Jim Baen’s Universe, #8, volume 2, number 2

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"An Ocean is a Snowflake, Four Billion Miles Away" by John Barnes
"At the Watering Hole" by Edward M. Lerner
"Concentration of Dogs" by Carl Frederick
"Free Space" by Carrie Vaughn
"Murphy’s War" by James P. Hogan
"The Lord-Protector’s Daughter" by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
"Creation: the Launch!" by Laura Resnick
"Dark Corners" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"Mrs. Schrödinger’s Cat" by Gary Cuba
"Squish" by S.E. Ward
In "An Ocean is a Snowflake, Four Billion Miles Away" by John Barnes, Thorby and Léoa are journalists who specialize in documenting the great terraforming in the universe—for an ever-dwindling audience. Their latest project is covering the Great Blooming, the goal of which is to re-create an ocean on Mars by using the fragments of the comet, Boreas.

I found the story made for dry reading: Barnes is obviously very knowledgeable about the technical aspects of his subjects, but this ended up being more about scientific jargon than about the two main characters—none of which I managed to relate to during the course of the story.
"At the Watering Hole" by Edward M. Lerner is a story of first contact: when SETI is about to be dismantled because of lack of funds, researcher Carla Marskon finally finds what mankind has been looking for all along: radio emissions by an alien race.

This is a very sharp, ironic look at what would actually happen if mankind made contact with an alien species; the ending may seem unexpected, but is actually spot-on, neatly capturing the only possible reaction the aliens could have had.

In "Concentration of Dogs" by Carl Frederick, Mark and Claire, the students of dog neurologist Robert Weiler, discover that when the neural implants used on the dogs have the same frequency, the animals’ minds fuse together, creating a conglomerate that acts as one.

This is very much a horror story, of the "dangerous experiments" kind. There is never really any surprise about what is going to ultimately happen, but Frederick weaves his tale masterfully, building the sense of dread until matters come to a head—and never lets the pressure go, even at the very end. A very pleasant read.

In "Free Space" by Carrie Vaughn, Hart is a technician aboard Covenant Station—which has recently become inhabited by colonists, although not all areas were declared secure. As she’s scanning storage units, Hart finds unusually high levels of radiation, which makes her suspect something is amiss within the station.

Again, this is a tale without surprises: both Hart and her superior, Drexler, have predictable reactions to what is inside the storage units.  And when it becomes clear that Hart is in mortal danger, the chase sequence, although well-done, concludes as predicted. I found it harder to get through than the Frederick story, I suppose mainly because of personal preferences.  Hart’s character just didn’t resonate with me, and I found the ending was a bit too pat.

"Murphy’s War" by James P. Hogan takes a look at what would happen if the United States declared war on China, and if a group of hackers decided to interfere.

This is a satire on current American politics—which makes me doubt whether it will age well (the President of the U.S. in particular is a clear caricature of George W. Bush), or indeed appeal to people unfamiliar with American culture. It’s a bit wordy; Hogan is fond of long sentences and paragraphs that sometimes make this hard to get through, but the story is funny, and also clever.

"The Lord-Protector’s Daughter" by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., focuses on Myrella, daughter of the current Lord-Protector, the man who governs Lanachroma. An odd dream brings Myrella into the chamber where rests the Table, an ancient artifact, and asks her to master the power within. Myrella cannot make headway with the Table, but she will have to, and fast, for the safety of the Lord-Protector’s lands is at stake.

This is easily the longest story of the issue. While the story of a woman who affirms her powers against all odds is a staple of fantasy fiction, the story was engaging because of the various characters, from the stubborn Myrella to her more girlish sisters. Modesitt does an impressive job of world-building as well. Although the resolution was a bit too theatrical for my taste, this was still an impressive story.

"Creation: the Launch!" by Laura Resnick is the story of Creation, as told by Ishmael, creative consultant of God in His project to launch the universe.

This is a hysterical, irreverent look at the sillier aspects of the creation. Moments such as God looking down on the recently-created mankind and forlornly remarking, "I can hardly tell them apart from the apes" are priceless. Recommended.

"Dark Corners" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is set in Paris during the Nazi occupation in the last months before the Allies take the city. Solae is a Faerie who, like all his kind, has been driven into hiding when the Boches—as he calls them—first entered Paris. He survives by hiding in the Catacombs and stealing food for his family.

While I absolutely loved the setting of this—and the bleak realization of Solae that closes the story—I found that much of the tale was static, harkening back to the past or over-analyzing the present. The last couple of scenes were awesome, but the build-up to them was not quite dynamic enough.

"Mrs. Schrödinger’s Cat" by Gary Cuba focuses on Schrödinger’s famous experiment with the cat in the box stuck between two quantum states, and tells the story of what happened when the Professor set up his experiment.

This is extremely short, and clearly intended to be funny. The various outcomes of the experiment, as detailed by Schrödinger and his students, are neatly presented. But I found the story lacked substance.  Basically, it read as nothing more than Schrödinger’s experiment with added complexity and ended up feeling like a primer for quantum physics. As someone who has done a fair bit of quantum theory, I found this insufficient to hold my interest.

"Squish" by S.E. Ward features insects, or to be precise, Ants—a larger, more intelligent version of our Earth species, who seem to have infested a ship. Sarah works as an exterminator to make sure that ships aren’t contaminated by alien life-forces.  She was looking forward to a weekend with husband and entomologist, Günther, but now she has to make sure that the Ants are gone.

This was a fun story about intelligent insects and what resources they can come up with when faced with an exterminator. Sarah is a spunky, cynical narrator who carries the story forward, and the secondary cast is also very entertaining. Again, no big surprises, but for a funny story, the point is more whether the ending delivers, and it does.