"Trial by Fire" by Shane Tourtellotte
"Don’t Kill the Messenger" by Kim Zimring
"As You Know, Bob" by John G. Hemry
"Crackers" by Jerry Oltion
"Things That Aren’t" by Michael A. Burstein & Robert Greenberger
The April issue of Analog opens with a story by Shane Tourtellotte that forms the first of three stories linked in theme and texture. “Trial by Fire” is the third story Tourtellotte has published dealing with the overlay project, the others appearing in Analog in 2003 and 2005. This project seeks to alter human response by overlaying new mindsets on criminals. As “Trial by Fire” opens, several of the project members are en route to Washington to testify in front of Congress. Back in Berkeley at the lab, Lucinda Peale is planning to time her resignation to gain the most exposure and cause the biggest embarrassment. However, when things go wrong in Washington, she finds herself continuing the research she had hoped to leave behind. Rather than being a story examining the conflict between differing views of scientific achievement, Tourtellotte turns the story on its head, and it becomes a look at the subversion of good intentions by political necessary. At the same time, it is a look at a possible future of the United States in the face of additional and more complex terrorist attacks and a warning against possible responses. It is not necessary to have read either “A New Man” or “Acts of Conscience” to understand and think about “Trial by Fire,” although knowledge of those stories will give the current one more depth. Tourtellotte’s references to them, while perhaps enigmatic, are not particularly important in the scheme of things.
“Don’t Kill the Messenger” is a short first contact story by Kim Zimring. When an alien drops into the lap of Albert Finchi, an astronomer specializing in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, he takes it on as a sort of pet. The story deals with the initial discovery in a very general way, as well as the reaction to the creature’s existence. Unfortunately, the short story never really goes anywhere, instead reading as a teaser for a longer story that Zimring has yet to write. On its own, however, there is no meat to the tale.
John G. Hemry satirizes bad science fiction and those people who think that the genre has never moved beyond its pulp roots in “As You Know, Bob.” Essentially a single joke stretched out to five pages, the piece works because the excesses science fiction has embraced over the years are still so identifiable and ripe for satire. The story also succeeds because Hemry approaches it with love. The satire isn’t aimed at the hapless science fiction writer who is trying to sell his book, but rather at the clueless agent who knows what sells based on his own perceptions of what science fiction should be.
The protagonist of Jerry Oltion’s “Crackers,” Daniel, is living on the street despite his invention of a personal forcefield. He fell from potential riches when his invention was stolen, and as he scrounges the dumpsters and alleys looking for it, Daniel seethes with resentment at the world which ridiculed and rejected him before he could prove his invention. Oltion looks at his confrontation with the owner of a small grocery as Daniel fights for survival and the respect that he deserves as a human being. Over the course of the story, Daniel learns what happened to his invention, although things are quite what they seem. Throughout, Daniel appears as a sympathetic, capable person who has fallen on hard times and still hopes to be able to recover his lost glory and stature.
“Things That Aren’t” by Michael A. Burstein and Robert Greenberger forms a nice grouping with Tourtellotte’s and Oltion’s stories. In this story, a group of scientists, led by Samuel Lansky, are researching a way of stimulating virtual reality directly into the recipient’s mind. When one of the scientists falls into a strange coma, the police and FBI are brought onto the case in the characters of Jerry Bancroft and Arthur Valiquette. Burstein and Greenberger reveal the attacker, Trevor Bingham, early in the story, as well as his motive. The story’s tension comes down to how Trevor will be caught, and the authors handle that detail quite well. In the process, they showcase the divisions that can occur within a team, as well as the method used for testing hypotheses and controlling their dissemination. Valiquette, with or without Bancroft, could easily become the focus of a series of science fiction mysteries in which scientific theory is the basis for the crimes he is investigating.