Analog, May 2004

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"Elixir" by James Gunn
"Promises" by Richard A. Lovett
"Harpoon" by G. David Nordley
"Fore-Thought" by Don D'Ammassa
"Damned If You Don't" by Jerry Oltion
"Honor is Golden" by Suzette Haden Elgin
"Camouflage (conclusion)" by Joe Haldeman

ImageThe May 2004 issue of Analog includes the conclusion to Joe Haldeman's three-part serial "Camouflage," which I will leave unreviewed. There is also "Fore-Thought," a "Probability Zero" from Don D'Ammassa which takes a humorous look at the future of lunar golf.

The issue opens with "Elixir," a novelette by James Gunn. Back in the 1950s and 1960s Gunn wrote a series of stories about a man whose blood was the key to immortality. These were fixed up into the novel The Immortals which was the basis for a short-lived TV series (which, somewhat confusingly, Gunn then novelized into the different novel The Immortal.) "Elixir" continues the series some years on, as Dr. Russell Pearce, who years ago had first encountered the immortal Cartwrights, continues to soldier on in hopes of isolating the key to immortality. The story doesn't resolve very much, and reads more like the beginning of a new series of stories. Many plot threads are introduced, and Gunn spends some time updating the background with recent science. If you're a fan of the original stories, you may enjoy this, but I'm not sure how likely it is to attract new readers.

Two stories in this issue of Analog are only barely science fiction, which struck me as odd, considering the magazine's reputation as a bastion of nuts-and-bolts hard sf. The first of these is Richard A. Lovett's "Promises," which is essentially a mainstream story with a thin veneer of very near future tech. Will and his nephew Donnie are hiking in the Cascade Mountains. Donnie has all the latest high-tech gear–topographic visor, a bubble tent, selective-permeability sleeping bag that "would probably keep him dry in a monsoon." Will prefers the simpler approach. As they hike, Will remembers an earlier hike, when as a young man he had a brief encounter with a mysterious woman, and regrets the choice he did not make. There's not much sf content here, and I didn't find the characters terribly interesting.

G. David Nordley's "Harpoon" has an interesting idea with which it does very little. Erikka Nilsdotter and her crew of "Earthsea Warriors" are on a mission to prevent a Norwegian whaling ship from hunting whales. They are only able to slow the whaler, not stop it, and on the side of the dead whale they spot a peculiar symbol carved into the flesh. The conclusion they leap to did not seem quite so obvious to me as it apparently did to the characters, and I found the sudden change of heart on the part of these environmental zealots to be a bit unrealistic.

The second story which only qualifies as sf by the slimmest of margins is Jerry Oltion's "Damned If You Don't," which is only sf if you consider the discovery that antidepressant drugs are carcinogenic a sufficiently speculative premise. I'm not sure I do. Questions of genre identity aside, there's not much here. David learns that the antidepressants keeping him sane will likely give him cancer. Unsure of what to do, he strikes up a conversation with an attractive homeless woman, and asks for her advice. They walk, talk, and part, and David goes home to think. That's pretty much it. I didn't find either David or the woman particularly compelling characters, and never felt very involved in David's dilemma.

The final non-serial story in the issue is Suzette Haden Elgin's linguistic puzzler "Honor is Golden." Uri and Oka, a married pair of linguists, have been sent from Earth to Golden, the world-city of the "Goldies." The Goldies are an alien race that first contacted humanity, and Uri and Oka have been sent to their world to learn the language and open relations between the two worlds. The problem is that after seven months, Uri and Oka have made no progress in learning the language. But a few days remain before they will have to leave, and Uri and Oka face certain disgrace when Oka has a flash of insight that unlocks the key to the Goldies' language. The main difficulty with this story is that the linguistic problem is more compelling than the characters. The Goldies never struck me as very alien, and Oka's solution to the mystery comes all too easily.