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

Analog, July/August 2014

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Analog, July/August, 2014

 
"The Journeyman: Against the Green" by Michael F. Flynn
"Mind Locker" by Juliette Wade
"Who Killed Bonnie's Brain?" by Daniel Hatch
"The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale" by Rajnar Vajra
"Code Blue Love" by Bill Johnson
"Voorh" by Paula S. Jordan
"Journeyer" by R. Garrett Wilson
"Valued Employee" by James K. Isaac
"Sadness" by Timons Esaias
"Crimson Sky" by Eric Choi
"The Half-Toe Bar" by Andrew Reid
"Hot and Cold" by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Reviewed by Martha Burns

The novella "The Journeyman: Against the Green" by Michael F. Flynn is the third in a series of stories that features Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand, who is a character in the novel, Up Jim River, itself a sequel to The January Dancer. Oh, yes, and there are another two books in the series, In the Lion's Mouth and Razor's Edge. The idea, in a nutshell, is that Earthlings in a space shuttle land on a place called World in a time referred to as Long Ago. A hologram gives Teo and his friend, Sammi, the lowdown, following which they are charged by "the Commonwealth of Suns to search out villages of the star men and send succor." Whew. Does the reader need this to know what is happening in the story? Yes, and that is a significant block to readability. The relevant background is, let's say, not that clearly laid out and major tropes and characterization choices outside of the Spriral Arm tetralogy appear baffling.

The plot of this installment involves Teo helping a group fight a battle against little green men with the help of his friend Sammi O' th' Eagles, who speaks like Tonto. The story has moments of humor, but they involve terms such as "shmuck" that, I suppose, fit with the idea that there is a relationship between this civilization and one of ours, but they stand out as odd in a story that has a sword and sorcery feel. Teo proves wise for a savage (though not as savage as Sammi) during a discussion of astronomy that could be lifted out of the story with no effect on the narrative within in, but that is the point: if the reader is familiar with the overarching universe, the otherwise egregious Tonto-speak, anachronisms, and irrelevant science lessons fit within a universe to which the reader has already committed and, no doubt, forgiven.

The novelette "Mind Locker" by Juliette Wade is a fun read that leaves one wanting more. Hubgirl lives in a future where people wear much-improved Google glasses that have become essential to interacting with the world. She is the leader of a gang of slum kids who have had their equipment hacked within the last month by a mysterious person they call "the Locker." The effect is far more serious than infected hardware, however, since the hardware and the mind are indistinguishable and the kids rely on the technology to meet their basic needs. The story is immersive and clever with just enough argot to make it believable. In the end, Hubgirl finds out what the Locker is up to and because that puts her in a good position to help crack a larger conspiracy, the story seems set up for further adventures of this heroine. I sincerely look forward to them.

The novelette "Who Killed Bonnie's Brain?" by Daniel Hatch engages the ethical questions raised by brains in vats. When a brain in a vat is disconnected from the technology that keeps it going, is this closer to murder or unplugging a toaster? Benjamin Adams is a reporter who believes this is murder and wants to find the killer. A complication arises when Bonnie Banister, a prominent AI specialist who complains she isn't happy to her beloved creations, a pair of robot twins who are sweet and funny and, on their own, make the story memorable. Unfortunately, Ben "sees through" a possible explanation involving them the moment the possibility is posed and we're left to find out which of the more boring humans is responsible. The solution to the mystery doesn't deepen the philosophical or ethical questions raised, but do read it for the twins. They are charming.

The novelette "The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale" by Rajnar Vajra makes excellent use of a wise-cracking narrative voice that keeps the pace lively and deft characterization that allows us to enjoy a story that has the feel of a classic Star Trek episode. Cadet Emily Asgari has her work cut out for her when one of her three-person team, a Martian egomaniac named Priam, starts a fight in a San Diego bar. The other member of the team, the Venusian gentle giant Micah, gets pulled into the fray and the three of them are now in serious trouble with their superiors. They are assigned what sounds simple--to help a group of researchers pack up their work station. The researchers were never able to communicate with the planet's indigenous and intelligent species, who Emily nicknames "hexi-cows." Priam boasts that he can solve it all and bets the team's graduation on it. He does solve the puzzle, though in a way that doesn't quite work, and Emily saves them when things go sour in a way that doesn't exactly work either, but that does not distract from the enjoyment any more than it distracts from even the best Star Trek episodes.

The novelette "Code Blue Love" by Bill Johnson concerns a family whose members die young due to a genetic disorder and a brilliant scientist's efforts to save her brother. The scientist, DeAnne, designs an intelligent stent, but she dies before the stent can fully repair her. She has another stent in the works to implant in her brother, but can't finish it, so her brother, Wade, pays for an autopsy and an illegal operation to have her stent implanted in his brain. It works although the process confuses the intelligent stent, String, who misses his maker, who he calls Mom. The result is a dual consciousness that results in Wade having better hair and being more charming with women. One wonders where else the well-told and tender story might have gone.

In the novelette "Voorh" by Paula S. Jordan, Jason tries to help a semi-aquatic female alien, Voorh, heal from wounds inflicted by young hoodlums from her planet. Jason comes to a better appreciation of Voorh throughout the process and vice versa. Together, they defeat the teenaged shell people and successfully avoid a biker gang. The story involves a needless complication with Jason's wife that highlights a troubling theme. He's initially very worried about where Sara is, but it turns out she's a phone call away, ergo, not too hard to locate. What purpose, then, does Sara serve? Sara shows what a loving man Jason is, which is what causes Voorh to change her opinion of him. The human Sara also serves as a useful foil to the female alien Voorh, for Jason feels more in touch with Voorh when he makes peace with Voorh's fishy smell and tenderly cleans her up after her bout of diarrhea, an episode that shames the proud alien. Taken together, these choices yield the view that women judge men based on their standing as romantic partners and that a man can only care for a woman he is not romantically involved with when he overcomes his repugnance and she becomes childlike. If the reader can ignore this subtext, the story should be enjoyable. The plot zips along and the dialogue is masterful in the way it gives each character an individual voice.

"Journeyer" by R. Garrett Wilson centers around Jo-abeel's brave journey across the desert to bring a much-needed medicine to her niece. Wilson sinks the reader into an entirely alien world of buffalo creatures in a narrative that pulls us along as we root for Jo-abeel. The healer of the tribe is the sole person who believes in her and gives her an amulet for good luck. Unfortunately, he fails to describe the plant she should be looking for even though he is the only one in many years to have successfully made the journey and brought back the plant. Yet this is, we are to believe, the one person who has believed in her? His omission very nearly makes her journey a failure, which adds a degree of poignancy I don't think the story needed. It was plenty full and poignant and moving without anyone being foolish. This is the one place the otherwise inventive story falters.

In "Valued Employee" by James K. Isaac, Asha Kass goes back to the village she grew up in to convince everyone of the advantages of Black Sphere technology, which can heal deformities, prolong youth, and end hunger and poverty. The villagers prefer to live technology-free and believe the Black Sphere is only using them to get access to forest land. We know from the opening, terrifying, scene in which Asha cuts off her own arm to facilitate cyborg implants that the Black Sphere are up to no good. Still, Asha believes she is offering her blind childhood friend and disabled father a better life, not to mention the villagers whose existence depends on successful crops. The story rises above simple technology vs. nature tropes and the ending reveals just how nasty and manipulative the bad guys are. We feel that Asha will fight them and wonder how exactly she will do this because she has paid quite the price for her loyalty.

"Sadness" by Timons Esaias is a satisfying tale of resistance and revenge. The Earth has been colonized by a race of fish people who determine what's best for us is to speak Sanskrit, observe ancient Japanese rituals, give up our last names, and bow to many other silly culture mash-up requirements. When they decide to try out a ritual that involves human sacrifice and choose Evor's wife to be sacrificed, Evor uses his job as a bookbinder to inserts this tale, in English, into one of the volumes. The story functions as a commentary on the effects of appreciating only the thin veneer of a culture, trying it on for fit, and debasing it in the process.

In "Crimson Sky" by Eric Choi, Maggie pilots a mission to rescue a thrill-seeker who crashes on Mars. She is annoyed at having to save someone who merely wants to set a record. When she realizes that the man is actually collecting meteorological data, she changes her mind and also reflects on how science is inherently thrill-seeking and aimless in the way that art can be seen to be aimless by non-artists. The realization is given depth by Maggie's memories of her quirky scientist father who uses technical essays as bedtime lullabies. Light touches of humor and tone keep the story from being a saccharin father-daughter story and the reflections on scientific practice and personalities are not the usual ho-hum insights.

Bogdana Kuznetsova, in "The Half-Toe Bar" by Andrew Reid, is a mere field support tech in charge of keeping the buses running while the professors in charge of a cultural outreach mission try to study a more primitive culture. Dana asks herself what we've all asked ourselves at one time or another, What do I need to do to get fired? The professors explain things that do not need explaining and the Locals, as they call them, hit women if they try to speak. During trade negotiations, Dana tries to explain to one of the professors that something a Local blacksmith has just said is a joke and that out-of-line moment begins a challenge between her and the blacksmith. When Dana answers the challenge, the two cultures make a more meaningful exchange and Dana and the tech crew may just have found a way to get help with the buses. The story has a stick it to the man theme that is easy to enjoy.

"Hot and Cold" by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro is The War of the Roses in space. Davos and Xie are a husband and wife team whose spaceship encounters problems. Through teamwork they heal their broken marriage, but it may not be enough to save them. Davos comes to appreciate Xie as they work to solve their problems and we forgive him for being such an insufferable prig in the opening scenes. The fear is that in a story like this, for Xie to move from reviled back to cherished, she will need to move from castrating harpy to omni-caring wife, but she moves, instead, from someone who tolerates a know-it-all to someone who appreciates being taken seriously by a man as flawed as anyone you've ever loved.