“The Man from Downstream” by Shane Tourtellotte
“Home is Where the Hub Is” by Christopher L. Bennett
“Primum Non Nocere” by H.G. Stratman
“The Hebras and the Demons and the Damned” by Brenda Cooper
“Deca-Dad” by Ron Collins
“Happy are the Bunyips” by Carl Frederick
“A Placebo Effect” by Brian C. Coad
“Spell Czech” by William Michael McCarthy
Reviewed by Sarah Joynt-Borger
In the December 2010 issue of Analog, three novelettes and four short stories examine government, man and their interaction with each other, and how that effects the world—or people—around them. While the novelettes seem almost too simplistic for Analog’s usual fare, the short stories return the magazine to its customary fine form.
In “The Man From Downstream,” by Shane Tourtellotte, broad characters and long stretches of exposition mar an otherwise entertaining tale of one time traveler’s attempt to flood the past with time-line altering inventions. While the plot moves and the story is clear, Tourtellotte’s characters spend a great deal of time telling—telling each other, telling themselves, telling the reader—and very little time doing. The basic premise, however, is interesting, and time-travel fans may enjoy Tourtellotte’s main character’s final coup de grace.
In the second installment of his “Hub” series, Christopher L. Bennett returns to Hubstation 3742, where humanity is a small footnote in a galaxy controlled by the Dosperhag—who control the Hub, the only means of faster-than-light travel in the known universe. A trio of stereotypical space adventurers—the snarky pilot, the wide-eyed idealist, and the alien Casanova—stumble into a Government cover-up on an alien planet while searching for a find that will put humanity on the map.
Bennett attempts humor, which doesn’t always work, and certain details—an alien giving birth during a phone conversation, for example—veer the story into SF Fear Factor territory. His characters do nothing surprising, and the story doesn’t really seem to be able to find its rhythm or tone. The action, however, moves quickly, and fans of the Hub series will enjoy this new addition.
The last novelette, “Primum Non Nocere” by H. G. Stratman, is an interesting premise that gets lost in the writer’s attempts at social satire.
In the not-so-distant future, weight and body mass index are regulated by law, and the healthcare system has become an Orwellian behemoth that forces healthy eating and exercise on citizens deemed obese. Following one such citizen, Stratman’s attempts at writing a social critique are heavy-handed, and the characters: a beautiful women who hides behind her obesity, a hawk-like evil doctor, a jolly fat man named Nick, who likes cookies too much, and a ‘terrorist’ group known as ELF—the Eater’s Liberation Front—are overly-simplistic and seem to belong in three or four different stories. The Santa theme is distracting, as it doesn’t result in any plot or character development, but rather sits in the story like an inside joke we can’t quite understand.
The twist at the end was unexpected, but partially because it felt like the end to a different story, rather than the logical conclusion to the story we had started reading. All in all, while a chilling look at what happens when good intentions go too far, “Primum Non Nocere” lurches from plot point to plot point without allowing the reader a chance to emotionally understand the characters, and so the social warning falls flat.
Brenda Cooper has the first short story in the issue, and with her “The Hebras and the Demons and the Damned,” she introduces us to a harsh colony world, where a few humans struggle against cruel conditions to maintain their lives on a new planet.
While Cooper doesn’t deviate much from the little-colony-that-could formula, her characters are real and engaging, and she doesn’t spend much time on the politics of building a colony, but rather on the relationships involved, not just between the people, but between the people and the animals, both predators and prey, with which they share the world.
With a gentle, almost lyrical rhythm, Cooper spins out a tale of hope and redemption, and courage in the face of overwhelming odds…and the story, it feels like, ends too soon.
“Deca-Dad” by Ron Collins, is a character study of two men: one who chooses to follow his wander lust, and the other who tries to understand him. Based on the idea that spaceships traveling at almost the speed of light experience time at a different rate than those left behind on planets, Collins explores the relationship between a great-great-great-to the 10th grandson and the men who choose space over family with excellent dialogue and a keen eye for his character’s unstated desires.
In “Happy are the Bunyips,” Carl Frederick takes Gandhi’s statement, “the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” an imaginary Australian animal, a kind zookeeper, and an overworked bureaucrat and makes a story that charms even as it teaches. Frederick makes sure the action is filled with humor and good spirits, and keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek as he spins the tale of a dog, a man, and two Bunyips.
The final story in the December issue is “A Placebo Effect” by Brian C. Coad. A retired patent attorney finds himself the center of international attention as China and India prepare to go to war over the wording in a patent he filed thirty years prior. The story moves, the main characters are fully fleshed out and believable, and the description of big business—and big Government’s—reaction to events–and their attempt to desperately spin the PR off it—is both spot on and wryly amusing.
Lastly, in the Probability Zero section, “Spell Czech,” by William Michael McCarthy, illustrates the decline of common sense in the world of political correctness, with a pointed but funny series of letters.
Analog’s December issue seems a little hit or miss, but fans of the magazine will not be let down by the collection of short stories.