Analog, November 2009

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Amabit Sapiens” by Craig DeLancey

Joan” by John G Hemry

Foreign Exchange” by Jerry Oltion

Thanksgiving Day” by Jay Werkheiser

Reviewed by Robert E. Waters

This relatively small issue of Analog offers up five stories: two novelettes, two short stories, and the first part of a serialization by G. David Nordley. Serializations are not under the purview of Tangent, so let’s move right along to the other pieces.

The title of Craig DeLancey’s story is the first part of the phrase Amabit sapiens cupient caeteri, which means “The wise love, others merely covet.” An appropriate title for a tale where genetically altered humans have had their brains re-wired so that they “care” more for the future than normal humans. This excessive care is realized through the acts of one Lyta Sumaran, a geologist assigned to poison the world’s oil supply with a bacterium that changes crude to hydrogen. The purpose behind the sabotage, of course, is to force the world to shift its energy dependence. Bite the bitter pill now and suffer somewhat, or do it years down the road when it may be too late to save the earth. The story itself rotates back and forth between the present and past, as we see young Sumaran get involved in the plot, and then be captured by big oil toughs who poke, prod, slap, beat, and water-board her until she finally confesses her duplicity. The oil-to-hydrogen science was quite interesting to read about, but I found the notion of genetic enhancement of human concern almost like pseudo-science. It may be plausible, I’ll concede, but it just didn’t sit well with me.

John G Hemry’s “Joan” is a time-travel story. Kate, a grad-student infatuated with Joan of Arc, sneaks into her professor’s time-machine and whisks off to Medieval France, where she hopes to save the valiant Maid from certain death. Her dream is that Joan will come back with her and be her friend, her confidant, and (hopefully) her lover. But even in time travel, things don’t always work out as they’re planned. Kate frees the French revolutionary, but she’s not exactly as portrayed in popular history, and she refuses to leave with Kate, preferring instead to fulfill her destiny to her country and her God (even if that means being recaptured by the British and burning at the stake). Kate, a strong, modern, intelligent woman, just can’t understand Joan’s reluctance to live in a world where her skills and intelligence can be fully realized and appreciated. But as the story progresses, she’s plagued with self-doubt. Did she free Joan for Joan, or for herself? Some Analog readers may find the lack of detail surrounding the time-travel device problematic, but the true story lies in the women’s relationship, and how both are changed for the better in the end. I liked it.

Foreign Exchange” by Jerry Oltion is a light-hearted comedy. An unmanned return vehicle touches down on Mars and begins generating hydrogen fuel for the manned spacecraft that’s en route. But while the camera is turned off, something crawls into the ship, hits the “go home” button, and it shoots off to Earth, leaving the arriving humans scratching their heads and wondering what they’re going to do. Meanwhile, the little alien visitor is poked and prodded to discern its composition; is its existence proof of intelligent life on Mars? Back on the red planet, the humans do some investigating of their own and discover that perhaps the little guy is also a visitor; but where is he from and should they return the gesture and shoot off to his planet? I’ll say nothing further for fear of giving away the ending, but as stated, it’s a light affair and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Jay Werkheiser’s “Thanksgiving Day” is about a colony ship that arrives at a planet called New Hope. Unfortunately, their food supply is bonked on landing. Thus their scientists scramble to find adequate sustenance within the local flora and fauna, but so far everything seems to be poisonous. The story is told through the eyes of Kev, a scientist who works with his on-again-off-again girlfriend to help alleviate the pressures of a starving population. While the egg-heads search for a solution, the so-called “grunts” (those meat-and-potato guys who do the heavy lifting for the colony), are bearing arms and gritting teeth and ready to knock heads for a few more scraps of food. At times, this story reads like a very dense biology textbook, as Kev and his colleagues pore through their texts to try to make sense of it all. But beneath the science is a pretty solid story of desperate people trying to make the best of a terrible situation.