Analog, January-February 2006

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“The Balance of Nature” by Lee Goodloe
“Dinosaur Blood” by Richard A. Lovett
“Mop-Up” by Grey Rollins
“Kamikaze Bugs” by Ekaterina Sedia and David Bartell
“Report on Ranzipal’s Plus-Dimension Carry-All” by Mark W. Tiedemann
“Written in Plaster” by Rajnar Vajra
“Change” by Julian Flood
“‘The Night Is Fine,’ The Walrus Said” by John Barnes

Lee Goodloe
kicks off this issue of Analog with “The Balance of Nature,” which apparently begins as a story of conservationism, but eventually turns into an examination of extremism. Deesa Nelfro is at the beginning of her career as a Warden and anxious to be allowed to enter the restricted natural areas. As she is about to set off on her first, supervised visit into the preserve, an earthquake rattles the visitor center in which she works.

Eventually, Goodloe begins to focus less on the specifics of the environment, although he never fully departs from that aspect of the story, to focus on Deesa’s difficulties with the extremists in the person of Drafer. Goodloe’s extremists not only are complete Luddites (they won’t ride on vehicles), but are also tremendously misogynistic, despite a society which invokes the Goddess and has given the extremists a functional role in the preservation of the wilderness areas.

The last of the “Dinosaur Blood,” oil, is about to be used on Earth in Richard A. Lovett’s story about a young heiress who has inherited the last supply of crude and the equipment to use it. Unknown to Trista and her various companions, their adventure around the United States is being watched by a spy satellite from a consortium of alien races trying to determine whether the humans have potential or if they should be destroyed as the dinosaurs were destroyed.

The idea of humanity being judged by outsiders is as old as science fiction, and Lovett’s spin of tying it in with the waste of the last of a resource is interesting, but raises the question of why the AI monitoring humans waited so long. Furthermore, humans have clearly found alternative sources, although the AI doesn’t take that fact into account, nor does Lovett directly address the new resources aside from noting their existence.

Grey Rollins brings his typical sense of humor to a story of negotiations between a panel of human experts and the alien Nolroy in “Mop-Up.” Rollins not only reminds the reader of what it means to have an alien mindset, but also reminds us that for all the lip service Americans pay to the Declaration of Independence’s statement “that all men are created equal,” there is the tendency to base a person’s worth on their job description. The things which appear important to the Nolroy and to humans, even to the humans who deal most closely with the Nolroy, are completely at odds with each other. Nevertheless, Rollins depicts a world in which even people with such disparate views can come to an agreement if both sides are acting in good faith and willing to bend.

“Kamikaze Bugs” is the third installment of the Ekaterina Sedia and David Bartell series of stories about Jessie and Gus Lanley. The story has a leisurely feel to it, and in some ways never really seems to get started, but that is a misperception. The short, seemingly only loosely linked events of Gus giving a paper at a conference, the consulting he does based on that paper, and the eventual denouement, actually all flow together nicely in retrospect, just as events aren’t always visibly linked in the real world except in hindsight.

Mark W. Tiedemann takes the all-in-one personal electronic device a step further with his “Report on Ranzipal’s Plus-Dimension Carry-All.” The device of the title is a interdimensional pocket which can be accessed through a “transom.” David Gath is summoned on one of his days off to examine a strange death which may be linked to a malfunctioning carry-all.

While the idea is clever and generally handled well, Tiedemann’s characters are a little flat, from Gath’s reaction, to his discovery of the victim’s identity, to the one-dimensional stereotypicality of the Country Club vice president, to the situation which David faces at home, which almost feels as if it is part of the story to give his character added background.

Rajnar Vajra tells the story of Danny Levan, a young half-Jewish boy growing up in Sussex in the 1930s in “Written in Plaster.” Vajra’s tale, which seems to form part of a much larger work, is a merger of several different types of folklore as well as a science fictional time travel tale (including the obligatory reference to H.G. Wells). Danny is an intelligent, but otherwise seemingly unexceptional boy with an interest in geology. When he discovers some odd chips of violet plaster, his curiosity is piqued. Unlike children in many stories, Danny has no qualms about discussing his discovery with adults who might be able to help, in this case Meghan Smith, a local archaeologist. Their explorations lead them into a discussion of what it means to be part of humanity, as well as the issue of whether humans should be judged by the worst examples, the best, or the average.

“Written in Plaster” sets up an interesting world and it is to be hoped that Vajra will expand on what it contains.

Although Julian Flood’s “Change” is set in a world which has vastly diverged from our own in some basic ways, many of the basics remain in place. In fact, the story is a thinly disguised look at zealots of all stripes who don’t want to see any changes made to their way of living or potential scientific advancement.  A short story, it could have been much stronger if Flood had taken a little more time to flesh out the characters and their situations, relying less on stock, stereotypical characters and making the story more complex.

In the early 1990s, John Barnes wrote his novels of the Thousand Cultures. In the November issue of Analog, Barnes published the story “The Diversification of its Fancy,” of which I wrote it left “the reader with the impression that [it] is an excerpt from a fourth “Thousand Cultures” novel…” That supposition appears confirmed with the appearance of “‘The Night Is Fine,’ The Walrus Said,” which continues the story of Gerault Leones where “The Diversification of its Fancy” left off.

Faced with repeated assassination attempts which appear to be tied to his one-time relationship with Ix, the martyred founder of a new religion, Gerault is placed in harms way by the OSP, the organization of spies he is affiliated with in conjunction with his life as a singer. Although “‘The Night Is Fine,’ The Walrus Said,” has all the complexity to be expected of a lengthy story which is part of a lengthier series, Barnes does an excellent job of giving the necessary background information without appearing to be too redundant, perhaps in part due to the length of time between the publishing of the Thousand Culture novels and picking up the story again. The richness of the series, however, can be seen throughout “‘The Night Is Fine,’ The Walrus Said,” even when Barnes doesn’t refer to it explicitly, one of the strengths of writing in a fully defined universe.