Analog, November 2004

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"The Ghost Within" by Rajnar Vajra
"What Engineers Know" by Arlan Andrews
"Gun Control" by Edward Muller
"The Strange Redemption of Sister Mary Ann" by Mike Moscoe
"Extra Innings" by Robert Scherrer
"Paparazzi of Dreams" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl (Part IV)" by Mary A. Turzillo

ImageI have read three issues of Analog at the time of this review, and so far the offerings from the magazine seem to be a mixed bag. Analog rarely publishes luminescent literary fiction that lingers in my mind, tending to stay with stories that steer clear of poignancy or social relevance. That does not mean that at least some good stories cannot be found in the pages of the magazine. Humor and adventure abound for those who prefer short fiction in those flavors. In this issue, there is one excellent comedy, one story that is socially controversial and is written in a literary style, and one other story that I felt was outstanding.

"The Ghost Within" by Rajnar Vajra seemed like a fairly solid take on the theme of body snatching. The biting humor of the tough-guy detective protagonist, Jimmy, worked well enough for me to stay involved in the story. The author seemed to borrow some ideas from the Matrix series of movies, so fans of high-tech action in virtual worlds might be pleased. Tension did not fully develop for me as I read the story, and the info-dump at the end felt a bit long to me. Also, there did not seem to be any meaningful examination of heavier themes, but as a lark, "The Ghost Within" may please some readers.

Arlan Andrews' "What Engineers Know" is only slightly more than a page long, and seemed to me to be built for the sole purpose of extracting a chuckle (which it did). Andrews also shows some skill at layering; a careful reader may find a back-story and a slight political message, which is quite a bundle to pack into less than two pages!

"Gun Control" is a humorous science fiction tale. In the story an unlikely hero faces overwhelming and unfavorable odds with the assistance of his wits and a seemingly unreliable AI gun. Author Edward Muller's opening was perfect; I felt it struck just the right tone with humorous imagery, and it snared me immediately. Muller also conjured up a fair back-story with his use of setting and plot, which was extra icing on an already good cake.

Mike Moscoe disturbed me slightly with "The Strange Redemption of Sister Mary Ann." I give him credit for having the stones to pen a well-written story about the souls of eggs that "failed to implant, failed to thrive," or the ones that were aborted, but I deduct points for the overtones of theologic condemnation. In Moscoe's story a woman dying of cancer decides to spend her last days as a nun. Mary Ann regrets the loss of the fertilized eggs that "didn't take" when she had children via a fertility treatment. The "souls" of the lost "children" seem to be visiting her as she is nearing death. Moscoe tries to temper this story of Catholic guilt by adding supporting character Rana, a hard-case nun with a heart of gold, but the religious presumption that a sentient being is created at conception was enough to mire this possible fantasy story more into the realm of theology. The writing was excellent, literary in style, and filled with charged imagery, but the subject matter seems likely to bother both progressives who may feel that the conception claim is unsupportable, and conservatives who may feel that Moscoe is too apologetic about the beliefs of the church.

"Extra Innings" is outstanding literary science fiction steeped in nostalgia. The story seems to have been informed by some of author Robert Scherrer's own experiences; I'd bet an ice-cold glass of lemonade that the author played a lot of "Strategy League Baseball" in his day. Maybe I'm a sucker for "an old friendship that never quite died," but this story left me with a lingering good feeling and I highly recommend it. My favorite line: "The cold, dry air from the wall vent blew across their faces, and that summer, the long Indian summer of the universe, stretched before them like an infinite ocean of time."

"Paparazzi of Dreams" contains some frightening notions about the violations of privacy made possible by advanced technology, and author Kristine Kathryn Rusch does an excellent job, in my opinion, of using vivid images and a distinctive narrator to unfold her compelling tale. I did not really connect with the Brad Pitt-like Xavier enough to sympathize with his fate, but Rusch's message still succeeded, and the choppy style of the narrator made the story exciting for me.

In summary, this issue of Analog was made worth reading, in my opinion, by the excellent humor of "Gun Control," the controversy of "Redemption," and the flawless "Extra Innings." Humor and adventure are available in the other stories, but the flaws in those tales kept them from being memorable for me.