Analog, October 2010

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“The Rift” by John G. Hemry
“Midwife Crisis” by Dave Creek
“The Great Galactic Ghoul” by Allen M. Steele
“Ghosts Come Home” by Justin Stanchfield
“The Whole Truth Witness” by Kenneth Schneyer
“The Alien at the Alamo” by Arlan Andrews
“Never Saw It Coming” by Jerry Oltion

Reviewed by Kevin Wohler

Great science fiction does more than entertain or provide an escape. At its best, it offers us a way to look at our world, our culture, and our preconceived ideas from a new perspective. This is what John Hemry does in his novella, “The Rift.”

What Hemry describes in “The Rift” is not a physical distance but a cultural one. From the very beginning, Hemry drops the reader into the action of the story. Sent to rescue a settlement of civilian researchers from a native uprising on a distant planet, a small band of soldiers find themselves protecting the only remaining settlement.

But the native people, the Izkop, are an enigma to the soldiers. Sergeant Singh and his crew must use the knowledge of the few remaining researchers to try and understand what went wrong.

Though soldier stories can become mired in war clichés, I appreciated how Hemry did what he could to avoid these stereotypes. The battle scenes were not overwritten, and the military jargon was kept to a minimum.

The beauty of “The Rift” is in the completeness of the storytelling. Every detail of the story has a purpose, even if it’s merely a red herring later. But in the end, every action performed by the soldiers becomes linked to the final puzzle.

The writing is neither as tight nor as inspired in Dave Creek’s “Midwife Crisis.” This story of a human and an Aquatic entering the sick body of a pregnant leviathan suffers from poor execution of a somewhat interesting idea.

“Midwife Crisis” is admittedly a riff on Fantastic Voyage, without the need for miniaturization. Carrie, a genetically modified human, has come to the water world Welkin to assist in saving a leviathan, a creature twice as big as a blue whale. With her is a walrus-like Aquatic named Sarbin, who acts as a guide and a mediator with the intelligent-but-reluctant leviathan, Varis.

However, the story suffers from poor writing, including too much dialogue and a tendency for the characters to monologue unnecessary exposition. The subplot about what made the leviathan sick and what may cure it is practically an afterthought to the “adventure” of being inside the creature. Sadly, it wasn’t even that interesting of a solution.

Creek also fails to write a believable female character, which is a big drawback here. The sophomoric interaction between Carrie and Matt Christian, the project leader, is almost painful to read.

A mystery surrounding a mining accident on Eros is the premise of Allen M. Steele‘s “The Great Galactic Ghoul.” Steele tries to do too much with it, setting too large of a stage for what is ultimately a small mystery.

The story is narrated in an historic style, as if the events of the tale–and the future in which it takes place–are a thing of the past. It’s this style that makes “The Great Galactic Ghoul” difficult to read. With the exception of a few pieces of dialogue that pop up like interview montages, everything in the story is told rather than shown. In short, it’s like reading a documentary. And it gets tedious very quickly.

There’s no arguing with Steele’s attention to detail. He goes to painstaking efforts to make the setting realistic. But his need to recount the history of this treaty or the outcome of this event is tedious and not very interesting.

In short, Steele’s writing suffers from the lack of a good editor. The heart of the story is not the legend of the “Great Galactic Ghoul.” The key is the investigation and the analysis of the data, which unfortunately is buried under quite a bit of unnecessary prose.

Genetic manipulation has played a part in science fiction for decades, but in Justin Stanchfield‘s novelette “Ghosts Come Home” he examines how deep genetic conditioning goes.

In a future where children are bred for their ability to be starship pilots, Dev Verlain has spent most of his life stuck in Oasis, a space station that is a port of call on the shipping lanes. Though genetically capable of being a pilot, he works in a job beneath his talents as a cargo handler. The joy in his mundane life comes from his pregnant wife, Letha.

When a new ship comes through, Dev is reunited with a woman from his past who is as much a part of his genetic makeup as his untapped ability to pilot starships.

Stanchfield does a great job of spinning a story that is interesting and believable, even if the writing suffers from overused descriptions now and then. The strength of the story is in the character development. It gives the reader plenty of reason to believe the hero is fighting an internal struggle, with no certainty in how it will end.

When the truth is assured, how will we know what to believe? That’s the question that Kenneth Schneyer poses in his short story, “The Whole Truth Witness.” Set in some indeterminate future, this story follows a down-on-his-luck defendant who has just lost another case because of a “Whole Truth” witness.

The “Whole Truth” is a process that utilizes nanobots to force the brain to remember every detail of every event. As a side effect, the person is also incapable of lying. But for Manny Suarez, the “Whole Truth” is bad for his law practice.

Schneyer gives us an interesting and evocative new technology that–though it sounds like advancement–could unbalance more than our legal system. He does a wonderful job leading the reader through this world. And he warns us of the frightening certainty that the “Whole Truth” creates when people refuse to listen to anything else.

Science fiction is not always set in the far-future or among the stars. It can also be found in the ordinary, as in “The Alien at the Alamo” by Arlan Andrews. Taking the title at face value, I was not disappointed to discover a story of a close encounter at the historic landmark.

Set in San Antonio in the near future, the story revolves around a repeat-abductee who spies one of his alien captors–disguised as a Mexican cowboy.

As they sit at an outdoor café, the alien expresses a personal desire to try and connect with the narrator in a new and more substantial way. The dialogue between the two is interesting, even if not entirely groundbreaking. The old adage emerges of comparing aliens who communicate with Earthlings to a human trying to communicate with an ant.

I enjoyed this quirky little story. It’s intriguing and offers a bit of humor. Where Andrews excels, however, is not in the answers that come from it. Instead, it is in the revelation that perhaps we are beginning to ask the right questions.

The final short story in this issue is “Never Saw It Coming” by Jerry Oltion. Based on a true near-miss event with an asteroid in 2009, Oltion’s story wonders how a single astronomer could start a global panic through misinformation and the willingness of people to believe everything in an age of social media.

While the story has some element of truth to it, it lost me when the main character did something out of character for the purpose of furthering the story. The story turns, and it becomes a wish-fulfillment fantasy in which the one, lone astronomer manages to bungle his way to becoming the hero.

Even in science fiction there are some things for which I am unable to suspend my disbelief.