Analog, June 2007

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“The Sands of Titan” by Richard A. Lovett

“Father Hagerman’s Dog” by Scott William Carter 

 “In The Bubble” by Rajnar Vajra
“Zoo in the Jungle” by Carl Frederick


Reviewed by Nader Elhefnawy

Richard A. Lovett‘s “The Sands of Titan” is related by its main character, Floyd Ashdown, a spacer contracted to parachute supplies to a scientific mission on the surface of (as one might guess from the title) Titan.  Inclined to be a loner, his only companion is his artificial intelligence “symbiote . . . [that] lives in a distributed chip network beneath [his] ribs” which went sentient just months earlier, an eventuality not unknown but very rare, unintended and frequently irritating to Floyd, inclined as he is to play the loner—and that “she” now speaks in the voice of a chatty seventeen year-old girl named Brittney doesn’t help.   

On his latest run, Floyd encounters trouble and is forced to crash-land, then try to survive in Titan’s unforgiving environment until he can find a way off.  While Floyd’s mind frequently goes over the past that helped make him a loner in the first place, “Sands” concentrates on Ashdown’s struggle to survive.  Despite the absence of other characters besides Brittney, and the limitation of his ability to interact with his environment because of its extreme harshness, the twenty-nine page story holds up surprisingly well.  This is partly due to Brittney’s engaging presence (just one of the bits of whimsy in Lovett’s future, of which I would have liked to see more), but also to the meticulous recreation of Titan’s environment on the page, and the intricate detailing of how Ashdown copes with it.

Those who are intrigued by Lovett’s portrayal of Titan may be interested in examining his nonfiction piece in this issue, “Cryovolcanoes, Swiss Cheese, and the Walnut Moon,” about the information brought back by NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn, and which includes details he clearly drew on for this story.

Scott William Carter‘s “Father Hagerman’s Dog” is about a college student named Marty who has taken a job selling “gonzos,” robotic dogs, to help put himself through school.  Eager to make a sale, he goes to Father Hagerman, an eccentric old acquaintance of Marty’s who, despite his title, was “kicked out of seminary for seducing nuns some fifty years back”—and insists he already has the only dog he needs in his far from perfect “Chib.”  Those who have wondered just what place flesh-and-blood animals will have when the Aibos and Idogs have been perfected (or put another way, why bother with regular sheep when an electric one will do?) will probably not find the deepest answer to that question here, but this six-page story makes for a light, brisk read nonetheless.

In Rajnar Vajra‘s “In The Bubble,” the main character and narrator, Fred Horton, is an elderly cancer patient.  While physically confined to a hospice, today he is virtually accompanying his daughter-in-law, Amanda, and his granddaughter, Eve, to a fairground—virtually, looking out at them from an “x-change” display spray-painted on the surface of Eve’s balloon.

The story takes its time, the reader having no inkling what turn it will take in the first quarter, but it lucidly develops the main character and the relevant technology, which may be more plausible than it seems.  (Spray-on electronics have had quite a bit of press as of late, particularly spray-on photovoltaic cells that may make solar energy production even more attractive than it is now, and Vajra wisely sets his story far enough in the future—2028—that it will be quite a while before it dates if he turns out to be wrong.)

The build-up also makes the story’s shift into thriller mode properly surprising, though the premise is familiar enough, complete with arrogant, verbose, articulate villain poised to pull off the coup of a lifetime.  (Reading his dialogue, in fact, I found myself remembering reading an article years ago that suggested that the villain’s dialogue is usually about two reading levels higher than the hero’s, and wondered what it might mean that this is even the case in the pages of hard science-oriented Analog.)  Vajra’s twist on the situation, in which Horton has to save his family from his deathbed, does not quite make the story new, but it does lend an element of interest. (On a minor note, Vajra’s use of the label “x-change” irked me a little, constantly reminding me of an obscure, but fun, film by that title—2000’s Xchange—in which body-switching technology had become commonplace, and which I felt made better use of the neologism.)

In Carl Frederick‘s “Zoo in the Jungle,” Arthur Davidson and Yevgeny Zhukov, two astronauts in a joint American-Russian moon mission (competing with a simultaneous mission launched by “New Arabia) happen upon what looks like a planetarium on the moon, which Davidson likens to a “zoo in the jungle.”  While Frederick has written stories of future political intrigue before (as in his satirical “Double Helix, Downward Gyre,” in the January-February 2007 double-issue), the astropolitical stakes of this space race are scarcely mentioned.  Instead, the focus is on Davidson and Zhukov’s attempt to unravel the mystery they happen across.  The story’s conclusion will probably not be much of a surprise to longtime science-fiction readers, but this does not detract from its readability.

[Editor’s note:  For an examination of this issue’s Probability Zero, “Vectoring” by Geoffrey A. Landis, see Nader’s article in our Divergences section.]