Thursday, February 5, 2015

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Volume CXXIX, Nos. 7 & 8 (July/August 2009) by Stanley Schmidt (editor)

Stories included:
Turning the Grain, Part I of II by Barry B. Longyear
Seed of Revolution by Daniel Hatch
Failure to Obey by John G. Hemry
The Bear Who Sang Opera by Scott William Carter
Payback by Tom Ligon
Duck and Cover by Don D'Ammassa
The Calculus Plague by Marissa K. Lingen
Global Warming by Harry Turtledove

Science fact articles included:
The Large Hadron Collider: A New Era by Dr. Don Lincoln
Preserving the Memory by Janet Freeman

Special features included:
Musings from the First Generation by Michael Carroll

Full review: Against a backdrop of depressing and pessimistic fiction published in other magazines, the fundamentally upbeat tone of the stories in this issue of Analog is like a breath of fresh air. The collection of stories, in addition to being fairly optimistic in nature, are also, taken as a whole, quite good. Apparently, while the other speculative fiction magazines seem to have been sorting through the dregs of the submission pile looking for mediocre downbeat stories, Schmidt has been nailing down the market for hopeful speculative fiction and getting a bunch of good stories in the bargain.

The issue starts off with Seed of Revolution by Daniel Hatch, a murder mystery that somehow manages to avoid being grim, and turns out to be focused on the dangers of inadvertent technology transfer as humans interact with a primitive planet on which the entire population of fauna shares sufficient genetic compatibility to interbreed. Of course, the technology transfer in question turns out to be much more potent than mere circuits and gears could possibly be, and comes as a surprise to the humans in the story (at least the humans who are alive). This is followed up by the funny heist mystery The Bear Who Sang Opera by Scott William Carter featuring a singing bear who hires a Sam Spade of the future to find out who stole his voice. The solution to the mystery, while a little predictable, is humorous and satisfying. Harry Turtledove's Global Warming deals with the title subject, but in his usual off-kilter way, discussing what is surely the very first wave of the problem, and the potential solutions that might have been proposed at the time.

The issue is not all silly stories, but even the others seem to be more or less upbeat. Payback by Tom Ligon, about humanity's response to an unprovoked interstellar attack deals realistically with the instinctual desire for revenge and political maneuvering. Despite this, the story still manages to come to a more or less optimistic conclusion. Duck and Cover by Don D'Ammassa is a somewhat creepy story about the meaning of identity, while The Calculus Plague by Marissa K. Lingen manages to be both frightening and funny at the same time in its exploration of the power of memory and memory transfer.

The two most serious stories: Failure to Obey by John Hemry and Turning the Grain by Barry Longyear, both feature military themes and central characters, but that's just about all they have in common. Failure to Obey follows Lieutenant Shen as she deals with an unconventional attack on a space station and the secret court-martial of one of the station security officers that follows it. The science is fairly interesting (the method the attackers try to use to destroy the station is ingenious in its simplicity) and the court-martial is well-written and pretty accurate (i.e. no one makes a dramatic confession on the stand). The story leaves some dangling questions: Who were the attackers, why was the court-martial made secret, what did Lieutenant Shen do on her previous assignment that got her court-martialed (and acquitted). These open questions don't impact the outcome of this story, but leave you wanting more, which is probably the best recommendation a story can have.

Turning the Grain is the first part in a two part series, and as such is unfinished in this issue. What there is of the story is quite good – Gordon Redcliff, former U.S. Army sniper turned hired bodyguard, has to make his way in a future still torn by the aftermath of religious wars with many nursing old hatreds. Some people still try to find a way to work together and study human origins (and need protecting from bandits and other enemies, which is where Redcliff comes in). The story is unafraid to cast aside elements when necessary, and in an unexpected plot twist most of what has been built up as background becomes irrelevant except to the extent that it shaped the main character's persona, but it is done in such a way that the background seems like it was a necessary element, but not an element that could not be jettisoned when the story needed to. I look forward to the second half of the story in the next issue.

The issue also includes the science fact articles The Large Hadron Collider: A New Era about (naturally) particle physics research, and Preserving the Memory, about the search for a cure for Alzheimer's disease (an increasingly pressing issue as the baby boomers age). Both are informative, although Preserving the Memory suffers somewhat due to the fact that a lot of Alzheimer's research amounts to "we are guessing that . . . " rather than any actual firm conclusions as to cause or treatment. The special feature Musings from the First Generation is an interesting article written from the perspective of a person who grew up during the first stages of the space race. Like all of these types of articles, it makes me angry to be reminded of how much potential has been wasted since we decided to stop doing things that stretched our capabilities like going to the Moon and instead settled for milk runs into low-Earth orbit.

This issue, with a collection of uniformly good stories is what a science fiction periodical should be. Solid in every aspect, and brilliant at times, this issue is well worth reading.

Previous issue reviewed: June 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: September 2009

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