Sunday, October 21, 2012

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Volume CXXIX, No. 10 (October 2009) by Stanley Schmidt (editor)

Stories included:
Where the Winds Are All Asleep by Michael F. Flynn
Shallow Copy by Jesse L. Watson
An Idea Whose Time Had Come by Robert Grossbach
Cold Words by Juliette Wade
The Hanged Man by William Gleason
Teddy Bear Toys by Carl Frederick
In the Autumn of the Empire by Jerry Oltion

Poems included:
Insignificance by Edward M. Lerner

Science fact articles included:
The Psychology of Space Travel by Nick Kanas, M.D.

Full review: Some issues of Analog seem to have unannounced themes, and this appears to be one of them. Stanley Schmidt's editorial discusses the dangers of relying too heavily upon technology to solve one's problems, highlighting an accident caused by an individual who blindly followed his GPS while driving despite the obvious stupidity of doing so. The dangers of such reliance, or merely the dangers of virtual reality and artificial intelligence, seems to be the unstated theme of this issue.

The issue starts off with some interesting, but not thematically related stories: Michael Flynn's Where the Winds Are Asleep details an expedition deep into the Earth following the journal of a long dead geologist in an effort to find an entirely new strain of life, with somewhat less than happy results. The Hanged Man by William Gleason is a story that also has an unhappy end, although it clearly falls into the subgenre of space horror, focusing on the psychological cost of betrayal made manifest.

Then begins a series of stories that seem to all deal with the issues discussed in Schmidt's editorial. Teddy Bear Toys by Carl Frederick seems like a frivolous story, following the attempts of a computer game fanatic to get a copy of the newest release by sneaking into and camping out in a store the night before the game becomes available. The story quickly becomes much more than that, as the protagonist deals with the nature of reality, and how it interacts with increasingly real virtual reality. If Teddy Bear Toys is about virtual reality moving towards reality, Jerry Oltion's In the Autumn of the Empire is about reality being altered to match delusion, as an infallible Emperor changes the world to match his notions of how the world should work, with disastrous results.

Jesse Watson's Shallow Copy is also about the dangers of virtual reality becoming too real, as a child genius' project to create actual artificial intelligence succeeds, but none of those involved are prepared for the implications. The story seems a little derivative of some of the elements from Egan's Permutation City, but the story is still decent. An Idea Whose Time Had Come by Robert Grossbach also deals with artificial intelligence, but deals with the dangers of trusting such an AI to solve our problems, even if the AI is benevolent.

The final story in the issue is Juliette Wade's Cold Words covers the classic territory of attempting to communicate with an alien species. It turns out that knowing the language the aliens speak is only a tiny part of what is required. The alien culture described walks the fine line between being alien enough that the human emissaries believably have a difficult time understanding how to negotiate for what they want, but not so alien that the reader is too confused to follow the story. Overall, this is probably the best story in the issue.

Nick Kanas provides a science fact article about the psychological effects of long term space travel both positive and (mostly) negative. It is well researched, and Kanas clearly knows what he is talking about, but it is a little dry. John Cramer also chips in with an article titled Connecting Gravity with Electricity about the LIGO gravity wave detector and the search for gravity waves.

Given the interest I have taken in the whole science/creationism debate, Edward Lerner's poem Insignificance about man's true place in the universe struck a chord with me. It is beautiful and puts humanity in proper perspective.

Overall, this is another decent issue of Analog, with no real great stories, but no awful ones either. A couple of the stories are above average, but none of them seem like ones that people will look back on as classics. The issue is worth reading, but nothing really stands out.

Previous issue reviewed: September 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: November 2009

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