Analog, March/April 2023
“The Tinker and the Timestream” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
“Incommunicado” by Andrej Kokoulin (translated by Alex Shvartsman)
“An Inconvenient Man” by Adam-Troy Castro
“Citizen Science” by Naomi Kanakia
“Judgement Day” by Stanley Schmidt
“Ice Ageless” by Rajnar Vajra
“A Most Humble Innovation” by Howard V. Hendrix
“Aerobraking” by Jonathan Sherwood
“The Five Stages” by Aubry Kae Andersen
“Meat” by Leonard Richardson
“Death Spiral” by Kate MacLeod
“The House on Infinity Street” by Allen M. Steele
“What Women Want” by Katherine Tunning
“The Problem with Bargain Bodies” by Sarina Dorie
“This Story is Plagiarized” by Buzz Dixon
“Memory’s Bullet” by Aaron Fox-Lerner
“A Noble Figure, Out of the Sky” by Mark W. Tiedemann
“Aalund’s Final Mission” by Raymund Eich
“Kept Man” by Louis Evans
“Immune Response” by Robert R. Chase
“Defense Reactions” by Shane Tourtellotte
Reviewed by Mike Bickerdike
“The Tinker and the Timestream” by Carolyn Ives Gilman is an old-fashioned novella in a positive sense, harking back to the style and adventuresome space operas of the ‘golden age’. A small colony on a far flung world lives in constant fear that their sun is soon likely to undergo supernova. The colonists are visited by travelling aliens, who agree to help them explore possible alternate worlds in exchange for a dog. While the style and feel of the piece is grounded in the golden age, the author’s grasp and speculations on astrophysics are good and quite convincing. The aliens see the world differently to humans, regarding ‘spacetime’ as ‘timespace’ and their reversed perspective enables them to exploit natures laws in interesting ways. Overall, this is an interesting and enjoyable story, with decent characterisation and a fun plot.
“Incommunicado” by Andrej Kokoulin (translated by Alex Shvartsman) is a short story that is much less successful. A system operator at a deep space operations centre is in almost constant contact with research modules scattered across space. When one fails to provide an update, the systems operator becomes worried and travels many light years to go to the research module in person and investigate. There are two main problems with the story. On the first hand, it is striking how far, and how many hyperspace ‘jumps’ are required, to get to the ‘incommunicado’ station. Surely the effort and energy required would never be sanctioned and there must have been a better solution. Secondly, the twist on the tale at the end is weak and rather silly and undermines the positive feelings one might have had with the story.
“An Inconvenient Man” by Adam-Troy Castro is a comic short story. A boring man is visited by aliens who have a strange request for him specifically. It’s a nice enough little idea, though there’s not a great deal to it. Possibly, the author is questioning the importance, or otherwise, of the little things in life, and how this may depend on perspective. Some of the imagery is good, while some seems strangely off kilter for Castro—could an alien vessel drag clouds beneath it as it descended? Behind it surely?
“Citizen Science” by Naomi Kanakia seems unlikely to excite or engage most readers. In this short story, the protagonist is a ‘citizen scientist’, described as someone who has no lab, academic credentials or affiliation, and who conducts research by reading about science and giving it some thought. This isn’t how scientific research works of course, but let’s pass over that. The ‘citizen scientist’ is a trans-woman with an unpleasant attitude and a chip on her shoulder, and she gets into both face-to-face and online arguments over her work. The appeal of the piece isn’t helped by the lead character’s unjustifiable anger at the scientific community and the underlying story is not especially interesting. When the tale then morphs into a story about trans-gender politics and romance, it may gain some fans but lose others.
“Judgement Day” by Stanley Schmidt is a rather clever and persuasive short story. A celebrated research scientist is about to receive an award from the UN for her work on a pandemic vaccine when she is visited from someone from the future. The time-traveller’s request of the scientist seems wholly silly to our current morality and ideas. In this way, Schmidt subtly pokes fun at current ‘cancel culture’ thinking that rejects those things of the past that don’t meet present day standards or morals.
“Ice Ageless” by Rajnar Vajra is an intriguing novelette, best reviewed as two sections, though it’s presented as a single part story. In the first two-thirds, we learn that colonisation of other planets is deemed necessary as overpopulation and exploitation of the Earth is expected to precipitate civilisation’s collapse within three centuries. While this is fine as a modern SF trope, the manner of the development and manufacture of the new colonisation spaceships and their necessary technology is reminiscent of old space operas, such as E.E. ‘doc’ Smith’s Lensmen novels. I always felt that a weakness of the classic Lensmen books was the ludicrously fast and efficient invention of required technologies and the manufacture of fleets of ships—it all seemed too easy. Strangely, this tale indulges in the same unconvincing trick—existing spaceship pilots are presented with the idea that they will have to have their metabolism slowed during interstellar transit, such that 10,000 years of travel will feel like 10 days. A myriad new technological advances have been accomplished in a few scant years to enable interstellar travel, without any of the current pilots (or anyone else) being remotely aware of it. As a consequence, the first part of the tale is not very convincing. However, then we get to the latter part of the story, where we follow our intrepid hero on his 8,000 year mission (a relativistic 8 days to him), and this section, in contrast, is really rather good. The thoughts, neuroses and fears of the pilot whirl through the man’s mind as he travels for eons; it’s quite well done and compensates for the unlikely feel of the first half.
“A Most Humble Innovation” by Howard V. Hendrix is a short piece in the vein of Swift’s A Modest Proposal, in which the author notes that we have an unlimited stock of carbon we can use for fuel if we would only recycle a certain kind of waste in a way that maintains the carbon balance.
“Aerobraking” by Jonathan Sherwood is flash fiction, focussed on a jump-ship, aerobraking into the atmosphere of a planet, to scout it for civilisation. It’s not especially novel or compelling.
“The Five Stages” by Aubry Kae Andersen is a short and rather grim tale about a surgical oncologist and her patients. Her patients struggle with acceptance of their mortality, but are they the only ones in denial? The story is very brief, but nonetheless rather effective.
“Meat” by Leonard Richardson is a story of an alien’s takeaway restaurant, ‘Meat’. The alien himself, some sort of tentacular species, is also called Meat, and he prepares the food from himself. A visiting health inspector causes Meat some concern. The story is rather different from the norm, and for that alone it must attract praise. Indeed, albeit rather short, this is just the kind of story Ellison would have selected for a volume of Dangerous Visions.
“Death Spiral” by Kate MacLeod starts in a slightly pedestrian fashion but becomes more interesting as it progresses. Humans co-exist on an asteroid in our solar system with an ant-like alien species that communicates through smell, not sound. The aliens insist on the presence of only female human workers on the asteroid, as male pheromones would adversely affect them. The speculations here are quite intriguing, and generally it all works quite well. The apparently normal gravity on a small asteroid is rather a misstep from a hard SF perspective, however.
“The House on Infinity Street” by Allen M. Steele is an interesting novelette with a unique structural idea. Steele presents the story from the perspective of recounting a real discussion he had with a fellow SF writer at a convention in the ‘90’s. Steele’s appearance at the panel at Albacon really happened, but he has invented Shelby Weinberg and his story. In the tale, Weinberg tells Steele that during the ‘golden age’ there was a company you could write to in Deerfield, Massachusetts, to obtain SF ideas in the event one gets writer’s block. This is a play on Harlan Ellison’s joke about getting his ideas from Schenectady. But in this case, it was real; where did the ideas actually come from? To learn more, Weinberg investigated the address of the mystery company in 1939. It’s a fun conceit Steele has come up with and it’s written in a very engaging manner. Those who enjoy the history and fandom of SF will especially enjoy the tale, and it is recommended reading.
“What Women Want” by Katherine Tunning is a humorous, tongue-in-cheek, short satire, in which an alien being on Earth—Borvlax the Persevering—develops plans to take over the planet. Borvlax (‘Laxi’ to friends) discovers social media on the internet and seeing an opportunity there, attends a woman’s sales group to learn more. The misuse of the internet and the gullibility of many who populate it are satirised quite effectively.
“The Problem with Bargain Bodies” by Sarina Dorie is very short, and in some senses it’s a joke tale, but it’s also rather good, with some depth and reflection. The protagonist takes her latest body back to the cheap department store where she got it, to trade it in for one that works better, only to be told she can only replace it with one from the bargain rack. Drawing parallels between how we view and discard clothes with how we view and manage our bodies, the tale offers reflection of what we deem important and unimportant in our physical makeup. Recommended.
“This Story is Plagiarized” by Buzz Dixon is a very short piece of flash fiction. The tale supposes a further consequence of AI-generated short stories and art—a topic very much in the SF news at present—with more than a hint of worrisome truth behind it.
“Memory’s Bullet” by Aaron Fox-Lerner is a rather densely told tale of future dystopia, seen through the eyes of a ‘vessel’: a body on an automatic program to fight the enemy. But someone has hacked the AI code to bring about the vessel’s true consciousness through memories of old. The prose skips between the actions of the vessel and the messages from its AI program, with neither being given very great clarity. With no dialogue as such, and with the world in which the vessel exists not explained, this is not an especially engaging read.
“A Noble Figure, Out of the Sky” by Mark W. Tiedemann is a simple tale, set in a dystopian future on Earth, when power and machines are failing. A young woman lives in the country with her mother—a crotchety old woman—and is visited by a passing traveller who’s walking through on the way to another town. The characterisation is good, and it’s quite readable. The vision that ‘things fall apart’ (the story references Yeats’ poem) rings true, but the plot is otherwise rather slight.
“Aalund’s Final Mission” by Raymund Eich is quite an engaging story, albeit one that itches at that part of our brain that appeals for common-sense. There is a sub-genre in hard SF that one could call the “interstellar disaster” story. When done well, as in Anderson’s Tau Zero, or Haldeman’s “Tricentennial”, it is both convincing and exciting. In this tale, the disaster similarly results from an inability to slow a starship down at its destination, when it is still travelling close to lightspeed. However, their original planned method of deceleration seems so unlikely to work reliably that it challenges both our common sense and the basic concept of redundancy in engineering. Dubious ideas can sometimes work well in SF of course—especially if they are quickly glossed over—and they can be a good springboard to enable more important ideas in the story. However, here the story is positioned as ‘hard’ SF and the key idea is a little difficult to credit, given it doesn’t offer further interest to shift our focus from the dubious engineering.
“Kept Man” by Louis Evans is well-written and interesting and provokes a good deal of thought. On a foreign world women are diminutive, genetically tetraploid in their chromosome structure, and essentially live forever. Men on the other hand live only forty or fifty years, continue growing to great stature throughout their lives, and live in complete subservience to the women. In inverting gender relationships from traditional biases on Earth, the story reminds one of Le Guin’s Hainish books in its exploration of gender roles. Exactly what the ‘take-home message’ might be regarding gender relationships, and whether it offers depth of meaning beyond being an intriguing tale, I’m still pondering. On that basis, I cannot decide quite how good it is, but at least it has me thinking, and as mentioned above, it’s well written and draws the reader in. Different readers will take different things from it, I suspect.
“Immune Response” by Robert R. Chase is a great novelette. Chase has been writing SF for Analog for some decades now, and he’s usually pretty reliable. In this story, a young theoretical physicist is still smarting from being dropped by his erstwhile academic supervisor, when he hears the professor has died. Upon receipt of some papers from the late professor, the protagonist starts to unearth a mystery surrounding the premature death of other significant academics. The strength of the tale is in its novel idea, and its exploration of whether certain questions in physics even should be asked. Expertly told, this superior tale is the highlight of the magazine this month and is highly recommended.
“Defense Reactions” by Shane Tourtellotte continues the author’s ongoing series of stories set in the same universe as The Malady, which I reviewed in the Nov/Dec 2021 issue. This novelette shares a similar difficulty with the first story, in that the concept is fine, but again the story skips forward in each section, interrupting the sense of continuity and flow of the story. Moreover, all the character names—’Tehl-Voyf Krinn Hfue Chuul’ being one example—are unwieldy and hard to read and place. Regardless of genre, utilising a naming system of four to five parts can only detract from the reading pleasure. As to the story itself, it concerns the development of an alien race that has recovered from a mind-lowering ‘malady’ and are now looking to maximise energy and planetary defense while under the threat of the ‘Outsider’ alien race. Seen through the eyes of the protagonist Toi-Chahl Ved Hnuah, the sections themselves are high on exposition, but unfortunately low on interest and pacing. Long conversations take place between characters that we are given no reason to care about, discussing themes that are rather dry and hard to follow. With this novelette the magazine ends with a bit of a whimper, unfortunately.
More of Mike Bickerdike’s reviews and thoughts on science-fiction can be found at https://starfarersf.nicepage.io/