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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Analog, June 2004

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"Time Ablaze" by Michael A. Burstein
"On the Tip of My Tongue" by Grey Rollins
"Blu 97-032D" by Alexis Glyn Latner
"Do Unto Others" by Kelvin Throop
"The Bistro of Alternate Realities" by Kevin J. Anderson
"Caretaker" by Richard A. Lovett
"PeriAndry's Quest" by Stephen Baxter
"Greetings from Kudesh" by J.T. Sharrah

ImageAnalog takes a brief break from serials this month, so there is a full lineup of fiction for review in the June 2004 issue: a novella, three novelettes, and three short stories, as well as Kelvin Throop's Probability Zero short-short "Do Unto Others," which is about as amusing as such pieces generally are.

The issue opens with Michael A. Burstein's time travel novella "Time Ablaze." It is 1904, and Adele Weber and her mother, members of the "Little Germany" community of New York City, take in a man named Lucas Schmidt as a boarder. He claims to be a reporter for the New York World, and Adele and her mother see him as a potential match for Adele. When Adele goes to visit Lucas at work one day, however, she finds there is no record of him at any New York newspaper. Upon snooping in his room, she finds what seems an impossible book: a history of the disastrous fire upon the steamboat General Slocumb that killed over a thousand people, published in 2003.

The General Slocumb is the very steamboat upon which Little Germany will be taking its annual excursion down the river, and Lucas (who is, I think I can say without giving anything away, from the 21st century) has come to record as much about it as possible, in order to preserve the memory of this nearly-forgotten tragedy. He has not come to prevent the disaster, which is, of course, what Adele wants.

The conflict between Adele's urge to save her family and friends and Lucas's need to preserve history is what drives the story, but it is generally muted, giving the story a quietly pensive tone that works well with the historical setting. Burstein makes good use of the possibilities of time travel to dramatize the clash between two equally valid desires, a dramatization that would not be possible without time travel. This is a moving, delicately told story.

"On the Tip of My Tongue" by Grey Rollins is part of a series featuring about Martin Crofts, private detective, and his partner Victor. Victor is an alien of unknown origin, as well as the brains of the team, and the story is told from his point of view. With the rent already overdue, Martin and Victor are glad to have a client at last, one Deems Warden of Liquitrans Incorporated, who suspects his partner, Evan Bartles, of stealing sensitive material from him.

Martin and Victor begin to investigate, but the case becomes trickier when Warden is found dead in his home. Bartles is the obvious suspect, but they cannot prove his guilt, until Victor puts on his thinking cap (or the alien equivalent) and, making good use of his several foot long prehensile tongue, comes up with a brilliant solution to the crime.

Victor and Martin make an engaging team, and the mystery and its solution are satisfying. What helps lift this story above the ordinary is the nice use of detail and humor to animate the narrative. Victor tells the story with a dry wit and, while his point of view may not be particularly alien, he makes for an entertaining companion.

Jack Haze runs the Orbital Debris Project, which tracks all the myriad space junk orbiting the Earth. One day he gets a call from Boeing, where Sol Sugarman claims that space junk has taken out one of his satellites. At first Jack assumes that it was simply an unforeseen accident, but when more satellites begin to mysteriously vanish, he and his coworker Yvonne soon realize something much stranger is going on. When they use the Air Force Observatory in Hawaii to try to spot the next disappearance, they find something truly unexpected.

Alexis Glyn Latner's "Blu 97-032D" has an intriguing idea and characters who are more fully drawn than is often the case in Analog, yet at the end it falls somewhat flat. The story seems written more to present its central idea for our admiration than to engage our sympathies with its characters, and as such, Jack, Yvonne, and the others seem more passive observers than active participants. Like them, we end up merely watching, unengaged.

Kevin J. Anderson's "The Bistro of Alternate Realities" has an interesting premise that is similar to that of Pete D. Manison's novelette "Tea With Vicky" from the April issue of Analog. Heather Rheims works for Alternitech, a company that specializes in sending "timeline hunters" into parallel universes to bring back whatever information their clients desire: medical breakthroughs; lost Beatles songs; or, in the case of Heather's current assignment, undiscovered archaeological sites.

On one search, Heather had stopped at a coffee shop, only to discover that other Heathers from other timelines also frequented the same cafe. Now, Heather meets regularly with her other selves, to compare notes on how their lives, both personal and professional, are going. At first Heather found it fascinating and helpful to be able to have so many perspectives on her life, but, as the story unfolds, she begins to wonder whether meeting with her other selves is a blessing or a curse.

I found the premise appealingly mundane; yes, access to parallel universes would provide an untapped wealth of knowledge, but, like the Internet, most people would probably turn such a technology to the same old social habits we've inherited from our savannah-dwelling ancestors: gossip, grooming, and squabbling for status. Anderson only touches briefly on the larger metaphysical ramifications of Heather's kaffeklatsch, but that's probably for the best. Overall, an enjoyable story, though lightweight.

There is an appealingly pulpish feel to Richard A. Lovett's "Caretaker," a short story that would have been perfectly at home in, say, Thrilling Wonder Tales or Startling Stories. Loren Zarken is the absolute ruler and sole occupant of a solar system, living peacefully alone on the fourth planet, with his robots and vegetables. When a spaceship from the Colonial Bureau lands, Zarken's solitude is threatened. His attempts to persuade the colonists to leave fail, and Zarken feels forced to take drastic measures.

Just the name "Loren Zarken" evokes the feel of Golden Age sf, and the robots, space colonists, and other trappings only served to accentuate the retro feel of the story. There's not a whole lot more to the story than this ambience, since the plot moves inexorably forward, propelled by Zarken's obsessive need for solitude, but nevertheless, "Caretaker" was an enjoyable evocation of sf's roots.

Stephen Baxter, among other things, has made a minor specialty of what are often called "pocket universe" stories, tales generally set in confined settings that operate (whether in fact or only apparently) by other physical laws. "PeriAndry's Quest" is one such story, set in a world where time moves more slowly the farther downhill you go. PeriAndry and his family live on the Shelf, between the Lowland, where time is practically frozen, and the Attic, where time races by. Every so often their world is subject to a "Formidable Caress," an unspecified disaster that wipes out civilization. For the moment, the people of the Shelf survive, their culture resting on the servile labor of the people of the Attic.

Since time passes so much more quickly in the Attic, its people are vastly more productive than those of the Shelf. A multicourse dinner can be ordered on the Shelf and delivered a few minutes later, though hours in the Attic were spent on its making. The Shelf people have a cavalier attitude towards the Attic people, viewing them as little more than a renewable natural resource. PeriAndry, the younger son of the newly deceased ButaFeri, has a more sympathetic attitude towards the Attic than many of his people, and when he catches a glimpse of a lovely young Attic woman, becomes infatuated with her, dreaming of an impossible life with her. When Peri finally takes it into his head to go up to the Attic to find the woman, he is forced to confront the rather harsh realities upon which his world rests.

What makes "PeriAndry's Quest" an exceptional example of the pocket universe story is that Baxter successfully combines fascinating world-building with an actual, honest-to-goodness story of character. It's a rare story in Analog (or, to be fair, in many other sf magazines) that features actual differentiated characters whose interactions are governed by their personalities and not solely by narrative necessity.

The issue concludes with J.T. Sharrah's "Greetings from Kudesh," which contains that rarity in science fiction: a character both devoutly religious and sympathetically portrayed. Written as a transcript of a "vocording" made by Naomi Pollard, a Christian missionary sent to Kudesh to evangelize the natives, Sharrah's story is a cautionary tale of the promise and peril of such work. Naomi is young and enthusiastic, and a chance to deliver a sermon and participate in a Kudeshti ritual seem an ideal opportunity for sharing her faith with the people of Kudesh. When the precise nature of the ritual is made clear to her, however, Naomi finds herself on the horns of a dilemma.

What makes this story work so well is the combination of Naomi's infectious enthusiasm with a genuinely respectful attitude towards matters of faith. Our sympathies are fully engaged with Naomi, so as her dilemma is made clear to her (though experienced readers of sf may pick up on it much earlier,) even those of us (like myself) who are not religious are able to not only share her crisis but understand her decision.

Overall, this is a strong issue for Analog; the Burstein, Baxter, and Sharrah stories I would highly recommend, and several others are worthwhile.