Analog, October 2004

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"Layna's Mirror" by Rajnar Vajra
"Midnight on Tabula" by Catherine H. Shaffer
"The Slow Train" by Don Sakers
"Warning! Warning!" by Guy Stewart
"An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl (Part III)" by Mary A. Turzillo

ImageOctober's Analog has a long novella by Rajnar Vajra, as well as the third part of Mary A. Turzillo's serial, so there's not much room for fiction in this issue. A novelette by Catherine H. Shaffer and a short story by Don Sakers round out the contents.

Guy Stewart also gives us a "Probability Zero" entitled "Warning! Warning!" Your reaction to it will likely depend on exactly how annoying you find the warning labels on everyday objects.

"Layna's Mirror" is Rajnar Vajra's novella, and it's a good one. Somewhere in the Himalayas, Lord Marq lives in his castle, with his Lady Layna and his Yeti servants. Their life, peculiar as it is to us, seems calm and stable, until the day a pair of climbers are stranded near the castle, and Marq must send his Yeti to rescue them. To search for the rest of the party, Marq must release "those-who-sniff," dangerous beasts of whom Marq seems wary, and soon this suspicion is justified, and disaster follows.

Vajra does an excellent job of sustaining interest throughout the length of the novella. Questions raised at the beginning of the story are answered later on, but the answers serve to raise more questions, and when we reach the end, our time in Lord Marq's castle has the weight of lived experience. Vajra also polishes his story with a bit of mythic resonance, overtones of legends and myth, that work to deepen the story's impact.

Our interest is also held by the tension between the overlapping viewpoints, each limited, each knowing what the other does not. Lord Marq, telling the events after the fact, reveals as much by what he does not say as by what he does. The rescued climbers, stand-ins for the reader, misinterpret events in a reasonable but nearly tragic fashion. We, the readers, know how the climbers err, know what Lord Marq tells us, but can only guess at the rest until the end.

An elegant, fast-moving story, and highly enjoyable.

Stories featuring the adolescent turmoil of teenagers on colony planets are fairly common in sf; the parallel between the coming-of-age of a teenager and a colony must be irresistable. Catherine H. Shaffer's "Midnight on Tabula" throws an investigation of the human tendency for racism and prejudice into the mix, and what we are given is a rather overstuffed novelette.

Nyssa Christopher and her best friend Reese Connor are each twelve, nearly legal adults on Tabula Rasa. The colony on Tabula was begun as an attempt to achieve a colorblind society, where the racial and ethnic divisions that plagued Earth would be left behind. Not surprisingly, of course, such things are not so easily discarded, and the colonists' rather heavy-handed attempts to do so end up backfiring.

There's just a bit too much going on in this story for comfort: Nyssa's adolescent turmoil and feelings of isolation; bubbling racial turmoil amongst the colonists; plots by various factions; questions of racism and the proper means of combatting it. At greater length, with more room to give each of these elements its proper space, the story would have had room to breathe and would have read more easily. As it stands, however, I mostly felt crowded and cramped. A shame, since Nyssa is an appealing character, and I would have liked to read more about her.

After the two earlier stories, Don Sakers' "Slow Train" is a welcome piece of calm nostalgia. Susan Shetland, visiting her beloved Uncle George in England and accompanied by her reluctant husband Bob, goes on a drive one morning with George to an abandoned train station. Seemingly abandoned, I should say, without giving away too much of the story. George offers her an opportunity to escape her frustrating life and strained marriage, and Susan must choose between reality and hope.

This is a pleasant story to read, with a fine evocation of place and well-drawn characters (save for Bob, who we only see asleep.) My only real criticism is that Susan's choice, while real enough, seems to lack the proper weight of implication. It felt a bit too mechanical, a bit too driven by narrative rather than character. Still, the bulk of the story succeeds admirably.