Analog, September 2006

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"Kyrie Eleison" by John G. Hemry
"Probably Murder" by Michael F. Flynn
"A Million Years and Counting" by Rajnar Vajra
"A Pound of Flesh" by Richard A. Lovett

Over two centuries, the survivors of the spaceship Verio and their descendants in “Kyrie Eleison” by John G. Hemry have turned the ship’s survival manual into Holy Writ, creating a hierarchical system based on belief.  Hemry’s viewpoint character is Francesca, a young girl who works as a servant for the Officers and Crew, the hereditary (?) priestly caste.  As with most of the colonists, Francesca is underfed and must mind her activities lest the anger of the Crew comes down upon her head.  While the Crew awaits the coming of the Captain, Francesca and most of the rest of the colony seem unconcerned with the eventual Rescue of the colony.

Their lack of concern changes, however, when a new spaceship appears and it seems the Rescue is at hand.  Most of the colonists see the Rescue not as a time for them to leave their colony, but rather as a chance to rid themselves of the priestly Crew.  At this point, it becomes relatively obvious how the story will play out, but it is a testament to Hemry’s writing that the reader is interested in seeing the details of the story.

“Kyrie Eleison” has the anti-organized religious attitude seen in much of science fiction.  While Hemry is clearly pointing to the actions of the Crew and their manipulation of the colonists as bad, the response shown by Captain Balestra of the rescuing ship Bellegrange demonstrates more antipathy to religion as a whole.  As Balestra is painted as the resolution to all that is wrong with the Crew, her opinion, even if not Hemry’s personal opinion, hold weight.

When he isn’t writing science fiction, Michael F. Flynn works as a statistician and has frequently used that knowledge to make presentations at conventions.  In this issue’s “Probably Murder,” the “Probability Zero” feature, this time renamed “Probability One” for reasons which are made clear by the piece, Flynn brings his knowledge of statistics and actuarial tables to create one of the more intriguing murder cases, and one which suffers from being exceedingly difficult to prove. 

The “A Million Years and Counting” in Rajnar Vajra’s title refers to the age of a robot discovered on the Moon.  Left by a long lost alien civilization, nothing is known about Dan in the Can’s manufacture or manufacturers, despite more than two decades of study.  If Dan knows, he isn’t telling anyone.  Permitted a certain amount of freedom, Dan has formed a bond with some of the scientists studying him, most notably Jon Norhaart. Unfortunately, after Dan resolves a traffic accident, the government decides he is too dangerous to allow to remain on the loose.

Vajra brings a wide variety of ideas into “A Million Years and Counting,” with Dan’s origins and abilities only a minor one.  Perhaps more important is Dan’s attempts at a reconciliation between Norhaart and his daughter. Vajra also interjects a fair amount of religious philosophy; Norhaart’s friend, “the Guru,” finds himself discussing religion first with a colleague, and later with Dan.

In the end, it isn’t entirely clear that the story holds together as a straight narrative, but the ideas Vajra introduces and follows up on more than make reading “A Million Years and Counting” worthwhile, and the story could easily provide the basis for a much longer, and ultimately more satisfying, work.

Richard A. Lovett examines a world in which nanobots are used to secure contracts, much to the detriment of the world’s lawyers in “A Pound of Flesh.”  One of the out of work lawyers, Alexander Copley, now makes his living, such as it is, as a private eye.  His pending divorce from his wife, Marion, and his offices located in Skid Row, only serve to complete Copley’s image as a stereotypical detective.  Despite this, Lovett does not manage to capture the feel of detective noir he is clearly after.

Lifting the story above the standard private eye story, Lovett considers the ethics of the use of nanobots, not just in its detrimental effect on lawyers, but on society as a whole.  Copley’s client, Megan Fordham, is trying to have him find her partner, Darryl Marnier, who apparently skipped town with the antidote to a nanobot that acts as a polygraph.  As Alex and Megan track Darryl down, Alex learns more about himself and begins to discover the changes that occurred in himself that led to his divorce.  In the end, Lovett introduces a nice twist that works within the confines of the story.
“A Pound of Flesh” works nicely as a PI procedural even if it isn’t able to fully capture detective noir. Copley’s strategy and methods of tracking down Marnier are interesting, and if the nanotechnology could just as easily been replaced by anything else, having a maguffin is a long standing tradition in the field.