Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Vol. CXXX, No. 3 (March 2010) by Stanley Schmidt (editor)

Stories included:
Of One Mind by Shane Tourtellotte
The Hub of the Matter by Christopher L. Bennett
Narrow World by Carl Frederick
Encounter in a Yellow Wood by Bud Sparhawk
Locked In by Brad Aiken
Dr. Skenner's Special Animals by David A. Simons
Probability Zero: Ten Thousand Monkeys by Tocho Ligon

Science fact articles included:
Isotopy by Stephen L. Gillett, Ph.D.

Full review: I've said before that some issues of Analog seem to have unannounced themes. This issue is another example of this. The theme here appears to be "near future" science fiction, as just about all of the stories in the issue are ones that deal with technology that seem to be plausible within the next fifty years.

The first, best, and most thought provoking story in the issue is Shane Tourtelotte's Of One Mind, a tale about modifying people's personalities to extract information out of them. The story seems to cover some of the same ground that Heinlein covered decades ago in Revolt in 2100, namely, is the ability to modify a person's personality compatible with the idea of democracy? Whereas Heinlein somewhat optimistically concluded that it could be controlled and kept from being misused, Tourtelotte's tale expresses less confidence in the virtues of humanity. The story is made even more compelling by the near future setting: it seems almost as if the horrors that take place in the story could very well happen next year.

To a lesser extent, Locked In by Brad Aiken deals with advances in brain interface technology, as the protagonist is fitted with prosthetics to compensate for the failure of his body. This story is far less serious than Of One Mind, but it does have a minor caution concerning the security of such systems that makes the story much more interesting than it might have been.

Also set in the near future is Encounter in a Yellow Wood by Bud Sparhawk, which takes a standard environmental trope and turns it on its head. I'm not sure if everyone will agree with the choices made by the protagonist, but I think that is more or less the point: even if everyone involved is in favor of the same "green" goals, the hard choices people must make will still divide us. Dr. Skenner's Special Animals by David A. Simons tackles the question of designer genetically engineered fairy tale creatures, and exactly what sort of legal limbo they might find themselves in. Once again, the story seems to be close enough to reality to have a sharp edge that hits close to home. Another story with an environmental angle is Carl Frederick's Narrow World, an interesting tale about the unique ecosystem that develops on the isolated median strip of a superhighway, and the perils of changing that ecosystem without understanding it to begin with. Of all the "green" stories in the issue, this one is probably the best overall.

The one story that departs from the "near future" theme of the issue is The Hub of the Matter by Christopher L. Bennett in which humanity is am impoverished junior member of a galactic culture tied together by a seemingly inexplicable interstellar transport system. The protagonist, a plucky young man named David sets out to make humanity's mark on the universe by unraveling the mysterious "Hub" that interstellar transport relies upon. The story is mostly humorous, but it has enough serious material that when the characters get into trouble it isn't a laughing matter.

Stephen L. Gillett's science fact article Isotopy covers, predictably enough, the science of elemental isotopes, giving an overview of the history of the science that discovered them and how modern science uses them. There isn't anything in the article that will come as a surprise to anyone who has more than the most basic science education (although as one might deduce from my review of Requiem for the Human Soul, this level of science education cannot be taken for granted, even among authors who write science fiction stories), but the article still serves as a good refresher and update on a fairly mundane topic that turns out to be quite interesting. John Cramer's regular Alternate View column titled The Nice Way to Make a Solar System tackles some of the questions raised by the fact that the extrasolar planetary systems that have been found bear limtied relation to ours, and a model that seems to explain how the current state of our solar system might have come into being. Though short, space geeks like me will find it a great read.

Overall, with strong stories throughout and well done science fact articles, this is one of the stronger issues of Analog that I can remember.

Previous issue reviewed: January/February 2010
Subsequent issue reviewed: April 2010

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