Analog, July/August 2004

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"An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl (Part I)" by Mary A. Turzillo
"The Clapping Hands of God" by Michael F. Flynn
"Moreau2" by Allen M. Steele
"Fool Efficient" by Bob Buckley
"To Emily on the Ecliptic" by Thomas R. Dulski
"Clay's Pride" by Bud Sparhawk

ImageThe July/August double issue of Analog is one of the strongest issues of the magazine I have read in a while, with at least one story that I would not be surprised to find up for some awards next year. Mary A. Turzillo's serial "An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl" begins this month, but since this is a double issue, there's still room for two novellas, two novelettes, a short story, and several articles.

"The Clapping Hands of God" in Michael F. Flynn's novelette are a pair of extradimensional "branes," whose collision triggered the Big Bang that created our universe. Now they serve as a means of instantaneous travel from planet to planet, and Hassan Maklouf is leading a team through a gate to another world. On this world are aliens, and Hassan's team observes them from the relative safety of a mountain, where they hope to remain undetected. Nearby is a city, a port, and the team spends their days watching the aliens, learning what they can, speculating about what they cannot, and finding themselves entangled in nearly every classic problem of First Contact that there is.

Indeed, Flynn's story is nearly a textbook of First Contact, working through, in its twenty-seven pages, as many variations on the theme as are found in a myriad of other stories. Can we understand the alien? How much true communication can there be with aliens? Is there a fundamental commonality among intelligent life, or do we inevitably read our own prejudices into others? The tragedy of the story is that, aware as Hassan is of each and every one of these pitfalls, and try as he might to warn the other members of the team of them, he knows his efforts are futile: "Hassan Maklouf was their leader, a man who had walked on eighteen worlds and bore in consequence eighteen wounds."

"The Clapping Hands of God" is one of the finest stories I have read in some time. The characters are sharply drawn and individualized, the conflicts within the team are handled with complete confidence, and Flynn weaves issues of genuine speculative interest into his story with deft agility. I will be shocked if, at the end of 2004, this story does not find a prominent place among the year's best.

"Moreau2" by Allen M. Steele is, as its title suggests, in part an homage to H.G. Wells' novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, an early novel of what would now be considered genetic engineering. Phil Carson and George Mariano are journalists, covering the Moon War between the nations of Earth and the space-based Pax Astra, when their shuttle crashes, killing everyone else on board. With only fifteen minutes of air left and George unconscious, the pair are rescued by a man who calls himself "Moreau." They wind up in his secret research facility, where the pair soon discover exactly what sort of research Moreau is doing.

The general nature of that research won't surprise anyone familiar with Well's novel, or even those not familiar with it, but it's not meant to be a surprise. The story instead works best as a study of a moral duel, between the competing imperatives of Phil and Moreau. Phil believes he is obligated to inform humanity of Moreau's research; Moreau believes he is equally obligated to protect his research subjects from outside meddling. In the end, as is so often the case, the conflict is resolved through an exercise of simple power. He who controls the resources wins.

I've mostly read Steele's shorter works, such as his "Coyote" stories and his pair of Hugo winning novellas, "The Death of Captain Future" and "…Where Angels Fear to Tread." I got the impression, though, that this story may fit into the future of several of his novels set in the near-future solar system. I enjoyed "Moreau2" and may seek out some of those novels to see if I am right, for the setting seemed a rich one worthy of further investigation.

There is a distinct aura of Eric Frank Russell about Bob Buckley's "Fool Efficient," an enjoyable tale of pesky humans getting the drop on overconfident aliens. Maestri, head of MX TekWay, at first seems to be another ruthless CEO hoping to get a competitive jump on the competition. After a page or two, though, it is clear that he has more elaborate schemes. In truth, Maestri is a front man for an invasion and conquest of Earth, hoping to use an elaborate scheme involving a new type of engine that supposedly runs on "cosmic static" to take over the Earth, to avoid the need for a messy military conquest. His scheme seems to be working perfectly until the very last minute, when it suddenly becomes clear to Maestri that he has, perhaps fatally, underestimated humanity.

Buckley's story is an enjoyable romp, fitting nicely into the long-running Astounding/Analog tradition of stories showing how underdogs, generally human, manage to turn the tables on their supposed superiors, often alien. Maestri, despite his scheming, is surprisingly sympathetic, and I felt a bit sorry for him at the end when his schemes collapsed. My only real criticism of the story is of the very end, which felt a bit rushed and confused. What happens seems clear enough; however, I wasn't precisely clear on how it happened.

I may not read Analog as regularly as I should, but I can't recall ever coming across a story in its pages that featured Emily Bronte as a significant figure. Thomas R. Dulski's "To Emily on the Ecliptic" is an elegantly told tale of art and loss. Maleus Taub is a poet, but a poet suffering from writer's block. Summoned by the Prime Laureate, head of the Order of Poets, Maleus is given a last chance to overcome his block, by undergoing a rare procedure involving technology left by the Teydurax, an alien race that appeared and disappeared mysteriously.

On the Teydurax "Healing Couch," under the supervision of Doctor Fisher, Maleus has two brief meetings with famous literary Emilys: first, Emily Bronte, who shows him the novel she wrote after Wuthering Heights, later destroyed by her sister Charlotte; and Emily Dickinson, though a lively teenage Emily Dickinson, rather than the reclusive spinster we generally see her as. Through these meetings and the help of Doctor Fisher, Maleus is able to begin writing again.

Dulski's story is unusual in Analog in dealing centrally with ideas of art and creativity, but he manages to neatly fold these ideas together with more traditionally speculative matters of time and space, leaving us a satisfying mixture of the infamous "two cultures" of science and art.

Bud Sparhawk's "Clay's Pride" is a fast-moving story of interplanetary intrigue and politics. In many other issues of Analog it would be the best story, but suffers only from the company it keeps in this issue. When Commander Simon Clay, ranking Fleet officer on the Pride, is forced to take drastic action to avoid the destruction of the ship by a mysterious alien object, he finds himself entangled in the vicious political battles between the Fleet and the recently independent colony of Dzhou. Blamed by the Dzhou for the damage to the ship, Clay soon finds his career a casualty of war, and must scramble to avoid becoming a fatality.

I enjoyed the fast pace and rapid twists and turns of the narrative, and Sparhawk's story kept me guessing until the end as to exactly who was double-crossing whom. This is an enjoyable tale of political intrigue, and I'd like to see Sparhawk write another story about Clay, perhaps one exploring the unanswered question of the alien objects.