Analog, April 2006

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“Boundary Condition” by Wil McCarthy
“Lady Be Good” by John G. Hemry
“Numismatist” by Richard A. Lovett
“Nothing to Fear But” by Stephen L. Burns
“The Lowland Expedition” by Stephen Baxter

“Lighthouse” by Michael Shara & Jack McDevitt

Discovery seems to be a running theme in this issue. Whether it’s via exploration, solving a mystery, or self-discovery; it’s in every story. I do have one question though. What kind of animal is that on the front cover? Perhaps it’s the Saturn Dodo that dwells on Io, long thought to have gone extinct several million years ago. Anyhow, onto the fiction:

“Boundary Condition” by Wil McCarthy starts off with the two coolest opening sentences I’ve ever read: “Death comes upon us in surprising ways. If it didn’t, we’d arrange to be somewhere else, right?”

This novella is set in the near future. Two space hotels already orbit Earth and the National Weather Service is now a branch of NASA. Indeed, the union between the two may soon turn a profit for the U.S. government. A new type of weather has been discovered: quantum storms that appear to affect the “free will” area of the brain. Dave the First, the first American Pope, visits the space hotel where the NWA are conducting their experiments at detecting the new phenomenon.

This story, written with some humor and wit, offers an interesting question regarding God’s role, if any, in Quantum Mechanics, and the ending leaves you pondering the cause and effect of seemingly random events. The characters are enjoyable to read about with some interesting personality conflicts, and McCarthy makes you feel for each and every one of them.

John G. Hemry’s tale “Lady Be Good” is about a ragtag crew of misfits in an interstellar ship on its last legs. The story is done in the POV of first Officer Kilcannon who pretty much runs the whole ship since Captain Weskind suffers a brain-debilitating illness. All they need is “one good run,” and they will have the money to repair their beloved ship. Except the cargo they carry is illegal, and Kilcannon is faced with several moral quandaries along their destination.

“Lady Be Good” is both a fun adventure story and a morality tale of self-discovery full of memorable characters. What makes this story stand out from the typical “space pirate” stories is that the crew aren’t pirates but honorable people who are simply down on their luck and desperate.

“Numismatist” by Richard A. Lovett is a near-future psychological mystery with a tiny smattering of Cyberpunk. A psychological consultant for the Metropolitan police force investigates the cause behind Steve Simon’s shooting rampage. The first thing he notices is that it’s not a textbook case. Could the neural-inducer virtual reality headset be the cause, or is it something else? To solve the mystery he must come to terms with his own painful past. The ending comes to a logical, if expected, conclusion, but the characters make the story interesting. Written in first-person point-of-view, this reader was left with one nagging question: what’s the main character’s name?

With “Nothing to Fear But” by Stephen L. Burns, I had to do a double-take at the Table of Contents to confirm that I was reading an actual short story and not a letter to Stanley Schmidt, for the story is in the form of a letter written to Analog’s editor that includes journal entries (a la “Flowers for Algernon”) of a phobic inventor of security devices. Jeffery Bloss is terrified of, well, just about everything. After a few experiments, he manages to build a device that eliminates fear only to discover that fear can sometimes be a good thing. Burns’s story is a disturbing and humorous exploration into the nature of fear…and our need for it. This reader liked the format in which this tale is told. With any luck, the “frame story” may become popular again.

“The Lowland Expedition” by Stephen Baxter is an adventure story of exploration and discovery unlike anything I’ve ever read. Set on Earth in the far future, Old Earth is divided into two “worlds” called Lowland and the Shelf, separated by what can possibly be described as a many-layered Time Dilation Field. One thing that’s certain is that the balloon ship captained by Bayle is on a one-way trip to explore the Lowlands. There’s a slow progression to the plot, but the characterization combined with the strangeness of the setting keeps you hooked, and Baxter delivers an ending that leaves you in awe.

In “Lighthouse” by Michael Shara and Jack McDevitt, Kristi Lang discovers a new type of brown dwarf star with far more deuterium than any star should have. This is a character-based story about what leads Kristi to discover the cause of the anomalous stars and the reason why they exist. Inspiration and discovery can come in unexpected ways, as this tale shows. While I can identify with the theme, there was something about the main character that didn’t hold for me, and the plot felt forced into the direction the authors wanted it to go.

Overall, this issue of Analog is one you want to read before placing it on your bookshelf.