Analog, March 2006

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.
“The Little White Nerves Went Last” by John Barnes
“Wasting Time” by Grey Rollins
“The Skeekit-Woogle Test” by Carl Frederick
“Wildlife” by Henry Melton
“Playhouse” by Larry Niven
I love it when Analog puts spaceships on the cover, and this issue has a breathtaking one done by artist Jean-Pierre Normand. Along with great fiction, Analog also has very interesting non-fiction articles such as “Worlds Enough” by Joel Davis. As for the fiction, this issue contains the conclusion to a serial, “Sun of Suns” by Karl Schroeder. Alas, I won’t review that one since I missed the previous installments. But as for the ones I will review:

John Barnes delivers a story with a sobering message in his novella “The Little White Nerves Went Last.” Two consciousnesses, Shan and Girault, now share one body. Shan, who was responsible for the mass murder of millions of aintellects, died before being able to tell the “aintellects”—robots with artificial intelligence—vital information necessary to defend the human race against an alien race they’ve dubbed the Invaders. So they placed Shan’s consciousness inside Girault. The answers they seek are in the memories of his traumatic childhood past. Barnes tells his story with a witty style, delivers imaginative scenes, great characterization, and adds a touch of humor exactly where it’s needed. The thought conversations between Shan and Girault are handled in a way I’ve never seen before, and the technique works. While it uses the common—and possibly clichéd—themes of prejudice and hate, the nature of humanity, and the interactions of humans and robots; Barnes delivers it in a fresh way that’s entertaining, fun, and emotionally moving.

“Wasting Time” by Grey Rollins is a Hard SF mystery that will make you laugh. Christopher Arken, a physics teacher, finds himself in a perilous situation when strange, explosive events happen to his office for apparently no reason. Fearing for his life, he decides to learn what is happening and why before he’s the next one dead. There’s a slow build-up to this novelette, but it gives much depth to the main character. And Rollins manages to keep your interest by interjecting small segments of humor that creep up and hit you when you least expect it. He takes a couple old, clichéd tropes and twists them into an original story. The meaning of this story is clear: be careful with what you play with.

“The Skeekit-Woogle Test” by Carl Frederick is an SF comedy about the nature of creativity. Kendrick suspects that all forms of imaginative creativity can be identified as symptoms of Synesthesia—the most extreme form being “colored hearing,” in which sound is perceived as having colors—to be a contagious disease. He’s even developed the Skeekit-Woogle Test to find the symptoms. Victor, his boss at the CDC, tests positive, but his boss denies having the “disease” (which, in Kendrick’s opinion, denial of the disease is a symptom of having it) and challenges Kendrick to find physical evidence that it is, in fact, a contagious disease.  But Kendrick has an ulterior motive: he wishes to contract the disease so that he, too, can be creative and imaginative.

Frederick’s light-hearted story has some of the most interesting minor characters I’ve ever read.  There’s Jacques from Tennessee whose father is a Francophile, the Russian painter Vladimir who is constantly suspicious of government conspiracies, and the poet Suki who can literally taste words.

This story left me wondering if I might have Synesthesia, but I’m sure everyone knows that green feels grassy and some smells taste bad, right?

In “Wildlife” by Henry Melton, Greg Hammersmith, a nature photographer, does a calendar photo shoot on the Moon. While there, an encounter changes his definition of “wildlife.” This story about artistic nature and regaining one’s passion flowed well and had good characterization. It didn’t rank well on the excitement end, but it’s a good read if you’re looking for a story to feel laid back with.

“Playhouse” by Larry Niven is another humorous story and, I think, the funniest in this issue. Rick Schumann runs Draco Tavern, Earth’s only interspecies bar for alien visitors. Chirpisthra Matriarch of Lifesystem Support, Queezblishiz, arrives with a situation: her ship’s cold sleep facilities have failed, and she needs a place for the passenger’s children to stay. Rick finds himself babysitting a motley of alien children, including a 200kg humanoid teen, bouncing wyrms, a swarm of baby bugs in need of a culling, and three vicious Red Devils. Needless to say, everything runs smooth with only the usual headaches until Rick’s wife and two-year-old son come to visit on the day the Red Devils get loose. This story hooks you from start to finish and is a laugh-out-loud riot to read.
It seems there is a common thread that links the stories in this issue. Every one, to one degree or another, is full of humor. Even Barnes’s psychologically deep novella has parts that will make you laugh. This month’s Analog is a very enjoyable read.