Analog, April 2010

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“Swords and Saddles” by John G. Hemry

“Snowflake Kisses” by Holly Hight & Richard A. Lovett

“The Robots’ Girl” by Brenda Cooper

“A Sound Basis for Misunderstanding” by Carl Frederick

“Nothing But Blue Skies” by Stephen L. Burns

“When We Were Fab” by Jerry Oltion

“The Planet Hunters” by S.L. Nickerson

Reviewed by Carl Slaughter

“Swords and Saddles” by John G. Hemry is an alternate universe story about cavalrymen in 1870.  When lightning strikes during a storm, they are transported.  The terrain is the same but their fort and the surrounding settlers are gone.  They encounter ancient ruins that resemble ones from the history books, then an inhabited city.  In the first part of the story, the soldiers try to solve the mystery.  In the second part, they explore the culture of the city’s inhabitants, feminism and slavery among the topics discussed.  In the third part, they go to war against the city’s enemies and slavery becomes an issue again.  The story is based on the mysterious disappearance and presumed massacre of a real regiment in this universe.

“Snowflake Kisses,” by Holly Hight & Richard A. Lovett, is a sentimental, heartbreaking story about researching the neurochemistry of human love.  The researcher tells the story with flashbacks of disappointing relationships.  She has a crucial misunderstanding with her mother about an important gift, her father abandons the family, she struggles to tell her husband she’s pregnant, she miscarries when she realizes he’s more interested in his field of study than her or their unborn child, her husband divorces her.  These flashbacks correlate to her research on love.  After 7 years, funding for her project is pulled, but she presses on with the remaining grant money because she hopes her scanner will help her find true love.  Meanwhile, she quotes divorce statistics among scientists and ponders whether she can have tenure track and baby track at the same time.  A couple in their seventies, still in love after 50 years of marriage, make the scanner light up.  So she knows there’s such a thing as authentic, long-lasting love, however rare.  When she tests love inducing chemicals on her participants and the scanner goes wild, she realizes she has concocted a love potion.  Meanwhile, a test participant challenges her about the difference between love and lust.   The ending wraps all these events and themes neatly with a satisfying conclusion.

“The Robots’ Girl,” by Brenda Cooper, isn’t about a girl.  It’s about a woman who is obsessed with a girl.  No one else lives in the neighboring house, no one visits, and the girl never goes outside.  The storyteller is the woman’s boyfriend, who helps her play detective only so the couple can return to their previous lifestyle.  Next in line in the exploration of characters are the robots guarding, educating, and attending the girl.  Then the girl.  The girl gets adequate exploration, but she’s not near as deep and interesting as the couple.  Of course, the robots are the most interesting characters.  Throw in a few animals, natural and robot.  The various characters play a long-standing, daily game of cat and mouse with each other.  The girl’s guardian makes a cameo appearance at the end.    The reader will be satisfied with the conclusion, even if none of the characters are completely happy with it.  This story is slow paced and overly descriptive, but if you like ‘who are they’ detective mysteries, you’ll probably like this one.  If you like robot stories, you’ll definitely like this one.

“A Sound Basis for Misunderstanding” is one of Carl Frederick‘s best stories.  It’s a masterful blend of music, art, linguistics, body language, biology, business, diplomacy, and culture.  An emissary must convince aliens to trade with humans by either making a good impression about humans or by finding something humans have that aliens want.  Interplanetary trade and his career are at stake.  He has very little background knowledge, a rush timetable, and a bad translator.  He must crack the alien’s interpersonal communication process, and that process is a lot more sophisticated than he’s been led to believe.  There’s a lot of music terminology, but you can understand and enjoy the story without any knowledge of music.  Even if you’re not a Carl Frederick fan,  definitely don’t miss this one.

“Nothing But Blue Skies” by Stephen L. Burns is another ‘used car dealer gets an unusual vehicle from a mysterious customer’ story.  This is a part of the ‘handy gift from an alien but with a catch’ subgenre.  Depending on your taste, these stories are still delicious no matter how many of them you’ve read.  This one’s pretty good.  In addition, it has an unusual angle:  the mysterious customer is another used car salesman looking to trade.  The devil is in the fine print.  Literally, sort of.

The main character in “When We Were Fab,” by Jerry Oltion, buys a nanofabrication unit so his convenience store can compete against the superstores.  The superstores and the popular brand companies trick him.  Templates for the newest and highest selling items cost a premium that the little guys can’t afford.  But he turns their own trick against them.  A clever little story with some very clever characters.

In “The Planet Hunters,” by S.L. Nickerson, grad student astronomy majors hunt for exoplanets and vie for time on a new super telescope.  Over half way into the story, the astronomers discover aliens.  In the last half a dozen paragraphs, we discover the identity of the aliens and the theory behind their discovery.  Fans of science driven stories will be at home.  Half the word count for this story is presentation and discussion of technical data  –  current/near future science, not distant future/distant possibility science.  Forty percent is taken up with beer cans, candy bars, takeout food, dirty clothes, messy apartments, paper grading, putdowns, colleagues sleeping at their desks, and other scene-clutter and cheap storytelling props.  Perhaps ten percent is devoted to the premise.  Oh, and the aliens, they’re Star Trek fans.  Literally.