Analog, December 2006

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"Imperfect Gods" by C. Sanford Lowe and G. David Nordley

"Double Dead" by Grey Rollins

"Openshot" by Craig DeLancey

"Diatomaceous Earth" by Jerry Oltion

"The Technetium Rush" by Wil McCarthy

"Long Winter’s Nap" by Catherine H. Shaffer

The stories in the December 2006 issue of Analog are highly varied, ranging from far-future space fiction like "Imperfect Gods" to the speculatively minimalist near-future tale, "The Technetium Rush." Given the season, the issue is appropriately capped off by the Christmas story "Long Winter’s Nap."

"Imperfect Gods" by C. Sanford Lowe and G. David Nordley is their second story about the Black Hole Project. (The first, "Kremer’s Limit," appeared in the July-August 2006 double-issue, and a third appeared later, in the March 2007 issue, "The Small Pond.") The protagonist from the first story, Brunhilda Kremer, heads to the planet of New Antarctica in the Erebus star system where a critical part of the BHP experiment is scheduled to take place. However, a message arrives ordering a delay—one that Brunhilda identifies as bogus because of the dubious physics justifying it.

This sets the stage for the story’s central conflict, between Brunhilda and her father, Wotan, whom she hadn’t seen since she was sixteen—and who is now chairman of the Erebus System’s Commonwealth Council, putting him in control of the project on New Antarctica. While he insists on obeying the message to delay, an increasingly frustrated Hilda, convinced it is a deliberate attempt at sabotage, struggles to keep the project on track.

Unresolved family issues blend with the clash of politics, and to the authors’ credit, do so rather smoothly. The technical detail in Lowe and Nordley’s story is also abundant without ever being confusing or bogging down the narrative, and the vivid descriptions of the physical landscape of New Antarctica bring it to life. Nonetheless, readers who missed the first story may be a bit perplexed by the conflict over the Black Hole Project. While some of the fears surrounding it are mentioned off-hand—one character makes a joke about the project destroying the universe—it is never quite clear from reading this story alone just who the Consolidationists leading the opposition to the BHP are.

The problem is less pronounced if the reader is already familiar with the previous story in the sequence, "Kremer’s Limit," but it also fell short in this area. While that story made it clear that the risks had been assessed, it nonetheless ignored the very thorny ethical issues involved in an experiment like that. (For an introduction to the issue, you can see Martin Rees‘s Our Final Hour, or a similarly themed story where the hero and villain roles are reversed, Joe Haldeman‘s Hugo-winning The Forever Peace.) The debate instead appeared to be the simple one between reactionary Luddites and the noble pursuit of knowledge. The ultimate effect, though, is to undermine both the story’s already thin sense of intrigue and Hilda’s otherwise careful characterization, making her at times appear to be the stereotype of the obsessed, amoral scientist instead of the Galileo they mean her to be.

Grey Rollins‘s "Double Dead" is another spoof about private eye Jack Sawyer (a clone of the original detective into which the late Sawyer’s personality was uploaded) and his partner (another illegal copy of his personality discretely living inside his home computer terminal). This duo previously appeared in "Or Die Trying" in February 2001 and "Death As a Way of Life" in May 2005, but this story can be read as a stand-alone. Those who did read the earlier stories, however, will know what to expect, namely a self-aware blend of noir and posthuman clichés. (In the opening scenes, Sawyer himself is actually sitting in his office thinking about just how he’s supposed to look when a client walks through the door— and how far short of the mark he falls.)

This time around the client is film star Amanda McBey, and she is probing into the apparent death of her wealthy husband. As crime fiction, "Double Dead" falls a bit flat; the case more or less solves itself without Sawyer’s help, and not only will no one be surprised by the ending, but they will hardly care. Fairly early on, it becomes clear that Rollins’s tale is not about drama or suspense, or for that matter, a Philip K. Dick-style exploration of just what Sawyer’s bizarre situation means. Instead, the clones and artificial intelligences are gimmicks, props, which set up the story’s real focus, the repartee between Sawyer and his cybernetic twin that will either amuse or annoy. (This reader was more amused than annoyed.)

Craig DeLancey‘s "Openshot" is about an X-Prize style contest, the International Lunar Peace Race, with the hundred million dollar award going to the first team to land on the moon. This subject seems rather timely amid discussions of helium-3 mining and American, Chinese, and Japanese plans for moon bases, but the competitors the story presents make it more than a story of prize money or superpower competition. One of the two leading entrants is funded by Cutter, a wealthy weapons developer intent on seeing space privatized. The other is the Open Source Rocket Program, a Linux-like effort which produced the Apollo-style "Openshot" ship, Stallman, crewed by Colonel T.J. Bianco, "Zen" and "Penguin," the narrator. Just as Cutter is determined to defend the profitability of space exploration, they are determined that the conquest of space will not be the purview of a few powerful corporations, but give scope to humanity’s broader aspirations. The story’s concept and plot are strong, but given its political theme, this reviewer suspects that readers who do not share DeLancey’s view of the issue will enjoy it rather less.

Jerry Oltion‘s "Diatomaceous Earth," like many equally brief tales (it runs to just four pages) hangs not on plot or character, but on a gimmick. Surprisingly effectively, it uses credible discussions of genetics and nanotechnology in the early part of the story as a launchpad for a flight of fancy later on—and to say any more would give it away.

Wil McCarthy‘s "The Technetium Rush" is written as an article in the Bangalore Daily News, recounting the story of an impoverished Indian scientist and his gambling-addicted wife (Rakesh and Abha Solanki) who strike it rich – suspiciously, from a mineral nearly impossible to find on earth, the technetium of the title. McCarthy’s story is slight, but entertaining nonetheless.

Catherine H. Shaffer‘s "Long Winter’s Nap" is the Christmas story of an eight-year-old girl from a primitive tribe which, like the frog it traces its ancestry to, hibernates during the winter—and the visit of "Santy Clawrs." Wanting to see Santy Clawrs for herself, LittlestOne hatches a plan to stay awake during the winter months while the rest of her family sleeps. The story is delicately detailed, quite touching, and the best-written piece in this issue.