lackluster month for Analog with a collection of mostly mediocre stories and a couple of fairly dry science fact articles. Overall, there seems to be little to indicate that this issue will be particularly memorable.

The two best stories in the volume are also the shortest: Foreign Exchange by Jerry Oltion is a mildly humorous story about an unexpected alien contact and the rather foolish and faulty assumptions made by the crew of an expeditionary mission to Mars. The story is just silly enough to be fun, and just serious enough to avoid being a farce. Thanksgiving Day by Jay Werkheiser is on the opposite end of the scale, as a hard science fiction story about the colonization of an alien world and the struggles of the colonists to figure out why all of their attempts to grow crops result in poisonous produce.

Amabit Sapiens by Craig DeLancey marks the return to Analog of Marrion's kids, a collection of children genetically engineered to care more about the distant future. This time, the children's long view is put into use, as they are recruited into a plan to ward off environmental disaster and the looming energy shortage. There is nothing particularly good or bad about the story, although it does seem to state that humanity cannot solve its problems without a sort of magic Santa Claus to do it for us, which I find mildly offensive. Joan, by John G. Hemry, also deals with humanity's lack of foresight, in this case the lack of foresight exhibited by a woman who idolizes Joan of Arc. She serendipitously gets access to a time machine and sets about trying to save Joan from being burnt at the stake. Things don't turn out how she expects, as fate seems to have been preordained for Joan. The story falls apart upon the protagonist's return to the present, as the changes she wrought on the past seem to have had no noticeable effect on the present beyond changing a few pictures and records. Overall, the lack of evaluation of the consequences of the time-traveler's actions makes this story little more than a description of a holiday in the middle-ages.

The anchor story of the issue is the first part of the two-part To Climb a Flat Mountain by G. David Nordley. This part establishes the protagonist (and all the other characters in the story) as the survivors of an interstellar expeditionary force gone astray as a result of sabotage. They have crash-landed on a truly alien planet with flat square sides (hence, the "flat mountain"). The protagonist meets up with a handful of other survivors and they set about trying to establish a functioning society to ensure their survival. The survivors quickly diverge into two camps, with one being driven by sexist religious fundamentalism and the other (including the protagonist) taking a more egalitarian view. The trouble with this plot element is that the arguments made by the religious fundamentalist spokesperson are so obviously unconvincing that the adherence of others to his viewpoint seems ludicrous, and drags the story down. The hunt for the saboteur and the struggle to survive in this very alien environment make for much better stories, but the religious conflict is so weak as to make the entire story fairly mediocre.

Edward M. Lerner discusses the likelihood of asteroids or comets striking the Earth in Rock! Bye-Bye Baby, focusing on those that would be significant enough to cause a natural disaster of sizeable proportion. The article also discusses the steps humanity can take to prevent such a disaster from occurring. The article is filled with facts, but makes for fairly dry reading as the territory has been covered numerous times before. In The Alternate View Jeffrey D. Kooistra discusses what appear to be systematic methodological problems with the collection of data by the U.S. climate monitoring stations and the impact this may have on global warming calculations. This article is much more interesting, and raises some very significant questions.

In the end, this is simply a very mediocre issue of Analog. With two slightly above average stories (which also happen to be the shortest two), two average stories, and one weak story, the issue is simply devoid of any outstanding fictional material. Coupled with a dry primary science fact article, the issue simply seems to be a placeholder put out to fill the space between the September issue and the December one. The second half of To Climb a Flat Mountain could raise that story from being mediocre, but that seems to be damning with faint praise. Here's to hoping that the weak array of stories in this issue means that they are saving a bunch of good ones for December 2009.

Previous issue reviewed: October 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: December 2009

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