Analog, May 2011
“Tower of Worlds” by Rajnar Vajra
“Ellipses…” by Ron Collins
“Blind Spot” by Bond Elam
“Boumee and the Apes” by Ian McHugh
“The Wolf and the Panther Were Lovers” by Walter l. Kleine
“The Old Man’s Best” by Bud Sparhawk
Reviewed by Caroline E. Willis
“Tower of Worlds” by Rajnar Vajra is a grand adventure with a noble hero and a clever heroine outwitting the bad guys and saving their world from a despotic leader with the help of a motley band of mysterious, culturally diverse aliens. The main character, Erik, was a biologist. What he is, when the story begins, is a man doomed to die because his number was called in the lottery. Winners of the lottery have their DNA slowly altered over the course of a year, in order to aid the Queen. But things did not go according to plan, and Erik finds himself in the company of a group devoted to ending the Queen’s plots.
Vajra’s story walks a fine line between plot driven and character driven; events move quickly in “Tower of Worlds,” but Erik is such a strong personality that he doesn’t get lost in them. I only wish there had been more to read.
“Ellipses…” by Ron Collins is set in Indianapolis and features a sinister plot by illegal aliens, though not the sort normally worried about in that state. The local attitudes towards immigration do shape the narrator’s experience, however. The plot of this story suggests a mystery, which in turn suggestions resolution. However, “Ellipses…” is more nuanced than that; the plot itself is something of an abduction of the reader, loosing us back into the real world still blinking and confused by the end.
“Blind Spot” by Bond Elam is an SF noir piece. Hardboiled P.I. Harry Carver takes a case, against his better judgment, because it was presented to him by a pretty girl. There is a mysterious painting, a bait and switch, a spiked drink; it is, in some ways, Noir Bingo. However, the twist at the end is meant to induce more horror than surprise, and it succeeds. If ever you feel too secure in the belief you actually have free will, this story will cure you.
“Boumee and the Apes” by Ian McHugh follows a young person named Boumee, and his discovery that the chattering apes appear to be people too. “Boumee and the Apes” is set in Africa, around the time that humans have developed language and tools and hunting, but the main characters are all elephants. It is not one of those stories where the gods/aliens/elephants bring fire/technology/evolution to humankind; instead, it is an exploration of what, precisely, it is that separates people. McHugh’s piece is my favorite of the issue.
“The Wolf and the Panther Were Lovers” by Walter I. Kleine is a body-snatcher SF tale set in the Old West. Ace Craddock rolls into town to work a contract and win at cards, but ends up being used as a human stagecoach instead. It uses the Old West trope of a trickster getting tricked, but unlike most of those stories, our ignoble hero doesn’t come out on top at the end. It’s a lighthearted read, nonetheless.
“The Old Man’s Best” by Bud Sparhawk is about a pair of thirsty workers illicitly brewing beer on a space station out by Jupiter. Their plan seems sound at first, but a series of events worthy of a Rube-Goldberg machine nearly derail the entire experience. Nevertheless, eventually human ingenuity and spirit triumph over the forces of insurance-mandated regulations. “The Old Man’s Best” is the sort of story grizzled old space workers might tell their buddies while getting drunk on yet another god-forsaken tour, just after catching up on who was still doing space work, and who had finally given up and gotten out. I loved it.