Analog, September 2007

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"Some Distant Shore" by Dave Creek
"Stranger Things" by E. Mark Mitchell
"A Plutoid By Any Other Name…" by Richard A. Lovett
"Palimpset" by Howard V. Hendrix
"Ginger Ear and Elephant Hair" by Uncle River

"Vertex" by C. Sanford Lowe and G. David Nordley

Longtime Analog readers will have a particular interest in this issue.  Three of the six pieces, including the novellas by Creek, and Lowe and Nordley, and Mitchell’s novelette, are follow-ups to earlier stories.

In Dave Creek‘s "Some Distant Shore," four species—humans from Earth, the green-skinned Sobrenians, the symbiotic Cetronens, and the methane-breathing Drodusarel—converge in the Moruteb star system to survey its planets before a collision with a second star system destroys them.  Appearing with the humans are Mike Christopher and Linna Maurishka, who may be familiar to Analog readers from three earlier stories, February 2000’s "A Glimpse of Splendor," May 2000’s "Pathways" and November 2000’s "Swarming Korolev."

In its basic premise and sense of the spectacle of the cosmos, the story is reminiscent of Jack McDevitt‘s novels (such as his recent Nebula winner, Seeker, which I reviewed for the Internet Review of Science Fiction—registration required). The story also enjoys a strong core concept in the mysterious agenda of the truly alien Drodusarel, around whom much of the intrigue revolves.  However, a few of the tropes may strike some readers as overly familiar, and the comparatively loose construction of this novella imparts to it the feel of a soap opera in places—albeit one which actually delivers significant developments in the tortured romance of Mike and Linna that make it a must-read for those who have previously followed these characters.

"Stranger Things," another "Bill, Greg and the couch" story from E. Mark Mitchell (who previously featured them in his June 2005 Analog story, "Improbable Times") has Mitchell’s heroes once again coping with a collapsing multiverse.  This time, this universe’s Earth is abruptly flooded with counterparts to its inhabitants from other universes, not least of all Bill and Greg themselves.  While readable and at times successful as the light comedy it strives to be, this spin on the familiar idea offers little that is really new, a point highlighted by its self-aware use of cliches like the evil twin.

Additionally, the story makes use of one massively overused trope that is far from exclusive to the genre: the frustrated artist protagonist.  (Bill is a struggling mystery writer.)  While this is a pet peeve of mine that probably has more than a little to do with a massive overdose of independent film back in the late 1990s (though somehow Chris Gore missed this particular independent film cliché in his 2005 My Big Fat Independent Movie), I do not seem to be alone in this feeling.  As it happens, several science fiction magazines currently include in their contributor’s guidelines the notice that stories about writers like Bill will be a hard sell to them, including Not One of Us and the Hugo-nominated Strange Horizons.

Richard A. Lovett‘s three-page short story "A Plutoid By Any Other Name…" explores an idea I have certainly found myself thinking about—namely how much more significant the argument over whether or not Pluto is a planet might be in a future where we are living life on an interplanetary, or even interstellar, scale.  Taking a humorous tack, it details the chaos as the definitions of celestial objects are altered over centuries and millennia, as explained in a series of memos. 
In Howard V. Hendrix‘s "Palimpset," the narrator is the head of a software company, named Spamazonian Extinctions, working on the ultimate spam blocker, with the aim of defeating an epidemic of "unwanted and apocalyptic chain e-mail."  Known as the "godspam," these e-mails, which some believe to be "messages from God," proclaim that the end is near and may possibly be more than just an enlarged version of the irritant familiar to every Internet user.  Hendrix’s brief story does not add a great deal to the core idea, but its original, lucid presentation of it still makes for an entertaining read.

(Minor spoiler warning: at the end of the story, Hendrix credits Arthur C. Clarke‘s classic short story "The Nine Billion Names of God" as a source of inspiration, but its central concept reminded me more of Robert Charles Wilson‘s Hugo-nominated novel, Darwinia, among other works grappling with the possibility that our universe is a computer simulation, an idea actually enjoying some currency in scientific and philosophical circles.)

Uncle River‘s "Ginger Ear and Elephant Hair" begins as a fanciful folk tale, but the legend that the Aztlan elder relates clearly becomes one of our own time, rooted in considerable hard science speculation.  The narrator’s insistence on the alienness of the "Late Abysmal" thought-world to his own, "post-Change" epoch gets a bit repetitive.  However, apart from this one point, the tale is elegantly and eloquently told, and its critique of the vulnerabilities and stupidities of industrial society (only one aspect of which is the Jurassic Park-like science project hinted at in the title) is a trenchant one.

Additionally, the future Uncle River develops has its interest.  Some of its aspects are certainly familiar, like the idea that Native American cultures will enjoy a resurgence in the wake of such a cataclysm (as in William Tenn‘s "Eastward Ho!") and monasteries reemerge as repositories of knowledge in a new dark age (like in Walter M. Miller Jr‘s A Canticle For Leibowitz), but this is no reversion to a premodern time and mentality.  Even if industrial civilization as we know it did not survive, our base of scientific knowledge generally did.  The obstacle is not the revival of superstition, or the loss of information or method, but a shrinkage of the population that limits the complexity of its activities-as well as the need for such complexity in most cases.

The last tale in the issue, C. Sanford Lowe and G. David Nordley‘s novella "Vertex," is the fourth and climactic tale in their Black Hole Project saga (which included the previous "Kremer’s Limit" in the July-August 2006 double issue of Analog, "Imperfect Gods" in December 2006, and "The Small Pond" in March 2007).  While Lowe and Nordley’s previous writing in this series has been uneven in places, the arrival of the Project’s moment of realization proves to be not only lucid and intelligent, but fast paced, tightly plotted, and packed with action (including an impressive starship-to-starship battle) as it brings the tensions and intrigues of the three earlier stories to a head.  Those who enjoyed Lowe and Nordley’s previous stories will not want to miss this one, and those who were only lukewarm about them might want to give the earlier ones a second look after reading this one.