Analog, November 2010

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“Phantom Sense” by Richard A. Lovett & Mark Niemann-Rose
“The Zoo Team” by Allen M. Steele
“Contamination” by Jay Werkheiser
“The Deadliest Moop” by Michael A. Armstrong
“Howl of The Seismologist” by Carl Frederick
“Outbound” by Brad R. Torgersen

Reviewed by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

The issue starts off with a bang with the fantastic novella “Phantom Sense” by Richard A. Lovett & Mark Niemann-Rose.  For writers, this is a lesson in how to write a short in every way.  From the start it grabs you and never lets go.

Kip is a former member of the CI-MEMS, an elite military group of men who have been scientifically modified with tattoos allowing them to communicate with and control implanted insects to spy the area around them, both seeing and listening in on whichever targets they choose.  Sent into the most dangerous areas, lives constantly at risk, the CI-MEMS bugs are indispensable tools allowing them to sense danger before it happens and respond accordingly.  The hazard is, the Sense, as they call it, can’t be turned off and once you’ve had it, it’s hard to let go.

Forcefully retired, due to health concerns, Kip finds himself isolated.  His wife has divorced him.  His daughter hates him.  Yet still he can’t resist looking in on them to see what they’re up to.  Having discovered this long before, his daughter, Cora Ann, loves to taunt him with activities she knows will cause him concern, comments hurting his feelings and whatever else she can do to get back at the father who was never there.  She even dated another former CI-MEMS from Kip’s team.

Then one day, she disappears.  Convincing his ex-wife to relax the restraining order she has against him for an unfortunate incident involving a flashback to combat, he teams with her to track down their daughter.  The ex-CI-MEMS she dated has somehow gotten CI-MEMS back from a non-military concern.  So they track down the company making them and the vendor who provided them to the ex-boyfriend and then trace him in order to rescue her.

Switching back and forth between Kip’s memories of combat and his life now, the story moves at a nice pace and is full of suspense and good characterization. The science is fascinating and a tie-in science fact article by the same authors follows the story, explaining how close the CI-MEMS technology is to being a reality.  

In every way, this story reminded me how good Science Fiction shorts can be.  It will definitely go on my personal year’s best list.

Allen M. Steele’s short story, “The Zoo Team,” is an excellent read.  Structured masterfully for greatest impact, the story starts with a team of astronauts deliberately staging a meltdown for reasons as yet unknown.  But over the course of the story we find out why and also find them facing a very real, life threatening crisis.  The characters are fun, although somewhat stereotyped, and the story moves at a quick pace with a unique take on the old theme of astronauts facing difficulty in training.  Steele makes the most of his plot though by structuring the story so events unfold with surprising twists for greatest dramatic impact.  A recommended read.

Jay Werkheiser’s “Contamination” is a fun space opera about a clash between colonists on an outer world and those from earth who come there to resettle.  The colonists have never been to the planet’s surface, instead living on board a ship so as not to disturb the planet’s ecology.  When the earth ship comes and tries to land, a young pilot is sent to stop them.  Only he talks to them, and complications develop.

The characters are well drawn and interesting, as are the circumstances.  The show moves quickly and reveals how compassion and understanding can triumph over other concerns.

Michael A. Armstrong’s “The Deadliest Moop” was the weakest story so far.   The story of crabbers who search the atmosphere above the planet for debris, the author seemed to rely on the edginess off four letter words rather than concentrating on his story, and it didn’t appeal to me.  None of the characters were particularly well developed, partially due to the story’s short length, and although the concept is unique and interesting, I didn’t find what he did with it all that compelling.

The issue ends with two novelettes.  

“Howl Of the Seismologist” by Carl Frederick was, to me, too similar to Robert J. Sawyer’s FlashForward.  It’s the story of a seismologist and biologist who stumble onto evidence that not only can the seismologist’s dog predict earthquakes but an event involving two experimental machines running at the same time is likely to cause a major earthquake.  They have trouble convincing the director of the science lab to shut down one of the machines, so they take it upon themselves to do so, when and if the dog predicts an earthquake.

While well written with a good pace, the ending seemed to me like something out of an entirely different story.  I suppose it was an attempt at a surprise, but since it didn’t really tie into the rest of the story, it just seemed out of place.  The characters were well drawn however, and the story does draw you in.  But  the unique idea of the dog seismologist plays second fiddle to the FlashForward-clone plot, and that is to the story’s detriment.

Brad R. Torgersen’s “Outbound” reminded me somewhat of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, with its main character starting out as a pre-teen.   The story deals honestly with the realities of both life in space and male adolescence.  It also presents a fair view of one character’s religious beliefs in contrast to how religion is frequently presented in science fiction stories.  

Mirek, a boy who first witnesses the deaths of his entire family during the destruction of his space station home and then the destruction of the shuttle carrying him to safety,  winds up being rescued by a couple living on an observatory who leave their orbit around Jupiter to escape the war and seek the “Outbound.”  Colonists who left Earth years before and never returned, the Outbound are the one possibility they can think of for a chance at a fresh start.  Over the course of their new journey, Mirek finds himself part of a new family.  He also struggles to survive the isolation and loneliness that even life with others can’t prevent when that life is being lived in space.

One of the better stories in the issue, “Outbound” provides a fitting closing for the issue. The skills which helped Torgersen win the recent Writer’s Of The Future contest are readily displayed in his skillful crafting of this story.   Recommended.