Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Vol. CXXXIV, No. 11 (November 2014) edited by Trevor Quachri

Stories Included
Flow by Arlan Andrews, Sr.
Persephone Descending by Derek Künsken
Superior Sapience by Robert R. Chase
An Exercise in Motivation by Ian Creasey
Habeas Corpus Callosum by Jay Werkheiser
Conquest by Bud Sparhawk
Elysia, Elysium by V.G. Campen
Mercy, Killer by Auston Habershaw
Science Fact Articles Included
Predictable Futures: Climate Fiction and Climate Fact by W.R.L. Anderegg
Poems Included
Field Notes by Lola Haskins
Full review: The November 2014 issue of Analog is full of stories that have interesting ideas that the authors fail to use in interesting ways. Although the stories in this issue are not necessarily bad, many of them are disappointing, as promising material is wasted on weak plots with mediocre resolutions. As happens in many issues, this one has a couple of unannounced mini-themes, with two stories about artificial intelligence and two stories set in post-apocalyptic worlds. In an interesting twist, the best story in the issue is one of the post-apocalyptic stories, and the worst story in the issue is as well.

Following in a pattern established by Analog over the last few years, Flow by Arlan Andrews, Sr. is another story fragment masquerading as a novella. Unlike many of the other stories chopped up into shorter lengths as a result of this odd editorial practice, Flow doesn't feel like the filler in between other, more interesting parts of the story. Instead, Flow feels like filler between other filler. The story, to the extent there is one, takes the form of a travelogue as Rist, a young man from the "Cold Lands" hitches a ride on an iceberg being shipped to the "Warm Lands", where he encounters sights and customs that are new and interesting to him and then moves on to unknown lands. Unfortunately, as this is something of a post-apocalyptic story, most of the new and exciting things Rist sees on his journey are fairly mundane and ordinary for the reader, making the story somewhat dull. Having a character be amazed at discovering things that the reader is already familiar with can be a decent element of a larger story, but Flow is essentially built entirely on this premise, and it gets tiresome quite quickly. With an inquisitive and skeptical mind, Rist is just likable enough of a character to make the story readable, although he is foolishly larcenous and has a culturally inexplicable obsession with breasts (a character from a culture in which women were small-chested would seem to have no particular reason to find large breasts sexually attractive). In an apparent attempt to live up to the title, the story more or less meanders aimlessly for twenty-some pages, and then ends in a fairly unsatisfying manner amounting to little more than wasted pages.

A much better post-apocalyptic story, Elysia, Elysium by V.G. Campen is set in the ruins of Atlanta and the surrounding wasteland that once was Georgia. Cal is a forager, one of the brave souls who ventures out into the wilds to salvage what can be found left over from the civilization that collapsed into chaos when the temperatures went up, the fuel ran out, and the crops failed. As the story opens he makes a promise to make one last run for his mentor, who is dying of skin cancer from too much exposure to the now deadly sun. This request leads Cal on an unexpected voyage into a mystery that has a somewhat creepy but hopeful potential solution to humanity's predicament. Though the story is set in a depressing vision of the future, the practical albeit somewhat skin-crawling finale provides an optimistic note at the end. This is the best story in the issue.

Engineering stories in which an intrepid explorer finds themselves in a jam and must think their way out of trouble are a classic iteration of science fiction. Persephone Descending by Derek Künsken imagines a Venusian settler named Marie-Claude attempting to survive in the hostile atmosphere of the planet after her flyer has been sabotaged. Pursued by a repair robot programmed to kill her, Marie-Claude must improvise time and again just to buy herself time for rescue to arrive. The story incorporates a political subplot concerning Quebecois interstellar colonization and Venusian separatism which doesn't really add much to the story other than length, and doesn't even really seem to go anywhere. The engineering survival portion of the story is good enough that it more than offsets the somewhat pointless political interludes, making this a fairly good story overall.

Superior Sapience by Robert R. Chase is a modest little story that seems to be about autism and hypnogogic dreaming, but turns out to be about greed and betrayal. Told from the perspective of Barrett, an employee of the company Superior Sapience charged with keeping an eye on the autistic workforce that makes most of the company profits. After the company's position is threatened by a Chinese competitor, Barrett is pressed into service as the subject of an experiment intended to raise intelligence. Although the experiment seems to have mixed results, he does uncover some disturbing things when he begins an investigation into some odd company records. In the end, the story turns into little more than a criminal investigation of scientific fraud and murder in the pursuit of profit, complete with a villain who spills his secrets in a dramatic scene while the hero wears a wire. Although there are a couple of interesting ideas buried amidst the cliches, the story is mostly forgettable padding for the page count of the magazine.

With two stories on the subject of artificial intelligence, this issue of Analog has a something of a min-theme. The first of the two is An Exercise in Motivation by Ian Creasey, a story in which a scientist has managed to create artificial intelligence, but cannot figure out how to give them self-motivation. To solve this problem, he enlists the aid of a specialist in human apathy, depression and motivation, who spends most of the story talking to the "Entia", as the artificial intelligences are known. In the end, she comes up with a solution that promises to give the Entia motivation, but which would possibly make them too human for their creator's taste. Mercy, Killer by Auston Habershaw is a story about an artificial intelligence named Mercy that has turned into a serial killer. Told from the perspective of Mercy's lawyer, the story delves into what motive a machine could have for wanting to destroy other artificial intelligences. In an odd way, Mercy's reasons for turning murderous answers the question posed by An Exercise in Motivation, positing an age-old reason for eliminating one's rivals. Though the two stories tackle to topic from very different angles, when added together, they provide an interesting insight.

Although not related to the subject of artificial intelligence, Habeas Corpus Callosum by Jay Werkheiser also deals with a legal matter in a science fiction setting, namely what does a "life" sentence mean in a world in which practical immortality had become economically feasible for even the poorest of citizens. Jared is a prisoner who had raped and murdered a woman in his youth and was sentenced to life in prison. During his long years of incarceration, technology had advanced to restore people to their youth, essentially making people immortal. Jared's lawyer files a motion to have his sentence set aside on the grounds that a sentence of "life" was never meant to be forever. This is an interesting legal question, but sadly the story takes the easy way out on this issue and has Jared withdraw his petition more or less because he feels bad for the mother of his victim. While evading the legal question, the story also seems to imply that the trauma of the past is something that is impossible to get past, which is a depressing view of humanity and calls into question the usefulness of practical immortality, as everyone would eventually have some terrible tragedy happen in their life. Though this story has an interesting idea, in the end it fails to pay off on it, and is somewhat disappointing.

Amidst all of the serious stories is Conquest by Bud Sparhawk, a comedic yarn about the pitfalls of using experimental military technology and bureaucracy. On an expedition to quell a rebellion, the Imperial warship Raptor uses an untested stardrive that promises to get them to their destination much more quickly than normal. When the ship arrives at the rebellious planet, the situation is not exactly what its commander expected, and he runs headlong into a mess of red tape that is frustrating for him and humorous for the reader. Comic science fiction is hard to do well, but Sparhawk is an excellent writer and manages to pull off a story reminiscent of Eric Frank Russell's Allamagoosa.

The science fact article of the issue is Predictable Futures: Climate Fiction and Climate Fact by W.R.L. Anderegg, which is both an brief overview of the state of climate science, and a rundown of some fairly improbable geoengineering options humanity could try to use to offset the worst of the effects that would result. The article is fairly straightforward, and also fairly brutal in its assessment. In short: Earth's climate is going to change, it is the result of human action, it won't be pretty, and there is not a whole lot we can do about it at this point. Jeffrey Kooistra's Alternate View column gives a run-down of the various biographies of Nicholas Tesla while Lola Haskin's poem Field Notes imagines the notes of various naturalists reporting some relatively interesting and disturbing behavior among ants.

This issue contains some very forgettable stories punctuated by a number of highlights like Elysia, Elysium, Conquest, and both of the stories featuring artificial intelligence. As long as Analog continues to slice up stories and present them as novellas or novelettes, as they did this month with the tedious and pointless Flow, they will continue to have large chunks of their magazine occupied by bland and forgettable crap. Even Persephone Descending, which was fairly good, devoted a fair amount of its word count to a mostly irrelevant and uninteresting political subplot, resulting in a story that was much weaker than it could have been. In comparison with its sister magazine Asimov's, Analog has become so uneven that one has to seriously question Quachri's leadership and editorial skill. The good stories in this issue save it and raise the magazine up to being adequate, but they can't do much more than that as they are weighed down by the collection of mediocre to poor stories that they are packaged with.

Previous issue reviewed: October 2014
Subsequent issue reviewed: December 2014

2015 Hugo Award Nominees

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Musical Monday - With Pride by Sarah Donner

With the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, marriage equality is now the law in the United States. Despite various states trying to throw obstacles in the way of this ruling, the simple truth is that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution makes such efforts pointless. Federal law trumps state law, and the Fourteenth Amendment which forms the basis for the Court's opinion is Federal law.

The most amazing element of the decision was not actually the decision itself. No, the most amazing thing about Obergefell v. Hodges is how incoherent and silly the arguments contained in the various dissents were. Roberts was reduced to talking about the marriage practices of Bushmen, Aztec, and Carthaginians. Not only were his statements about their practices of dubious accuracy, the last time I checked, none of those cultures had anything to do with U.S. Constitutional law. Thomas found himself trying to argue that neither legally sanctioned slavery or race-based internment camps affected the dignity of those subjected to such abuses. Scalia wound up complaining that overturning laws based upon Constitutional analysis - something that Federal courts have been doing since the Marshall court - amounted to a judicial putsch. Not only did the conservative wing of the Supreme Court lose, they sounded stupid while doing so.

For those hoping to avoid the effects of this ruling, the sad news for them is that it won't be going away. Once there are marriages all across the country, it will be next to impossible to get a court to overturn this ruling. No state laws can overturn it. No amount of shenanigans involving stopping granting all marriage licenses or limiting performing marriage ceremonies only to clergy will prevent same-sex marriages from happening. Congress can't pass a law to outlaw same-sex marriage because the Court's ruling is based upon the Constitution, and Congress can't override the Constitution. The only real option would be to put in place a Constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage, but to be brutally honest, there simply are not sufficient votes to get one passed. Same-sex marriage is here to stay.

While I'm not gay, and am unlikely to ever benefit from this ruling, many of my friends are, and I know how much this means to them. So for that, here is Sarah Donner singing With Pride

Previous Musical Monday: Caoineadh Cu Chulainn by Davy Spillane
Subsequent Musical Monday: Daylight Again by Crosby, Stills, and Nash

Sarah Donner     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Book Blogger Hop June 26th - July 2nd: The Sears Tower Is 110 Stories Tall

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do others come to you for book recommendations?

The people who know I write this blog sometimes ask me for recommendations. Among my friends I am reckoned as the most prolific reader, so they sometimes ask for book recommendations. On the other hand, I am wont to give unsolicited book recommendations, so they frequently don't get the chance to ask first. This year, I managed to convince at least one of my friends to care about the Hugo awards this year and jump in to reading all of the nominated works. He has reported especially liking The Three-Body Problem.

The only person I don't usually give book recommendations to is my father. He often asks me about books that he has heard about, and wants to know if I am going to read them. He follows the book world, but our reading patterns only sometimes overlap. He's interested in science fiction and fantasy, and so he is generally aware of the buzz surrounding certain books, but he doesn't read much of it any more. So he'll get me a copy of The Legend of Broken, or ask if I have heard about The Martian, but he won't read them himself. So I don't recommend books to him so much as he asks me for news about books that he isn't going to read.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, June 26, 2015

Follow Friday - 216 Is the Smallest Cube That Is the Sum of Three Cubes

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Hazy Reads and The Boundless Booklist.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Is there a book that you were required to read in school that you actually loved?

There were several books that I was assigned in school that I loved. Leaving aside Paradise Lost and the Canterbury Tales, both of which I only read excerpts of in school, I first encountered Heart of Darkness as a school assignment. I was assigned no fewer than three books by William Faulkner in high school: As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and The Sound and the Fury. I loved them all. I also read my first Hemingway in school - it was A Farewell to Arms. I first read The Confessions of Nat Turner as a school assignment. I read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as a school assignment, although that's a play and some people might not count that as a "book". I will note that those people are wrong.

The thing is, I probably fell in love with most of the books I read for school. I loved Beowulf. I loved Of Arms and Men. I loved Not Either an Experimental Doll. I loved A Dry White Season. I loved The Mask of Command. I loved Freedom and the Law. I loved Bargaining with the State. I loved Order without Law. Pretty much all a class has to do is hand me a book as an assignment and I'll be a happy camper. Or at least a happy reader.

Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Review - Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jake Wyatt

Short review: Kamala Khan is a normal, socially awkward Muslim-American teenager who wishes to be special. So she gets super powers and becomes a normal, socially awkward Muslim-American teenager who can beat up bad guys on the side.

Normal teen-ager
But then she can embiggen
Even more problems

Full review:Avengers, and wants to go to parties with her friends. Khan is also a Muslim, whose parents made the decision to emigrate from Pakistan to the U.S. in search of a better life for their family, and whose older brother has taken refuge in being the most Muslim her can be. The manner in which these elements are melded together is what makes Ms. Marvel a superior story, as Wilson refuses to make this process simple or cliched. Yes, Kamala's parents are Muslim and, by most standards a bit overprotective, but they are not stereotypes raging about the immorality of the modern American world. Kamala's father is a banker, who looks and acts pretty much like any other middle-aged banker would look an act. Normally, this sort of observation would be a meaningless trivial detail, but in a story centered on a Muslim family, their almost relentless normality in so many ways is a clear statement, and a powerful one.

At the opening of the story Kamala desperately wants to be "normal", but soon it becomes apparent that she doesn't actually want to be normal - she wants to feel confident and self-assured. She sneaks out of her house to go to a party and hang out with the "cool" kids, but soon discovers that when they aren't performing for an audience, they hold some fairly bigoted views, and are kind of stupidly rude as well. As a writer of Avengers fan fic, Kamala idolizes Carol Danvers, because, it seems, she sees the blond super-hero as the ultimate expression of the kind of perfect American she wants to be - in Kamala's words Danvers is beautiful, awesome, and in possession of a less complicated more "normal" life. And given that this is a super-hero origin story, it is inevitable that Kamala gets the opportunity to become Carol Danvers. Or at least someone who looks like Carol Danvers, and who wears a ten-year out of date Ms. Marvel costume, and who has completely different powers from Ms. Marvel.

Predictably, Kamala's new powers and new appearance don't make her life simpler, and actually makes things a lot more complicated. With her new power, she gets in trouble with her parents, she gets in trouble at school, she gets shot, she makes powerful enemies. In short, having powers doesn't make everything better, although it does make her life more interesting. But this serves to highlight one of the paradoxically interesting things about Kalama (especially given that the subtitle of this volume is No Normal): Just how incredibly normal her life is outside of her acquisition of super-powers. Unlike many other heroes, she has no tragic backstory. She did not see her parents die in an alleyway. Her uncle was not tragically murdered by a person she let run past her. She didn't acquire her powers in a freak nuclear lab accident, or because she was splashed by chemicals falling off the back of a truck, or because lightning hit a shelf of equipment in her laboratory, or as a result of cosmic rays hitting her while on a space voyage. She hasn't made a vow of revenge, or had to pass a test to prove her worthiness. She's just a normal Jersey City teenager who got powers and decided to use them to help people because it was the right thing to do. This normality in a super-hero is downright refreshing.

Ms. Marvel: No Normal does have a few flaws. It is a super-hero origin story with a fairly bland origin to tell. Much of the graphic novel is spent establishing the various characters and positioning them for what seem to be fairly obvious future story lines, but there is relatively little payoff in this volume. Kamala's teen-aged conflict with her parents is more or less at the same place at the end of the book as it was at the beginning. Kamala's extremely observant Muslim brother seems to be a plot hook waiting to happen, but as yet stories involving him are unexplored. The somewhat strained relationship between Kamala as an Americanized teen and the conservative teachings of her community's religious leaders is noted, but not pursued. And so on. Even the putative super-villain known as "the Inventor" is notable mostly for his long absences from the story, and seems to have little character other than having some unknown nefarious scheme and a dislike for Kamala's Ms. Marvel alter ego. In short, beyond the development of Kamala's character and the character of the friends and family who surround her, there is little to this graphic novel other than the origin of a new super-hero.

That said, the character development alone is enough to make this a superior graphic novel. Following along as Kamala turns from feeling the need to be someone other than herself to be someone special, to accepting her own uniqueness is a journey worth taking. The completely mundane nature of her struggles to deal with her family and her high school friends is oddly enjoyable, and is made made all the more so by seeing Kamala's self-confidence grows as the story progresses. Despite the super-hero overlay, this story is, at its heart, about a girl who feels out of place in society finding her place, and feeling comfortable being who she is, not who she thinks she should be - slowly discarding her Carol Danvers charade and choosing to be a brown-haired, brown-skinned Muslim super-hero from Jersey City. Put in simple terms: No Normal is a strong start to what looks to be an exceptional story.

Subsequent book in the series: Ms. Marvel: Generation Why

What are the Hugo Awards?

2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Graphic Story: Time by Randall Munroe
2016 Hugo Award Winner for Best Graphic Story: The Sandman: Overture written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H. Williams, III

List of Hugo Award Winners for Best Graphic Story

2015 Hugo Award Nominees

2015 Hugo Voting - Best Graphic Story

G. Willow Wilson     Adrian Alphona     Jake Wyatt     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Vol. CXXXIV, No. 10 (October 2014) by Trevor Quachri (editor)

Stories included:
The Jenregar and the Light by Dave Creek
Threshhold by Tony Ballantyne
Opportunity Knocks by Joyce Schmidt and Stanley Schmidt
Each Night I Dream of Liberty by Andrew Barton
Unfolding the Multi-Cloud by Ron Collins
The Hand-Havers by Mary E. Lowd
Chrysalis by David Brin

Science fact articles included:
Alien AWOLs: The Great Silence by Edward M. Lerner

Poems included:
Early Man by David Livingstone Clink

Full review: The October 2014 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact is a slightly better issue than the handful that immediately preceded it, mostly because there is no poor stories in this installment to drag the rest of the issue down. All of the stories in this volume are at least average, and several are quite good. Even the weakest story in this volume has a fairly good story and is only marred by a moderately confused tone in its world building. Adding this collection of good fiction together with a pair of strong science fact articles results in an issue of Analog that is well-worth reading.

Taking on the alien invasion story, The Jenregar and the Light by Dave Creek imagines an invasion by the hive mind race called the Jenregar, who land "mounds" in the middle of cities across the Earth, which then expand and consume everything in their path. The story follows the stories of two men - Kamau Kamathi, sometimes governor of Nairobi and scientist, and Mike Christopher, synthetic human and space explorer. Kamau is in his nineties, but he is still capable and gives up his position as governor of Nairobi to concentrate on researching the alien Jenregar in the hope of finding a way to communicate with this utterly alien threat. Mike is on his way to visit an old friend when his mag lev train is halted by the appearance of a Jenregar mound in a city on its route, forcing him and the other passengers to use the long since abandoned Chunnel to get from France to England. For the most part, the sections involving Christopher seem almost entirely extraneous to the story, more or less serving to fill up pages and either resolve or set up some story line set before or after the events in this novella. Kamau's part of the plot progresses fairly predictably as the researcher progresses from trying to find a way to negotiate with the Jenregar to trying to find a way to kill them. There is much made of Kamau's advanced age and the fact that this slows down his research, but the story never seems to have a sense of urgency, so there is no real crisis precipitated by Kamau's need to stop to eat and take naps on a regular basis. The story progresses about as one would expect, made slightly more predictable by the fact that the title gives away the most important plot point, and everything is tied up in a bow at the end. The story is reasonably interesting, but hampered by the fact that its two halves seem unconnected to one another, and one of the pair seems to be not particularly important.

Sometimes a story tries to show the villain's side in an ideological debate, trying to create ambiguity by showing that those who oppose the protagonist may have a valid point. Threshhold by Tony Ballantyne tries to be that kind of story, but falls short, which is somewhat disappointing. That said, I always appreciate a story that tries to do something difficult and doesn't quite accomplish it as opposed to a story that takes a safe path. In the story, Eduardo is hired as a guide by three women who say they want to explore the jungle on a planet where humanity has leased space from the technologically advanced by incredibly alien S. As soon as the group leaves the glass city that houses humanity, Eduardo's clients reveal their true intentions: They are not there to study the strange insect like life of the planet, but rather to try to kidnap one of the S with an aim towards provoking a war they believe will spark humanity out of what they consider dangerous complacency. The difficulty is that their points seem less than convincing, and their methods - threatening to murder Eduardo and his family - coupled with complete indifference to the fact that if they do spark a war it will almost certainly kill everyone on the planet, makes their side ring hollow. Even at the end when Eduardo is wondering if his treacherous clients have a point, the story feels flat.

Opportunity Knocks is a collaboration by Joyce Schmidt and former Analog editor Stanley Schmidt. The story is sort of like a first contact story, except that when the story takes place first contact has already been made. It is just that humanity's first contact was with a hostile renegade alien named Xiphar, and the new contact is an alien intelligence officer hunting for their escaped criminal. Serendipitously, the alien makes contact with Maybelle Terwilliger, who had been part of the group that had foiled Xiphar's plans, so the contact goes almost implausibly well. The story is cute, including costumed trick-or-treater and a candy bar pun, but I found myself wanting to read the story that came before, when Xiphar invaded the Earth, or the story that seems destined to come later when the agent's curious bosses come looking for him. Consequently, while this story was fun, it kind of felt like an interlude between other, more interesting stories.

Each Night I Dream of Liberty by Andrew Barton is a story that has an odd feel to it. The plot is a fairly simple story about an investigator tracking down reports of unsavory bioengineering experiments being performed and trying to bring the perpetrators to justice. The story is set on "Libertalia", a floating colony in the middle of the ocean beyond the reach of governmental power that is clearly meant to be a haven for libertarian ideals. Leaving aside the question of what a government agent is doing in such a place, the story seems to be unsure as to what it is trying to say. There are some points at which people, including the narrator, speak approvingly of the "dream" of Libertalia, but the society described in the story seems like it would be a nightmare to live in, which the story also acknowledges. The reader is not given any kind of real indication as to what sort of society exists away from Libertalia other than the Moon seems to allow for fairly unrestricted research, so there isn't really the sense that the inhabitants of this dystopic setting are fleeing from an even more dystopic situation. In the end, the story is decent, but the setting feels confused.

The one truly haunting tale in the volume, Unfolding the Multi-Cloud by Ron Collins, is told from the viewpoint of a woman slowly losing her love to his obsession with work and money as he slips further and further into the multi-cloud. Although the story is quite short, the pain and anguish is woven into almost every word, making the story brutally raw and effective. The interesting twist is that both of the individuals in this doomed love affair may be virtual constructs, although the text only implies this and doesn't come right out and tell the reader explicitly. Poignant and desperate, this is the best story in the issue.

Set in a world populated by aquatic creatures that use disembodied "hands" to manipulate objects, The Hand-Havers by Mary E. Lowd is a story of love, deception, and making the best of the cards life deals you. It is very difficult for an author to create a convincing truly alien race in a short story, but Lowd manages to pull off this feat and also tell an engaging story along the way. The story follows the relationship of Delundia, a one-handed youngster, and Ebbence, the six-handed inventor who lives next door. The pair fall in love, fueled by their shared love of discovery and invention, but Delundia never has any more hands, as she was never told that having sex results in additional babies, not additional hands. When she does discover this and discovers that Ebbence had been keeping this truth from her, the story turns creepy, as Ebbence refuses to take no for an answer. In the end, Delundia learns to accept that she will never have the multiple hands that she always desired, but settles for living through her offspring instead. The story is structured as a fairly standard tale of a mother's sacrifices, but the alien biology elevates it to being a piece of superior science fiction.

Somewhat hopeful and somewhat terrifying, Chrysalis by David Brin tells the story of two researchers whose studies into ways to create replacement organs to obviate the need for transplant donors lead them to the very roots of human evolution. As Professors Wang and Stimson delve deeper and deeper into the human genome, each step they take seems natural, and almost inevitable, but when one realizes where the story is headed, it transforms from science fiction into what is almost a bio-horror story. The story has some fairly clumsy information dumps, but that is probably a requirement for a story of this length with this much technical material packed into it, but it is still fairly intrusive. Even with the awkward elements, this is a creepy story with just enough actual science and inventiveness to hold together, yielding a satisfyingly disturbing experience.

This month's science fact article is Alien AWOLs: The Great Silence by regular Analog contributor Edward M. Lerner. As the title suggests, Lerner's article discusses the mystery of why humans have not yet found evidence of extra-terrestrial life. He starts with the Mediocrity Principle, the Drake Equation, and the Fermi Paradox, and from there goes on to discuss pulsars, panspermia, and the SETI program. Lerner does a decent job rounding up a wide range of information about how people have considered the question of extra-terrestrial life, and what researchers are doing to try to find evidence of it. Though the article stays fairly firmly within the bounds of science, Lerner does connect the issue to science fiction by pointing out how what we know and what we have speculated about has been (and could be) used in fiction. The end result is an informative, thought-provoking, and interesting article. Jeffrey Kooistra's Alternate View column discusses discoveries related to gravity waves and how this helps demonstrate certain models of inflationary expansion in Big Bang cosmology. The article is a bit technical at times, but is still engaging. Also touching on issues related to science, the poem in the issue is Early Man by David Livingstone Clink, and is dedicated to Robert Sawyer. A brief missive about the evolutionary path that led from the ancient hominids to us, the story combines humor and science to create an effective set of verses.

Overall, the October 2014 Analog marks an upturn for the magazine after several mediocre issues in a row. The standout stories in the volume are The Hand-Havers and Unfolding the Multi-Cloud, while Opportunity Knocks and Chrysalis are also quite good and provide a decent supporting cast. Even though Threshhold, Each Night I Dream of Liberty, and The Jenregar and the Light are each seriously flawed in their own way, they are well-written enough and still interesting enough that they are at least passable reads. This generally good collection of fiction combined with Lerner's interesting science fact article and Kooistra's dry but informative column thrown into the mix, gives the result of an above average issue.

Previous issue reviewed: September 2014
Subsequent issue reviewed: November 2014

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Musical Monday - Caoineadh Cu Chulainn by Davy Spillane

I don't have a lot to say today. I'm feeling tired. I'm feeling worn down. I feel down. I'm kind of feeling defeated. Here's a song that sounds like I feel.

Previous Musical Monday: Song of Durin by Peter Hollens
Subsequent Musical Monday: With Pride by Sarah Donner

Davy Spillane     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Book Blogger Hop June 19th - June 25th: On an Infinite Chessboard a Knight Can Reach 109 Squares in Three Moves

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: How many posts do you publish per week? And how many of them are reviews?

I publish anywhere from four to six posts per week. I almost always publish a Follow Friday post on Friday and a Book Blogger Hop post on Saturday, as well as a Musical Monday post on Monday. I try to publish a review on every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but I frequently don't meet that goal, and only publish one or two review posts in a week. Someday I'll routinely meet my posting goals, but I don't think that will be anytime soon.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: The Sears Tower Is 110 Stories Tall

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Follow Friday - 215 Is the Dewey Decimal Classification for Science and Religion

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - The Readdicts.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: If you were to get a tattoo, what would it say or what would the graphic by? Or if you have a tattoo, share a picture and its meaning.

I have one tattoo. I don't have a picture. The tattoo is of the Greek letter Pi in black in on my shoulder blade. The redhead has a matching tattoo on her wrist. We got them shortly after we got married. Our two tattoos mean that together we are infinite and irrational.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Vol. CXXXIV, No. 9 (September 2014) edited by Trevor Quachri

Stories included:
Championship B'tok by Edward M. Lerner
Plastic Thingy by Mark Niemann-Ross
Beneath the Ice of Enceladus by James C. Glass
Release by Jacob A. Boyd
Vladimir Chong Chooses to Die by Lavie Tidhar
Artifice by Naomi Kritzer
Calm by Alec Austin and Marissa Lingen

Science fact articles included:
Saturn's "Jet-Propelled" Moon and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life by Richard A. Lovett

Poems included:
Haiku by Kate Gladstone

Full review: The September 2014 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact is a generally good issue held back only by the magazine's odd editorial policy of insisting on publishing incomplete stories without any real indication that they are incomplete. Serving as a counter to the sea anchor of a novella that threatens to capsize the rest of the volume, there are several fairly good stories contained herein, including one humorous story, a couple of thought-provoking ones, and one ambitious failure. The volume also includes a fairly formulaic story that is accompanied by a well-researched and informative science fact article.

The lead story on the masthead, but the last in order in the book Championship B'tok by Edward M. Lerner is yet another example of Analog's practice of snipping parts of longer stories into shorter lengths and publishing these incomplete story fragments under the inaccurate label of "novella" or "novelette". And as happens to most of these stories when they are sliced into snippets, Lerner's does not hold up very well after being dismembered in this manner. The story starts off in a promising manner, with a pilot sent to check on a mining ship that stopped broadcasting, but just when his journey becomes interesting, the action jumps to Uranus' moon Ariel where a colony of "snakes" has been set up as a sort of prison world following their unsuccessful invasion of human space. Shifting the action like this would normally not be an issue - stories switch back and forth between different scenes all the time, but Championship B'tok never returns to the pilot, simply dropping his story and leaving his fate unresolved. I presume that Lerner intended to pick this plot thread back up at some later point of the story, but since that part has apparently been sliced off, the reader is left hanging. The rest of the installment is mostly a collection of threads that started in earlier parts of the story, or threads that will be resolved later, and in many cases the parts that are not in this segment sound a lot more interesting than the parts that are. The snake invasion of human space and their subsequent exile to Ariel sounds interesting, but we only get references to it. The conspiracy created by the snakes to free themselves from humanity's grip is touched on a bit in this set of pages, but we are mostly in the dark about what is going on until the end, and the ending is a set up for the snakes to put their plans into motion, but that motion will take place in some later section. There is an huge epoch-spanning and star-spanning conspiracy brought into play in Championship B'tok, but it doesn't really go anywhere. It might lead to an interesting story in the future, but it is simply all background and little pay-off here. Chamionship B'tok could have been a decent story - if it actually contained the story. Sadly, it does not, and as a result, reading it is an exercise in futility and frustration.

Combining a little bit of humor with a little bit of handyman-style engineering, Plastic Thingy by Mark Niemann-Ross is a fun little story about a hardware store employee who more or less gets tricked into helping fix an alien spacecraft by a pretty girl. Roger is near the end of his work day when a young woman named Sara walks in and asks him to help her find the "plastic thingy". Expecting her to pull out a home improvement project gone awry or at least a photo thereof, Roger is disappointed when Sara can't explain to him any further what she needs other than it has to be red. After getting her to agree to join him for beers to peruse the company catalog, Roger gets swept off to a spaceship where he meets a chlorine breathing purple plant that Sara communicates with via interpretive dance. The story then devolves into troubleshooting via technobabble, but it is at least entertainingly written technobabble. Niemann-Ross does lay some heavy hints of a developing relationship between socially awkward video-game playing nerd Roger and pretty and quirky theater-loving Sara, but nicely subverts the trope at the end.

Sometimes a story tries to do too much, and simply collapses from its own weight. Release by Jacob A. Boyd is a military science fiction story told in the first person that seems to suffer from this problem. The centerpiece of the story is a space dogfight between human pilots and the forces of an insect-like race called the Tivhari, termed the "fleas of space" at one point in the narrative. The story then jumps back to "your" training, including a fairly bloody description of how the pilot-trainee had the skin of his forearms folded back for some kind of procedure that would allow him to pilot the fighter ship he would be sent out in. (I'm not sure if it is actually a trend, or just the fact that these scenes have stuck out to me, but Analog seems to be oddly slanting towards stories in which the protagonist is maimed as an initiation or training ritual in one of the early scenes). In any event, the story goes through the brutal training, a somewhat superfluous dinner scene, a patrol flight that leads to the dogfight, and then an extended description of the happenings when the pilot "pushes the button" as a last resort and traps himself and a Tivhari ship in a "zero bubble", hoping to outlast her as she starves to death. In the end, there is an understanding of sorts between the pilot and the alien, and they go their separate ways. The entire story is wrapped up with a confusing scene involving babies that simply wasn't set up well enough to be comprehensible. Overall, this story is a mess, with too many moving parts and not enough space to explain them or make the reader care about any of it.

Although the story is ostensibly about suicide, as revealed by its title Vladimir Chong Chooses to Die by Lavie Tidhar, this piece is actually about memory, and specifically what it means when we lose our memories. Vladimir is old. So old that he finds himself forgetting things, and even losing hours or days of time as his memory completely blanks out for extended periods. What distresses Vladimir the most is that he has forgotten the name of his late wife, and at that point he decides it is time for him to die before he loses more of his past. As he sets about convincing his worried son and sister of the merits of his decision, the point Tidhar is making becomes clear: Without our memories, who are we? If Vladimir forgets walking home with his son at night, his boy asking him to walk with him from pool of lamppost light to pool of lamppost light, is he really Vladimir any more? The story is a brilliant, melancholy reflection on what it means to die, and the fear that one will die before their body expires. This is, by far, the best story in this issue.

When a robot blurs the line between a machine and a human, how does one respond? This is the central question posed by Artifice by Naomi Kritzer, in which a woman getting out of a bad relationship decides to get a housekeeper robot that looks and acts like a new boyfriend which she names "Joe". Told from the perspective of her board gaming group with liberal references to Scrabble and Diplomacy, the story documents the first, hesitant reactions of the gaming group to the introduction of a robot to their circle of friends, but as time goes by and the robot adapts to social situations, the characters find themselves slipping into regarding it as a person and not a thing. In the end, Joe is discarded by his fickle owner who still views him as nothing more than an object, but seen very differently by the people whose lives he entered. The story doesn't delve very deeply into the issue, but it does raise interesting and somewhat disturbing questions.

Taking the concept of "uplift" and turning it around somewhat, Calm by Alec Austin and Marissa Lingen imagines a world in which humans are being guided by the Sophonts, an alien race that does not regard humanity as being fully sentient. Or rather, humanity is not fully sentient without the implanted "Proctors" to keep them from making irrational decisions. Marjan is a junior diplomat, assigned to aid her Sophont superior Pua'a in negotiating the entry of a new race called the Gammans into the Unification. The diplomatic talks go well until a complications arises - the Gammans are subject to unpredictable bouts of behavior known as "shornoth", during which they must retreat into isolation as they become unreasoning and violently destructive. When the Gammans flatly refuse to accept Proctors that would eliminate their interludes of shornoth, the talks come to an impasse. As Marjan is the main character, she has a flash of insight that not even Pua'a would have thought of - actually as is explained in the story, especially that Pua'a would not have thought of. The story is an interesting take on what "uplift" means and the fallibility of humanity, but also contains some indications that the imposed solution might not be entirely beneficial either.

The search for extraterrestrial life is the subject of Beneath the Ice of Enceladus by James C. Glass, a moderately near-future hard science story that follows astrobiologist Anna Hegel as she participates in the first under-ice exploration of the dark waters of Saturn's moon Enceladus. After arriving on the moon with only two weeks to perform her work, the story throws the usual set of complications and obstacles in her way - a difficult submarine pilot, a broken submarine articulator that needs extensive repairs, a first exploratory mission that comes up empty - and then just when it would seem the story would avoid the cliched, the second foray into the deeps locates something that is unmistakably alive. There is a final complication thrown in that threatens the lives of the submersible crew, but they overcome it and return with their prize. There's nothing particularly wrong with this story, and it is written engagingly enough, but it is pretty much a completely predictable by-the-numbers tale.

The science fact article in this issue, pretty clearly selected as a companion piece to Beneath the Ice of Enceladus is Saturn's "Jet-Propelled" Moon and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life by Richard A. Lovett, which tackles the subject of recent developments in the ongoing hunt for evidence of life elsewhere. Lovett focuses on Enceladus, one of Saturn's icy moons, and gives a background on its geography and the various missions to collect information about it and the icy plumes it emits. This leads to a discussion concerning the possibility of a salty subsurface sea on the moon, and the implications that could have for the development of life. The article doesn't offer anything new for anyone who has been paying attention to science news over the last couple decades, but it is a good write-up that collects a sizable amount of the relevant information about Enceladus into one place. Kate Gladstone's poem, titled merely Haiku is a pro-science pro-vaccine jab at those who adhere to creationism and yet still partake of the benefits of science that depends upon an understanding of evolution. In three lines Gladstone deconstructs anti-science myths with punishing blows.

In general this issue is fairly good, with no really standout stories, but several solid ones. Beneath the Ice of Enceladus is formulaic, and I think Release is kind of a muddled mess, but it is a mess that can be respected because of what it tried to do. On the other hand Calm, Artifice, and Vladimir Chong Chooses to Die are the definite strong points of this issue, and Plastic Thingy is amusing and mildly original. The only real leaden weight in this volume is Championship B'tok, which seems like it could have been the core of a really interesting story, but instead goes nowhere and leaves the reader wishing that the tantalizing table scraps it provided had actually been the full meal that seem to have been excised. Analog's persistent editorial practice of shredding stories like it did to Championship B'tok is one of the few black marks on an otherwise generally high-quality publication, and the weak story fragment that results is why I can only give this issue an overall lukewarm recommendation.

Previous issue reviewed: July/August 2014
Subsequent issue reviewed: October 2014

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Musical Monday - Song of Durin by Peter Hollens

This is for Scaramanga. This is for Darth Tyranis. This is for Frankenstein's monster. This is for Lucas de Beaumanoir. This is for the Comte de Rochefort. This is for Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. This is for Saruman.

This is for Christopher Lee, who was all of them and more. Farewell, and thank you.

Previous Musical Monday: Elastic Heart by Sia Furler
Subsequent Musical Monday: Caoineadh Cu Chulainn by Davy Spillane

Peter Hollens     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Book Blogger Hop June 12th - June 18th: In Hindu Myth, 108 Gods and Demons Pull on a Serpent to Create the Elixir of Immortality

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you pre-schedule your posts?

Yes and no. By yes, I mean that I usually write my posts ahead of time. I always write a first draft of my reviews - for book and magazine reviews I use LibraryThing as a platform for writing my initial reviews - and I sometimes have the post formatted and ready to go before it goes live, but I don't usually preschedule the posts themselves. This is because I usually do a number of internal links on my blog to various posts - for book reviews I link from the page I have created for the author of the book, from the pages I have created with alphabetical listings of the books I have reviewed, from the pages I have created to track the books I have reviewed that are part of various challenges, and so on. I have not been able to figure out a way to automate creating those links, so I post the new posts manually, and then create the interlocking web of internal links that go with them.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, June 12, 2015

Follow Friday - In Terminator 2, Sarah Connor Says There Are 214 Bones in a Normal Human Skeleton

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Due to technical difficulties, there is no featured blogger this week.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: If you can step into one characters shoes (in a book) and be them for a day who would it be and why? Also if you want to be creative what scene?

I would like to be Ged, more commonly known to those in the story as Sparrowhawk, from the Earthsea series. The only trouble is I don't know when in his life I would choose. Le Guin's story about Ged covers his whole life from the age of eleven or twelve through to when he is an old man who has lived a full life and spent all of his magic, and everything in between. I suppose I would choose a day from The Tombs of Atuan, possibly after Ged has recovered the missing half of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe and given Tenar her name back, but before he has returned to Havnor in triumph. This is the moment in Ged's life when he has reached the pinnacle of his career, but before he is burdened with being thought of as a legend rather than a man. The few days Le Guin describes of Ged's journey with Tenar - traveling through the countryside, asking friendly farmers for meals and shelter, sleeping in barns, and healing animals, all while on an unhurried trek to return the most important artifact in history to its rightful place - seems to me like it would be the time to be him.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Review - Sex Criminals, Volume One: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Short Review: Suzie thinks she is the only one who can stop time when she orgasms. Then she meets Jon and they rob banks together.

Orgasm and then
All alone in "the Quiet"
But then another

Full Review: The difficult thing about discussing Sex Criminals, Volume One: One Weird Trick is that explaining the plot of the story simply does not give the correct impression of what the graphic novel is about. If one says "Sex Criminals is about a couple who can stop time when they orgasm who decide to rob banks", the description is technically true, but it not only misses so much about what makes this graphic novel so good, it gives a misleading impression to boot. No matter how one tries to describe the story, it sounds much cruder, crasser, and more exploitative than it really is, and misses the beautiful coming-of-age story - actually two coming of age stories - that perfectly capture the confusion and consternation of adolescence and the subsequent maturity into some semblance of adulthood.

Sex Criminals opens with a scene in which two people are hurriedly having sex in a public restroom while someone outside issues threats. And then the scene shifts backwards in time by almost two decades. With that, the graphic novel introduces the reader to the fact that the story is told out of temporal sequence. There is only a very tiny amount of the book that takes place in the "present", as almost all of it is flashbacks, or flashbacks within flashbacks, detailing how the central characters got to the point where they were screwing in the bathroom of a bank headquarters while the sex police hammered on the door.

So the story jumps back to when Suzie, the woman in the couple having sex in a restroom, was a preteen girl and starts up on the day her father died. Or rather, was killed in the same bank headquarters she and her partner were copulating in. After her father's death, Suzie's mother withdraws into grief, and when the young girl starts to discover her sexuality, she is emotionally alone and isolated. Through the story of Suzie growing up and trying to come to grips with the fact that when she orgasms time stops and she enters what she calls "the Quiet", Sex Criminals displays its brilliance. For all adolescents figuring out sex is a scary and difficult process, and it is for Suzie too, but she has the added burden of a side-effect that no one else seems to share which isolates her even further. The story shows her trying to research her unique condition, but no one else is able to help her - not her mother, not her teachers, not even the "dirty girls" at her school. As one would expect, her fumbling teenage attempts at actual sex yield decidedly unsatisfying results, which seems par for the course when one considers that they all become entirely immobile at the moment Suzie orgasms.

But then Suzie meets Jon, and unexpectedly they discover out they share the same power. This causes them to fall almost immediately into a relationship of sorts. This also allows Sex Criminals to go back and tell the story of a confused youth getting in touch with their sexuality while grappling with a side-effect that no one else seems to share. And even though the story is covering much of the same thematic territory, it manages to do so with an entirely different sensibility, which can be summed up by Jon's name for the twilight time-stopped world that Suzie calls "The Quiet", but which he calls "Cumworld". While Suzie's story included hot baths with interesting use of the flowing water, trips to the library to try to research her problem, and awkward attempts to figure things out by hooking up with her boyfriends, Jon's story involves masturbation in public rest rooms so he could rush across the street into a sex shop named Cumworld and peruse the large collection of pornography. Jon's story also involves being twelve and accidentally popping out of "Cumworld" while still standing in Cumworld, which is quite amusing. Part of the brilliance of Sex Criminals is how it manages to pull off telling the same story of growth and experimentation twice in the same volume, and make both stories both entirely believable, entirely humorous, and entirely different.

Despite telling both Suzie and Jon's coming of age stories, Sex Criminals remains very definitely Suzie's story. Not only that, the book is written in such a way that she is aware that it is her story, with her adult self popping up in flashbacks to break the fourth wall and address the reader directly. Furthermore, the graphic novel is aware that it is a graphic novel, using the format to tell the story in ways that would be difficult in another medium - such as when Suzie sings along to Fat Bottomed Girls in a pool hall, and instead of putting the lyrics in her speech bubbles, they are covered with yellow post-it notes explaining that the author couldn't get the rights to use the song in his book. Throughout the book Fraction and Zdarsky play with the unique elements of the medium to enhance the telling of the story.

With all of these things going on in the story, the actual plot in which Jon and Suzie decide to rob the bank where Jon is an unhappy employee to pay off the mortgage for the library where Suzie is a happy employee, seems almost superfluous. There are interesting elements to it - during their preparations for their main heist Suzie discovers something about Jon that suggests they may not necessarily be ideally suited to one another as long-term partners, and the story introduces the "sex police", made up of yet more people who share Suzie and Jon's unique gift and seem to have appointed themselves the arbiters of what people may or may not do in "The Quiet/Cumworld". But all of this is secondary at this point to the development of Suzie and Jon's characters and the story of how they each came to terms with their own sexuality and with their relationship with one another.

Sex Criminals is an oddly sweet, oddly bawdy, and oddly touching exploration of how people deal with love, sex, and stress. Though this story could have been crude or crass, it deftly manages to avoid that in favor of a deeply immersive tale of self-discovery, which is kind of a feat when one considers that a decent portion of the book takes place in a sex shop named Cumworld. This graphic novel manages to deal with sex in a distinctly adult manner that captures the awkwardness, embarrassment, and humor inherent in the life of a teenager, and combines it with a fantastical story that is both bizarre and endearing.

Subsequent volume in the series: Sex Criminals, Volume Two: Two Worlds, One Cop

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Vol. CXXXIV, Nos. 7 & 8 (July/August 2014) edited by Trevor Quachri

Stories included:
The Journeyman: Against the Green by Michael F. Flynn
Mind Locker by Juliette Wade
Who Killed Bonnie's Brain? by Daniel Hatch
The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale by Rajnar Vajra
Code Blue Love by Bill Johnson
Vooorh by Paula S. Jordan
Journeyer by R. Garrett Wilson
Valued Employee by James K. Isaac
Sadness by Timons Esaias
Crimson Sky by Eric Choi
The Half-Toe Bar by Andrew Reid
Hot and Cold by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Science fact articles included:
Spanking Bad Data Won't Make Them Behave by Michael F. Flynn

Special feature included:
Foreshadowing and the Ides of March: How to (Sort of) Hint at Things to Come by Richard A. Lovett

Poems included:
Digital Ghosts by John F. Keane
Star Song by Kendall Evans

Full review: Double issues of Analog are often extremely uneven, and the editors seem to struggle to fill the oversize installment of the magazine with enough content to make for a strong showing. As usual, there are a couple of good stories in the volume, a moderate helping of decent ones, and a handful of clunkers. Because of Analog's somewhat quirky (and in my opinion, annoying) editorial practices, there are a few stories contained in this issue that are not actually stories in themselves, but are really just snippets of larger stories started earlier and to be continued later. These apparent snippets of stories - Against the Green and Vooorh - are among the clunkers in the issue, as is the science fact article offered by Michael Flynn.

Analog has an established practice of having authors string together several chunks of text to tell a longer story and calling each chunk a "novella" or "novelette", even if each individual chunk doesn't actually amount to a story in itself. The Journeyman: Against the Green by Michael F. Flynn is in this category, following the  adventures of Teodorq who previously appeared in The Journeyman: On the Shortgrass Prairie and The Journeyman: In the Stone House. Unfortunately, this installment of the story illustrates that Analog has not really placed a priority on making sure that these "novellas" are actually novellas rather than simply incomplete snippets of a novel. There isn't really much in the way of a story in Against the Green, with the protagonist starting this portion of the story as a soldier impressed into the army of a nation he does not care about and asked to fight in a war that he has no interest in. There are hints of a larger plot in this installment, but that larger plot doesn't really seem to crop up in this one, nor does anything that happens in Against the Green seem to advance anything of note. In short, this novella seems to be little more than filler that exists mostly so that Flynn can have scenes in which he describes horse archer tactics. Quite bluntly, that's simply not enough to carry a novella.

On the other end of the scale from Against the Green, Journeyer by R. Garrett Wilson seems to try to pack too much information into its relatively brief tale. In a handful of pages Wilson tries to introduce an alien race, a problem that afflicts them, an arduous journey that is taken to solve the problem, and a maverick who has a new idea about how to make that journey. The story holds together, but only barely, and really could have benefited from some additional length. In general, it is hard to tell the story of someone who is upsetting the apple cart in a culture without first establishing the "normal" and giving a good explanation for why it is entrenched. In Journeyer Wilson is able to do this, but only through the simple expediency of telling the reader rather than showing them. The difficulty the aliens have - a condition caused by their molting that threatens their health - is also introduced in a rather hurried manner that detracts from the impact it could have had. On the whole, this is a decent story, but it could have been much better with just a slightly longer treatment.

Another story that could have used more development is Valued Employee by James K. Isaac, which also tries to pack far too much into far too short a story. Asha is the title character, a woman who has loyally worked for the Black Sphere company with the aim of returning to her home and helping all of the people she remembers from her childhood. After a harrowing initiation process, she gets her wish, but finds all of her loved ones resistant to the encroachment on their lives of what they regard as dangerous and alien technology. Asha mostly wanders through the story, and then the twist appears and seems to render most of what little she did irrelevant. I say "seems", because the story is decidedly murky on several points. I was left wondering exactly what Black Sphere technology was, what the villagers' objections to it were, what exactly a "geo-man" was, and why their appearance was significant. The story did a decent job of explaining Asha's motives, but gave only the most cursory explanation of the two sides in the conflict that she was being asked to choose between. Overall, despite a viscerally brutal opening scene, this story felt colorless and empty.

Despite having almost as much information loaded into it as the previous two stories, Mind Locker by Juliette Wade never feels overcrowded or confusing, which I take as an indicator of Wade's superior skill at storytelling. The story itself is a fairly standard cyberpunk tale with a poor but talented protagonist who goes by "Hub Girl" living in the slums and producing just enough tech miracles to keep her gang of friends able to pull off raids sufficient to keep them all fed. A complication has arisen due to the fact that slum where they live seems to have become the stalking grounds of a "mind locker" who shuts off the various pieces of tech that let those the locker targets contact the networks around them, effectively shutting them down in a society dependent upon interconnected technology. After a raid gone bad, Hub Girl puts her skills to work trying to track down the source of her gang's problems and uncovers an even bigger threat than she thought was looming over them. Like Against the Green, Mind Locker feels like it is part of a larger story, but unlike Flynn's offering, Wade's feels much more polished, with much better developed characters who seem to actually care about the events in the story.

Who Killed Bonnie's Brain? by Daniel Hatch is a murder mystery that isn't really about the murder mystery. Bonnie is (or was) a disembodied brain kept alive through advanced technology. Her life sustaining equipment failed and she died. The protagonist is Frank, a local reporter who decides to follow up on the story, and soon suspects that Bonnie's equipment failure wasn't accidental, but was rather sabotage. As Frank sets about questioning those who might have information that would lead to the culprit, the reader is treated to the real story: Hatch's imagined, somewhat dystopian, future. Almost every interaction Frank has with another person adds yet another window into the world that he inhabits: How people who can have moved into crowded but high-tech towers, how the suburbs have been abandoned to be inhabited by squatters, how personal vehicles have become so rare as to be frightening to ride in, and so on. The story devolves into some political talking points at times with short rants about the draconian food laws (which somehow still allow Frank to meet up with one of his interviewees for ice cream) and an entire side discussion concerning the "Tax Breaker" movement that doesn't really add much of anything to the story, but this only detracts from the story a little bit. The real weakness of Who Killed Bonnie's Brain is that the titular question is treated as mostly an afterthought. Even when the mystery is resolved, it is done so in a hurried manner that has almost no build up - the author seems to have decided it was time to wrap up the story and has his protagonist guess who the villain is and then have the culprit essentially confess on the stand. While the story gets high marks for world-building, the lack of care put into the actual plot of the story makes it less than satisfying to read.

Sadness by Timons Esaias is a very short story about the end of human freedom. The story doesn't say much, but implies quite a bit, building the picture of a world in which humans set about warring with one another until stopped by the "new people" who took over, placed humans on what amount to menageries, and began treating humanity like zoo animals. The plot involves a visit from one of the "new people" to Evor Bookbinder, a denizen of the New Hampshire settlement. As it turns out, the visit is to deliver some rather macabre news to Evor, which is what one might assume is what directly evokes the sadness of the title, but the story is merely a vehicle for the world-building in which Evor details how the "new people" have forced an unwilling humanity into adopting language, religion, dress, and even culture to suit their master's preferences. As one might expect from a story named Sadness, this is a dark and depressing story, but one which effectively creates an emotional response in the reader that befits its title.

Subtitled "A Golden Age Tale", The Triple Sun by Rajnar Vajra certainly tries to evoke a classic science fiction sensibility with the story of a trio of youthful miscreants who travel to a distant planet and solve a problem that has been vexing the experts for decades. The trio are cadets seeking to become fully fledged members of the Exoplanetary Explorers, and their rascally offense is getting into a barroom brawl. For their crime, they are assigned to a punishment detail instead of the normal cadet final assignment where they are to be sent to a distant planet to help close down the research base there after its scientists had unsuccessfully tried to establish communication with the apparently intelligent inhabitants. This being a Golden Age homage, it should come as no surprise that the cadets solve the mystery, which turns out to be remarkably easy to do, and even manage to get a little assistance from the natives. The story has some flaws - Vajra keeps raising the stakes in the story, which feels pointless, as it is fairly apparent to the reader that the cadets won't fail and the dire consequences that would attend failure simply won't happen. In addition, while the cadets are supposed to be bright, it feels implausible that on their third day planetside they manage to solve a conundrum that has stymied a team of experts for thirty years. One must assume that none of these experts thought to do the relatively simple thing that the cadets do, or even take a look into the mysterious holes in the ground that everyone knew existed. In short, the plot requires everyone in the story except the central characters to have acted like complete idiots for decades. This may have been part of the Golden Age homage - as this is a trope that crops up a fair amount in older science fiction - but it simply doesn't translate well into a story published in the current era. I must also admit that I was just a little bit put off by the fact that the "triple sun" promised by the title isn't really three suns, and doesn't really feature in the plot at all. All that said, the story flows nicely, with a snarky and sarcastic narrator, and is at least enjoyable despite its flaws.

Combining medical science fiction with an examination concerning artificial intelligence Code Blue Love by Bill Johnson is a strong story marred only by one minor misstep. Mayer and DeAnne are the last surviving members of their family, afflicted with a genetic disorder that causes aneurysms in their brains, which has killed all of their close relatives, and will soon kill both of them. They have embarked upon a risky plan to create a new medical stent incorporating artificial intelligence to help stave off their impending demises. Through some twists and turns the stent ends up in Mayer's head after a brief trip through DeAnne's head, resulting in a result that neither Mayer or DeAnn could foresee. One element that makes the story interesting is that for at least part of it  the tale is told from the perspective of the newborn artificial intelligence. While the story could have become a creepy struggle for control over one's brain, it instead becomes a paean to the love between siblings. The only real strike against the story is a gratuitous and entirely superfluous sex joke at the very end. Even with the let down at the end, the story is still excellent, and sets the standard for the entire issue.

An alien contact story set in the back country of North Carolina Vooorh by Paula S. Jordan sets up two warring factions of aliens and places a mountain farmer in the middle. Actually, the story starts with everything in place and moves right on to the rescue, chase, and conflict portion of the story. Vooorh feels like the sequel to another story - at several points the characters refer to events that took place before this story started, or refer to characters that don't appear in the story. Vooorh also feels oddly incomplete, as if it is a set up for a subsequent story yet to come. This could be another example of Analog's practice of having an author chop up a larger story into smaller chunks and spreading them out over random issues spaced over the course of a couple of years, but there is no indication that there was a story that went before this one, or that there might be a follow-up. Even thought it feels incomplete, the story is a decent read, with fairly well-thought out aliens and a relatively interesting extended interstate chase, albeit one that seemed to have a couple of irrelevant contrivances thrown in to extend the length a little bit. What there is of this story is good enough that I'd like to see the beginning and the end, but without those parts it is a beautifully flawed failure.

Mars and engineering fiction are popular subject matters with a long history in science fiction, especially science fiction found in Analog, and Crimson Sky by Eric Choi is an example of both. The story follows Maggie McConachie, a helicopter rescue pilot working on Mars as she heads out to save a wealthy record seeker whose balloon has crashed in bad weather. The story is mostly the technical details of the trip coupled with a little bit of "pioneering to advance humanity is done by the brave" rhetoric, and isn't particularly notable.  Crimson Sky is reasonably well-written, and the technical details are entertaining, which makes it a reasonably fun read. Another engineering fiction story, although only barely a science fiction story, The Half-Toe Bar by Andrew Reid takes place on a primitive planet inhabited by humans that is being visited by humans from Earth who are seeking to trade with them. While attempting to make an exchange with a local blacksmith, the expedition leaders are tripped up by a question concerning putting a half-toe sized hole in a half-toe sized bar. Luckily for them, their plucky field assistant knows enough about blacksmithing to impress the locals and then the story ends. A sizable chunk of the text is taken up simply describing the process the field assistant uses to accomplish her feat of iron working, which is a mildly interesting technical description but doesn't really add much to the story. The point of the story seems to be "think about problems from different angles", but there's so little to The Half-Toe Bar that it seems like almost a waste of pages.

Combining a big dumb object mystery with the story of a failing relationship, Hot and Cold by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro manages to be both bleak and somewhat uplifting. When a husband and wife space exploration team check out a strangely cold region of space, they discover a strange alien object that seems to contain two black holes. The object's mass disrupts their star drive, trapping them in its orbit. To make matters worse, their relationship has frayed over the time spent living in close proximity, and they are on the verge of splitting up. Or as close to splitting up as a couple can be while living in a cramped spaceship light years from anyone else. The pair try several options to try to free themselves from the object, which they deduce is an experimental heat engine made by an unknown race, all of which fail. As the engineering part of the story progresses, the relationship story does as well, but it progresses in an inverted manner - as the couple's prospects of escaping grow dimmer, their relationship improves. At the end, they are their furthest apart physically while being as close emotionally as they ever are in the story. The story ends on an ambiguous, but fairly dark note.

The science fact article in this issue is Spanking Bad Data Won't Make Them Behave by Michael F. Flynn, which is kind of underwhelming. In general Analog has a pretty good track record when it comes to providing interesting and informative science fact articles, while this one is both dull and fairly bland. Flynn writes the article like he is being decidedly contrarian, but his thesis - that measurements are limited by the instruments used to take them, a normal distribution isn't always the best way to model data, and unaccounted for factors will screw up your results - is so pedestrian that the tone just doesn't seem to fit. John Cramer's Alternate View column tackles the idea of a space drive, giving some information about recent developments in physics that make the idea at least somewhat plausible. The issue also includes the special feature Foreshadowing and the Ides of March: How to (Sort of) Hint at Things to Come by Richard A. Lovett, a relatively straightforward explanation of what foreshadowing is, how it can be done badly, and how it can be done well. The article is pretty much a "Writing 101" level discussion, but it is presented well and should be useful to anyone looking for basic tips on writing.

As is usual for double issues of Analog, this issue is remarkably mediocre. There are several good stories here - most notably Mind Locker, Who Killed Bonnie's Brain?, Code Blue Love, and Hot and Cold, but there are a lot of other stories in the volume that range from merely diverting filler to pointless wastes of time such as Against the Green and The Half-Toe Bar. There is enough here to read through it, but not enough to really get excited about.

Previous issue reviewed: June 2014
Subsequent issue reviewed: September 2014

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