Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Vol. CXXXIV, No. 6 (June 2014) edited by Trevor Quachri

Stories included:
The Journeyman: In the Stone House by Michael F. Flynn
The Homecoming by J.T. Sharrah
Field of Gravity by Jay Werkheiser
The Region of Jennifer by Tony Ballantyne
Survivors by Ron Collins
A Star to Steer By by Jennifer R. Povey
Forgiveness by Bud Sparhawk
Probability Zero: The Last Time My Computer Went Down by Kate Gladstone

Science fact articles included:
Alternate Abilities: The Paranormal by Edward M. Lerner

Poems included:
Giant Steps by G.O. Clark

Full review: The June 2014 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact is a fairly average issue of the publication. With three stories that deal with how society views war veterans, two of which deal with the question of war crimes, the issue has something of a mini-theme in that vein. With one notable exception, the stories in this installment are at least good, and a couple are quite good, although the science fact article is a little thin, and Jeffrey Kooistra's Alternate View column is not particularly memorable.

Field of Gravity by Jay Werkheiser falls into the relatively uncommon category of "sports science fiction", imagining a future in which football is played in variable gravity fields, with coaches dueling for advantage by using a limited allotment of power to shift the local gravity up or down on a play by play basis. The central character in the story is Greene, a veteran defensive back who notices that the ball is behaving oddly for one of his opponents' wide receivers. Greene suspects foul play, and the story proceeds pretty much as one might predict to its relatively mundane ending. The idea of using variable gravity fields in sporting contests is somewhat interesting, but the technology only serves as a backdrop for the intrigue and Werkheiser never really does much further with it.

The Journeyman: In the Stone House by Michael F. Flynn is a decidedly incomplete story. A follow-on novelette to The Journeyman: On the Shortgrass Prairie published in the October 2012 issue of Analog, this story doesn't really have a beginning, doesn't really have a plot, and doesn't really have an end. The story follows Teodorq, a denizen of the "long grass" and his hill-folk companion Sammi as they travel east, spurred on by events that took place in the previous installment. They are captured just a few paragraphs into the story, and taken as prisoners to the "stone house" that guards a pass through the eastern mountains. Once there, they discover Teodorq's old enemy Kar was also taken captive by the denizens of the keep, have some conversation with the keep-dwellers' "Wisdom" that don't really amount to much, and are then trained as soldiers. Teodorq and Kar eventually have a duel that ends inconclusively, after which Teo, Kar, and Sammi are all impressed into the local army as scouts. Then the novelette, such as it is, ends. In the Stone House doesn't feel like a story, and instead seems like a placeholder between stories - in short, this novelette is all filler without any appreciable plot of its own. I felt like I wanted to be reading the previous story, or the next one, and that this part was just a page-filling waste of time. The story was also littered with jarringly anachronistic language that, although explainable by the background, threw me entirely out of the story whenever it showed up.

The other novelette in the issue is The Homecoming by J.T. Sharrah, a murder mystery on an alien planet that weaves in musings about the nature of art, immortality, and war crimes. Baldwin is a newspaper reporter working on the planet Bukkara who is friends with the paper's photographer, a Bukkaran named Escoli. When she is killed while on vacation, the photographs recovered by the paper start him on the trail of her killer, eventually leading him to the notorious war criminal Tajok from the region of Dohkara. Excep[t Tajok is dead, which seems to end the matter. As one might expect, things aren't quite as a simple as that and the story has some interesting twists related to the Tajok's notorious experiments aimed at extending his lifespan and the Dohkaran method of disposing of their dead by feeding them to carnivorous plants. The mystery is interesting and resolves in a melancholy yet at least somewhat satisfying manner. The Homecoming is a story with an ambitiously large scope, and it probably would benefit from an expanded treatment in which Sharrah could delve deeper into some of the elements of the various Bukkaran societies - I would have enjoyed an examination into the contrast between the Bukkaran obsession with ephemeral art and the quest for permanence represented by Tajok's bloody and single-minded quest to try to prevent death - but the author manages to pull off just enough world-building and exposition to make the story work.

Another mystery story featuring war criminals, or rather potential war criminals is Forgiveness by Bud Sparhawk. Featuring a triangle of three characters: Tony, a veteran with an unknown past, Mira, a waitress at a local diner, and Pete, the suspicious local sheriff who is also a veteran, the story asks whether one might still be responsible for crimes even if one doesn't remember them. Tony has undergone "The Amnesty", a procedure where the memories of the horrors of war are stripped from the minds of veterans who volunteer for it, and they are legally absolved of their crimes. Tony and Mira are in the early stages of forming a relationship, but Pete (who is Mira's former lover) objects to their pairing on the grounds that Tony is probably a war criminal, using the fact that Tony has undergone The Amnesty as support for this contention. The story is really a character sketch of Pete, using the mystery presented by Tony and his budding relationship with Mira as a vehicle. Sparhawk throws in a twist at the end that is fairly well-telegraphed, but as the mystery isn't really the main point, it doesn't spoil an otherwise quite good story.

A war story that is actually about what might happen to a veteran that cannot be released from service after the war is over, A Star to Steer By by Jennifer R. Povey contemplates the thought processes of a starship's A.I. and what the potential end of such a war might mean for it. The story takes place during a war between humanity and an alien invader, with humanity slowly losing. Ai Weiwei starts the story badly damaged, having lost her entire human crew and limping into port to be refit or decommissioned. But, the story wonders, what one does with an intelligence when one decommissions the ship that carries it? And what happens to such intelligences when the warships they are part of are no longer needed at the end of a war? Would it be moral the destroy them? To send them into the void to drift for all time? This is a story that raises disturbing questions, and then punches the reader in the gut with the ending in which Ai Weiwei proves herself to be much more than some of the humans around her believed. A bleak and dark story, A Star to Steer By is also the best story in the issue.

Structured like the fairy tale style rescue of a princess by a peasant, The Region of Jennifer by Tony Ballantyne is an almost savage science fiction twist on the idea. Jennifer is a pampered girl living an idyllic life in the middle of an estate that is maintained in beauteous perfection for her and whose only responsibility to to bear perfect children. Randy is a homeless vagabond who lives in the twisted and polluted land away from Jennifer's manicured gardens, but its okay, he has been modified to be able to eat almost anything, heal from almost any injury, and is equipped with razor sharp teeth and nails to defend himself with. Randy arrives in Jennifer's bedroom to whisk her away from her arranged pairing with a suitor who has paid for the privilege of impregnating her, and she decides to go with him. Through their journey, Randy attempts to persuade Jennifer that the Slavemakers - an alien group the former rulers of the planet had made a deal with to save the populace from starvation - intend to enslave all of the humans on the planet, and have indeed enslaved Jennifer already. In the end, Jennifer makes a choice that turns the story on its head, but is also entirely unsurprising as well.

Taking the form of a secret alien invasion story, Survivors by Ron Collins posits the travails of an alien being stranded on Earth after he and thousands of his compatriots were sent out into space to escape the supernova that would destroy his civilization. Surviving by taking control of human bodies, the narrator has come to believe that he is the only one of the many members of his race to land on Earth when he discovers another of his kind. The only trouble is that she flees from him whenever he gets near. At the end of his story, after he has given up the chase, he learns her secret, and almost accepts what fate has decided for them before deciding to behave like a stalker again. The story is bittersweet and slightly creepy, but not particularly memorable.

This issue's science fact article titled Alternate Abilities: The Paranormal by Edward M. Lerner isn't so much a science fact article as it is a pseudo-science article with some discussion about how one can torture quantum mechanics to come up with a way that one could hand-wave elements like telepathy and precognition into "hard" science fiction. The article opens up by discussing the state of the research done into the paranormal, and takes a far more neutral stance as to whether it is real or not than the evidence really would seem to justify. Lerner then leaves behind such questions and delves into how one might explain the existence of telepathy or teleportation in a work of science fiction, mostly relying upon the oddities of quantum mechanics to do the heavy lifting. The article doesn't explain much science, and seems more focused on giving pointers on how to write reasonably convincing science fiction.

Jeffrey Kooistra's Alternative View column reaches back in time to discuss the work of Samuel Jackson Barnett, an experimental physicist who worked in magnetism during the early part of the twentieth century. While the article provides some interesting biographical detail about Barnett, and a little bit about the ingenuity of experiments conducted during his era, Kooistra then wanders off on an unrewarding tangent to discuss a dispute between Barnett and the theoretical physicist Kennard, which seems to go nowhere as the dispute remains unresolved. Continuing the comedic Probability Zero series is the worthy entry The Last Time My Computer Went Down by Kate Gladstone, a humorous take on a computer crashing. The poem included in this issue is Giant Steps by G.O. Clark, a melancholy reflection on the loss of Neil Armstrong coupled with at least a little bit of bitterness over the decay of NASA's manned space program.

With Flynn's non-story and Lerner's relatively weak non-science fact article weighing it down, this issue of Analog could have foundered, but the generally good quality of the other stories contained in it bring it back up to at least average overall. Notable high points in this issue are A Star to Steer By, and The Homecoming, with Forgiveness and The Region of Jennifer coming close behind them. On the whole, this is a decent but unspectacular issue of Analog, and is worth reading.

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

2015 Hugo Award Nominees

Analog     Trevor Quachri     Magazine Reviews     Home


  1. " A follow-on novelette to The Journeyman: In the Stone House"

    Correction - the first one was "On the Shortgrass Prairie"