Analog — June 2011

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Analog, June 2011

“Energized,” (part I of IV) by Edward M. Lerner
“Citizen-Astronaut,” by David D. Levine
“Kawataro,” by Alec Nevala-Lee
“Take One For The Road,” by Jamie Todd Rubin
“Stone Age,” by Alastair Mayer

Reviewed by Richard E.D. Jones

Analog Science Fiction and Fact has been around for a long time. Well, not geologically speaking long, but long for me. It’s been around for as long as I can remember and I’m old, so we’ll just go with a long time.

Anyway, the great part about this magazine, including the June 2011 issue reviewed here, is the mixture of both fiction and fact. In addition to the great short fiction in each issue, we also get the real science that’s behind so much of the fiction. I’m not reviewing the fact bits here, but, rest assured, it’s pretty keen stuff.

Speaking of not reviewing, as per our mandate here at Tangent Online, we’ll not be reviewing the serialized novel, “Energized,” by Edward M. Lerner. Although I will say I liked it.

First up this issue is the novelette “Citizen-Astronaut,” by David D. Levine. In this story, Levine indulges in a lot of wish-fulfillment fiction. Well, wish fulfillment for this reviewer anyway. It seems humanity has gotten its act together at least enough to have a United Nations capable of funding and enacting some pretty fantastic science projects.

The problem, really, is people. So some things stay the same. After eight years of continuous human population in a science habitat on Mars, however, the public and the politicians are growing bored and not likely to keep funding the project. So the UN Space Agency decides to send a citizen-astronaut to Mars.

Complications, of course, ensue. While the story itself reads well, I thought Levine needed some more space to really let the whole concept breathe. Some major decisions are made following major problems and most of that occurs at a breakneck pace and with little on-page reflection. It’s a good story, but I thought it could have been much better.

The second novelette is “Kawataro,” by Alec Nevala-Lee and it’s a story that pushes all the buttons I love to get pushed by good fiction. It takes place in a locale that’s unknown to me (in this case, modern but rural Japan) and immerses us in an unfamiliar culture (more on that later), but makes it understandable. To top it off, it involves a mystery that actually plays fair with the reader.

All in all, this is a good story. Though I think the word “good” is selling it a bit short.

“Kawataro” takes place in rural Japan in a small fishing village founded a hundred years ago by a deaf burakumin man, an outcaste. Most of the residents of the village were descendants of this man. Because he was deaf due to a genetic disorder, at least five percent of the population is deaf and, because the village is isolated for a number of reasons, the deaf have evolved their own sign language, one different from any that came before.

If you’re confused by my use of outcaste and burakumin, don’t feel alone. I’d never heard of it either before reading this gripping story. Turns out, the burakumin are descendents of what would now be called very low-class undertakers and leatherworkers. They’re looked down on and considered, socially, near animals. So, we’ve got people who are double minorities. Deaf people had been considered  mentally deficient by some in most countries, and the burakumin were also looked down on. Imagine growing up both. It might lead to some . . . issues.

Hakaru comes to the village to work with Dr. Nakaya, who is documenting the unique language of the village’s deaf population. A murder happens in this strange community. I won’t go into too much detail because this is, after all, a play-fair mystery. It flirts with the supernatural and asks the question: Is it supernatural or is it real?

I was quite gripped by the smooth flow of the narrative and the closely described details of this very different culture. Nevala-Lee has done a very nice job here, and I’m definitely going to be looking for more of this author’s work.

Leading off the short stories is “Take One For The Road,” by Jamie Todd Rubin. In a nice little slice-of-(extraordinary)life story, Rubin takes us to the wilds of upstate New York where a man named Rick moves into a house next to an unusual man.

Simon Hollander is the sole surviving member of humanity’s only manned mission to Mercury. Years ago, Hollander and three other crew members went to Mercury. Four humans left–only three returned. And the three who returned would not talk – ever – about what happened out there.

While I enjoyed the story, this crucial bit is where the story logic broke down for me. I mean, if something like that happened and the survivors refused to talk about it, it would still be huge news decades after the fact. Under no circumstances would the very mission – as in the story – fade from public consciousness so much so that Rick wouldn’t even know there had been a mission to Mercury. The other thing that detracted from my enjoyment of the story were the couple of typos that managed to creep in.

However, setting aside the logic flaws (and this being summer movie season, I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring faulty logic) and typos, this was a really nice story. It took several of the basic tropes of science fiction – rockets and other worlds – and used it to tell a very human story. The author also employs a fantastic metaphor for how hard it is to achieve orbit around Mercury. I’ll leave that for you to discover. You’ll thank me for pointing it out and really thank Rubin for coming up with it.

To finish off the fiction, we’ve got “Stone Age,” by Alastair Mayer. Although the story itself was well-written, with good dialogue and a nice bit of world-building, I was disappointed with it.

What actually happens in the story felt more like a small interlude in a larger story, in that it was blown up to short-story length instead of the five or six paragraphs that it should have been. Speaking of plot. . .

Dr. Hannibal Carson is an academic researching non-human civilizations on various worlds humanity has settled following the invention of faster-than-light travel. Most of the planets settled by humans had been, for lack of a better word, terraformed millions of years previously.

On many of these newly resettled worlds, humans have found burial structures in the shape of four-sided pyramids. Carson is of the belief that these pyramids are connected to relatively recent (just a couple of thousand years) non-human spacefarers. It’s not a popular theory.

It’s also not important to the plot. Carson, his pilot and two workers hired from a nearby city find themselves in the jungle searching for one of the aforementioned  burial structures. They find it, but then are found in turn by grave robbers who specialize in reselling alien artifacts to human collectors.

Carson begs to be allowed to keep some of his find, thinking he’s finally found the proof he needs to publish his scientific theory. He gets to keep some recordings, but that’s about it. And, really, that’s about all there is to the story. They find the pyramid. They get find-jacked. They then discover an overlooked bit of stuff that might have a connection to his theory. Or might not. The end.

Really, Mayer’s story reads like a set up for another, longer story. Or maybe just a smaller bit in that hypothetical story. It’s well-written, but skippable if you’re pressed for time.

In closing, this is a good issue, well worth your dollar and your time. It boasts some clever, well-written fiction, along with a healthy, informative dose of science fact. Basically, it’s your standard issue of Analog. It’s always good, just a question of how good. And this one is pretty high up the list by that standard.