Analog, July/August 2022
“Truta and Pilta” by Shane Tourtellotte
“In Translation (Lost/Found)” by Kelsey Hutton
“The Taste of Sound” by Steve Toase
“Everyone Then Who Hears These Words” by Aimee Ogden
“A Risky Harvest” by Geoffrey Hart
“What Is Green Will Always Be” by Bruce McAllister
“Song of Starlight” by Jennifer R. Povey
“Punctuated Equilibrium” by Auston Habershaw
“Rare Earth Pineapple” by Michèle Laframboise
“Killing a Tiger” by Karl Gantner
“Worse Than One” by Eric James Stone
“Bloom” by Kate Maruyama
“The Dark Ages” by Jerry Oltion
“The Mercy of the Sandsea” by T.L. Huchu
“We’re All In Trouble” by Joe M. McDermott
“My Nascent Garden” by Melanie Harding-Shaw
“Inside Out” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
“Where the Buffalo Cars Roam” by David Cleden
“We May Be Better Strangers” by Mjke Wood
“Across the River” by A.T. Sayre
“Single Point Failure” by Sean Monaghan
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
This issue balances a lead novella with no less than twenty pieces of shorter fiction, providing a wide variety of moods, settings, and themes. Almost every reader of science fiction will find something appealing in its pages.
Opening the magazine is “Truta and Pilta” by Shane Tourtellotte. This long story takes place over many years in the life of its protagonist. Like all the other characters, she is an alien from a world with two moons. Long before the narrative begins, other, unknown aliens released a disease among her people. This caused mental disturbances and cultural breakdown. Now, after many years, civilization has climbed back up to the point where travel to the moons is possible.
The plot is episodic. The most important sections deal with a symbolic gesture made by the main character and others from rival nations in order to prevent a devastating war. The story’s climax involves the discovery of a signaling station left behind by the unknown aliens on the second moon. There are also scenes of family life, and accounts of the protagonist’s work as an activist.
This novella reads like a large excerpt from a novel. (We are told that it is a sequel to a previous story, and more installments in the series seem likely.) Except for a few very minor details, such as skin color, the aliens seem like human beings. This lessens the story’s interest as a portrait of extraterrestrial society.
The concluding section is likely to remind readers of Arthur C. Clarke’s 1951 short story “The Sentinel,” part of the inspiration for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some may find this concept overly familiar, and other sections of the story lacking drama. The parts of the narrative dealing with the impending war and the protagonist’s struggle to prevent it are the most interesting.
“In Translation (Lost/Found)” by Kelsey Hutton takes place aboard one of many space stations deep in the solar system. A series of accidents of unknown origin cause many of the ship’s systems to fail, causing chaos. One effect is the disrupting of the protagonist’s neural implant that allows her to communicate with the other occupants, despite the differences in their languages. While dealing with this frustrating situation, she also tries to discover the reason for the failures, which turn out to have an ironic meaning.
The main character’s loss of her ability to understand her companions, because her native tongue is a rare one, adds tension to the story. In other ways, the plot is a typical one of survival and problem-solving. Personally, I did not find the solution to the puzzle of the mysterious failures fully satisfying or plausible.
“The Taste of Sound” by Steve Toase features an artificial biological organism dealing with a disaster. The narrative alternates with repeated emergency warnings, which break down into meaninglessness as the story progresses.
I found the plot opaque, which may just reflect my inability to fully grasp the writer’s intent. A brief biography reveals that the author is best known for horror fiction, so it is not surprising that this work is more notable for an eerie mood than for clarity.
“Everyone Then Who Hears These Words” by Aimee Ogden takes place over several years in the Twentieth Century. A scientist discovers a theoretical way to listen to sounds made in the past. With the help of a gifted assistant, he invents a device that produces these voices from ages long past. A devout Christian, his goal is to hear the words of Jesus as they were really spoken. Society is more interested in using it for spying and as a form of public entertainment. Decades later, with the help of the assistant, he discovers the limitations of his invention, leading both to frustration and acceptance on his part.
The premise is a fascinating one, and the author manages to make it seem plausible. The story is as convincing a work of historical fiction as of science fiction. The plot handles religious faith in an unusually mature and thoughtful way for science fiction. (The fact that the assistant is a Hindu adds depth to this theme, in a manner that is likely to appeal to believers and nonbelievers alike.)
The narrator of “A Risky Harvest” by Geoffrey Hart is an alien dwelling underground, away from the dangerous rays of the planet’s sun, except when it is time to gather food. During one such time, the narrator rescues another alien trapped in a cave, in order to make a bargain.
The main interest of this brief tale is its depiction of the aliens, which is done with imaginative detail. The plot is less compelling.
Even shorter is “What Is Green Will Always Be” by Bruce McAllister. In less than two pages, the narrator talks about two species of lizard-like alien animals brought to Earth by extraterrestrials, before war broke out between humans and the aliens. Despite the mention of an interstellar conflict, this is a mood piece evoking nostalgia. The science fiction content is almost entirely irrelevant.
“Song of Starlight” by Jennifer R. Povey brings a starship with three human inhabitants and one artificial intelligence to a world that is on the brink of ecological disaster. The visitors help the locals avoid catastrophe. The story is pleasant enough to read, with likable characters, but a very simple plot.
The narrator of “Punctuated Equilibrium” by Auston Habershaw is a blob-like shapeshifter, thought to lack intelligence by those who use others of its kind as garbage disposals. It currently lives secretly in a wealthy man’s garden, disguised as a water plant, where it devours the dead bodies of the man’s enemies. (They are routinely tossed into the pond after being killed in duels.)
Content with this lifestyle, it becomes disturbed when an assassin leaves traps for the man, which it disables. Matters get more complicated when the assassin discovers the shapeshifter’s true nature.
The narrator’s interactions with humans and humanoids are of great interest, and provide more than a little dark humor. Its motives and its views of other beings are an intriguing mixture of naivety and cynicism, making for enjoyable reading.
The title of “Rare Earths Pineapple” by Michèle Laframboise refers to a piece of an extremely heavy but surprisingly stable trans-uranium element found inside an asteroid being mined for minerals. It promises to be incredibly valuable, but holds a dangerous secret.
The story’s premise is believable, and the revelation about why it exists adds a touch of irony. This technically-oriented story is best suited for readers looking for hard SF with a strong basis in known science.
“Killing a Tiger” by Karl Ganter features the protagonist, aboard a spaceship near Saturn, investigating an alien object new to the solar system. Flashbacks deal with an incident that occurred when he was on a fishing expedition in a region inhabited by tigers. The experience he had then leads to his decision now.
How readers react to this brief tale may depend on what they think about the main character’s choice. It might seem sensible or foolish, depending on one’s point of view. If nothing else, the story offers insight into the mind of the protagonist.
“Worse Than One” by Eric James Stone is this issue’s Probability Zero joke story. It consists of a conversation between a lawyer and a man who has taken a drug in order to regenerate a lost finger. In addition to this, the medication regrows his appendix, tonsils, and wisdom teeth. A more startling effect leads to the punchline about why the fellow needs a lawyer. This wry bagatelle may provoke a chuckle or two.
“Bloom” by Kate Maruyama features two women who are, at first, best friends, despite very different backgrounds. One is wealthy, the other poor. In college, they both want to fight impending environmental disaster, but in opposing ways. The lower class one, who is the narrator, works on a way to safely remove microscopic particles of plastic from the ocean. The other joins a project to colonize Mars, abandoning Earth as unsalvageable.
Years after they go their separate ways, the rich woman brings her former friend into her work, against her will. The narrator makes a final gesture of hope and sacrifice, before it is too late to save the planet.
This story is at its best during the early sections, when the two women, although already in conflict, are fairly depicted as fully developed characters. As the plot progresses, the rich woman becomes something of a stereotyped villainous antagonist, forcing the narrator to work on what she must see as a mad scheme to turn one’s back on the home planet. There is also a suggestion of class struggle and race privilege in the contrast between the rich white woman and the brown-skinned narrator, which may strike some readers as controversial.
In “The Dark Ages” by Jerry Oltion, a telescope enthusiast makes use of time travel in an attempt to escape the light pollution of the near future. After misadventures lead to failure in the pre-human age and the Old West, he travels to the Twenty-first Century, which at least has less light pollution than his own time. An encounter with another amateur astronomer leads to a decision on his part, even though it is likely to change the future he knows.
The story changes mood in an effective way, from light comedy to thoughtful drama. The author manages to make this difficult transition gracefully. Even those who are skeptical about the possibility of time travel are likely to be charmed by the good-natured protagonist and his love for the stars.
“The Mercy of the Sandsea” by T.L. Huchu features an ex-soldier, part of a unit that was formerly comprised of heroes but are now thought of as genocidal criminals, hiding under an assumed identity on a planet dominated by deadly oceans of sand. A killer machine stalks him for revenge. He must put on an old war suit in an attempt to survive the attack of the far more powerful device.
As can be told, this is a grim, violent tale, full of suspenseful scenes of battle with enemies both natural and artificial. The setting is more intriguing than the action-filled plot.
“We’re All In Trouble” by Joe M. McDermott is a slice-of-life involving a married couple and their adopted son. In addition to the usual challenges of everyday existence, they face the fact that the boy may have deliberately hurt another child during playtime.
I have deliberately avoided mentioning the story’s science fiction content, in order to emphasize the fact that it mostly concerns itself with mundane matters. The characters live in a dome on a planet orbiting Tau Ceti, in an environment with strict rationing. More importantly, they possess a simulation of the child’s deceased great-grandmother, which loses the memories it gains during activation when it is turned off. Much of the plot revolves around the question of whether it is better to leave it on or allow it to rest between activations.
As an account of ordinary people dealing with daily problems, the story is effective. As speculation, perhaps a bit less so.
The narrator of “My Nascent Garden” by Melanie Harding-Shaw is an all-powerful artificial intelligence in charge of a city. It is capable of creating great beauty for its citizens, but can also ruthlessly kill those who do not fit its ideas of maximum efficiency. The plot deals with its interactions with an assistant who helps it communicate with people, and a schoolteacher who was a strong advocate of the AI until she discovered its murderous ways.
The story’s resolution is a combination of hope and violence, which some readers may find disturbing. The narrator is compelling, if very unnerving, in its mixture of cold logic and irrational, emotional reactions.
“Inside Out” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro is a tiny account of humans in the extremely far future, evolved into connected minds, who explore a black hole. What they find shakes up their assumptions about their existence. This very brief work is best appreciated for its vision of a time far beyond our own, and as a lecture on astrophysics.
“Where the Buffalo Cars Roam” by David Cleden takes place at a time when civilization has fallen apart to the point where small groups of people live agrarian lives, scavenging for the metals used by the inhabitants of earlier times. Automated cars still wander the wasteland, apparently with desires of their own. People destroy them for their valuable components when they can, and the vehicles fight back. The narrator witnesses a battle between two automobiles as a child. Years later, he encounters one of the same cars, leading to an unlikely change in their roles.
Despite its futuristic content, this story has the feeling of a Western. The cars can be seen as wild animals, deadly but enviable for their freedom. Readers with a romantic feeling for automobiles will best appreciate this tale.
“We May Be Better Strangers” by Mjke Wood is set aboard a generation ship, well into its centuries-long voyage from a ruined Earth to another planet. The nominal captain of the vessel, who would rather plow the fields he tends inside the ship, faces a crisis when three alien starships appear, on their way to Earth. He and his crew struggle to communicate with the extraterrestrials, making assumptions about the nature of their journey.
This story can be seen as a variation on Murray Leinster’s 1945 novelette “First Contact,” although the same theme has been used many times and is handled differently here. The narrative includes more than one direct reference to Star Trek, which takes the reader out of the story. The matter-of-fact, down-to-earth human characters are appealing, but the assumptions they make about the aliens may not always hold water.
“Across the River” by A. T. Sayre takes place in a high-tech future city divided between those eking out a living and the wealthy who employ them. The protagonist works as a designer of holographic sculptures, primarily as a form of advertising. The special tool the protagonist uses breaks down, requiring a trip to the rich part of town to purchase a replacement. Discovering that the technology formerly used is out of date, the protagonist purchases a more advanced and more expensive version, leading to new problems.
The author creates a vivid, believable future of extraordinary gadgets that have not led to much change in the gap between social classes. Some writers may have made the background a technological dystopia, but this version is more subtle and more realistic. The setting contains both annoyances and potential benefits. Appropriately, although the protagonist has serious difficulty with the new device, the reader gets the impression that things will work out fairly well in the end, but definitely not perfectly.
The issue concludes with “Single Point Failure” by Sean Monaghan. A teenager in a research station on Io is trapped in a small, badly equipped shelter when disaster strikes. The only possibility of rescue before her air runs out comes from a man aboard a spaceship nearby. The most serious problem is that the vessel is not designed to land on a surface, and the man will have to crash into the moon to save her life.
The situation is inherently dramatic, and the sense of time running out is powerfully conveyed. The main character shows an unbelievable amount of calm during the crisis, given the fact that she already knows that everyone else in the station is dead, and that the man is likely to be killed during a nearly impossible attempt to rescue her.
Victoria Silverwolf does not have a romantic feeling for automobiles.