Analog, January/February 2016
“Wyatt Earp 2.0” by Wil McCarthy
Reviewed by Clancy Weeks
First, if I may, I would like to commend the editor(s) at Analog for tackling yet another double issue. Unfortunately it is an uneven effort. This perception could be entirely my fault. When I started reviewing for Tangent nearly two years ago, I was still a devout reader—someone who just loved to read, and had something to like about nearly everything he read. Effusive in my enthusiasm, I realized after a couple of reviews that I was recommending almost everything. Since then I have worked to be a bit more critical.
You may judge for yourself if I have crossed over to the Dark Side...
How would Wyatt Earp fare as a lawman in modern society? Better yet, how would he do four hundred years from now… and on Mars? That's the premise of Wil McCarthy's “Wyatt Earp 2.0,” answering a burning question I never knew existed. This novella explores and debunks many of the myths surrounding the man, using a “faxed” recreation to make him even more real than the legend would allow. Tom Clady is head of security for a mining operation on Mars, and when things get out of hand he calls for help, but rather than more men or weapons, the company's artificial intelligence suggests an old-West lawman. And who better? The problem is that even manufactured Wyatts have their own way of doing things, and their own idea of what constitutes “help.”
This is a well-done tale, with world-building just complete enough to set up the premise. As a novella, there is room for exploration that is not possible in a short story, but there were at least three unnecessary scenes that amounted to little more than padding. Wyatt, as the central character, is likeable enough, but many of the other characters are cardboard cut-outs at best. Personally, I think the story doesn't start until the last few pages, and really gets interesting right at the ending. Still, it is worth the read.
In “We Will Wake Among the Gods, Among the Stars,” Caroline M.Yoachim and Tina Connolly weave a tale of lost civilization, lost love, and lost innocence. Nanne, cousin to Queen Catherine and wife of Henri, is exploring the Loresian Isthmus ostensibly in search of gold in a far-future world that has regressed after a colony landing millennia earlier. What she finds, instead, are the remnants of the fabled lost “Seventh City” written about in the sacred manual of the people on the Continent. This SF story takes elements of Ponce De Leon and the Fountain of Youth and mixes them with the El Dorado myth to use as a backdrop to juxtapose the pursuit of scientific knowledge against the strictures of religious dogma. Sometimes, one can hardly tell the difference.
Both Nanne and Henri are strong and believable characters, though Meredith and Paul are not as well drawn. The rest of the cast is window dressing, but they serve their purpose. The story is well written, with rich background and little in the way of padding, but the ending is not as satisfying as it could have been. Little changes, and there is almost no growth in any of the characters.
Ian McKee has just witnessed a murder, but that's not his real problem. The real problem is that he's a witness who can never testify for the prosecution, for doing so would probably mean his own death. Not at the hands of the murderer, mind you, but the government he wants to help. “The Heat of Passion” by Grey Rollins is a murder mystery similar to the old Columbo series, where the mystery isn't so much in whodunit (we always know that in the first scene) but in how they get caught. Detective James Calvert is no Columbo, but he is serviceable enough to get the job done, though he will need some help.
There are just enough SF elements to qualify, but, really, there is little that needs to be changed to make this a standard detective yarn. I get that this is more a story about prejudice and fear than the murder, but the mystery is center stage the whole time. The reveal at the end adds little, though it makes a nice wrapper for the story. Both Ian and the detective are likeable, so we care what happens to them, but the killer is in turns almost superhuman and downright clumsy and stupid.
“The Shores of Being” by Dave Creek is an SF novelette set in a future where Earth has defeated an attack by the Jenregar, an alien hive-mind species. Mike Christopher is an artificial human accompanying the Drodusarel, Cerusto, as she attempts to inspect the mounds left by the invaders. Her planet has recently been attacked by the Jenregar, and she hopes to learn more about how humans repelled the invaders. Along the way Mike is confronted by fear, prejudice, and racism in the form of the local sheriff.
How are we all different? How are we all alike? Ignorance of both leads to fear and hate. Creek explores this simple truth about bigotry through the interactions of the lead characters. Mike Christopher is a character seen in other stories by Creek, some of which involve the Jenregar.
Mary Ihonor is a U. N. environmental troubleshooter of sorts, sent to North America to help her former colleague, Peter, halt an outbreak of an intelligent “nanobloom.” If they break containment, the tiny machines will sweep the face of the planet, destroying everything in the process. It's not her first rodeo. The future presented in “An Industrial Growth” by Dave Clements, while not entirely bleak, is a direct result of the rigidly stupid environmental and industrial policies of our times. Global warming threatened to destroy humanity, and when they finally woke to the danger, governments decided to “innovate” their way out of the problem. This story, though, is about people rather than machines. Mary and Peter lost a member of their team two years before, and that loss will come back to haunt them. In the end, they have to decide the meaning of existence, humanity, and sentience.
This is a well-constructed universe, and the characters are fully developed. The future Clements paints is entirely plausible (barring some seemingly insurmountable technical hurdles) and the outcome is satisfying, if a little too easy. All in all, a good read.
Joe M. McDermott's “Farmer” is another tale of life after our environment decides to try to kill us. It's the story of Eric and his husband, Jamaal, and together they live—and farm—in an old converted brownstone. Their life is hard, like the life of a small-scale farmer usually is, and they sell and trade their wares in the community to eke out a living. Sometimes you have to cut corners, though, to have a profitable season, and those corners usually come with sharp edges.
Eric is a great character. Plenty of angst, doubt, deceit, and betrayal for a reader to sink their teeth into. Jamaal is less clear, and not very compelling as a character, but his interactions with Eric at least move the story forward. In the end this is a story about choices, and the effects—great and small—they have on the people around you. Worth the read.
Teeny is a missile—with a conscience, apparently—and its human team of testers is tasked with getting it ready for its mission. That mission, of course, is to detonate and destroy the target, but it's never wise to tell someone they are on a suicide mission without giving them a choice. In “Rocket Surgery” by Effie Seiberg we get a cute title (and who hasn't mangled that metaphor at some point in their life?) in search of a story. Told in first-person by one of the team members, we eventually get to why they were all locked away after Teeny was fired off.
This story is one in a long line of tales about what it means to be sentient, and how, given the right stimulus, the machine has much to teach man about empathy. The writing is dense at first, but that works to its advantage as you go. The ending was completely predictable, though that takes nothing away from the fun of reading it.
“Saving the World” by James Gunn is a story about how getting everyone to read Science Fiction will create a world-wide utopia and usher in the age of Aquarius… or something to that effect. Told in first-person, it reads as a step-by-step manual—an assembly guide from IKEA—on how to change the world. I remember thinking this way once, way back in junior high, so I really wanted to like this story.
I'll just leave that right there.
So, Lee is a kid in his last term of junior high with his friend, Ben, and they have found something in the field at the school. Or not. In “The Persistence of Memory” by Rachel Bowden what seems to be one thing is really another. There are strong SF elements to this short story, but pointing them out would spoil the ending. Maybe “spoil” is a little strong for something with so little flavor.
I'm sure there are deeper meanings to be found here, but it didn't seem to be worth the effort.
“Theories of Mind” by Conor Powers-Smith is a fun romp of a story about what it takes to truly understand those different from you. Alien contact stories all have that element to some extent, but Powers-Smith explores it through actions rather than words. Peter is a newly-minted diplomat fresh from school, and his first contact with the aliens at his new posting nearly ends in disaster.
While Peter is a well-written character, and perfect for the part, it's Channing who really grabbed me. Weary of the typical graduate he's seen in his career, his curmudgeonly demeanor is perfect for this story. The ending was novel and unexpected, showing real growth in the protagonist. Well done, and recommended.
Right off the bat, in “Nature's Eldest Law” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, we get an impossibly-near future with FTL travel and interstellar exploration. Santiago Castillo is likely the only sane member of the crew, but that might be a function of his “sim” habit. Possibly. It's hard to tell. The crew of the Numancia has discovered on a presumed lifeless planet a biosphere filled with strange plants, appearing suddenly and almost magically. The plants have a peculiar affect on humans, increasing their decision-making ability just by being in close proximity. They could also be controlling the crew, but only Santiago believes that.
I wish I could offer more, but other than some tension with a love interest, that is the extent of the plot. As with “The Persistence of Memory,” there may be deeper meanings, but they aren't very clear. I grow weary of arguably very fine writing going exactly nowhere. In fact, a case could be made that “Persistence” is an ending to this story. I think I'll just hold on to that thought.
“Woundings” by George Zebrowski is another story of the dangers of ignoring science and the warnings of climate change. In this future, the Earth has been left to the fewer than a billion hold-outs who refuse to leave, and is being watched over by new and better humans living off-planet as the surface recovers from our lax—some might say criminal—stewardship. This short story has the protagonist (never named) working as a sort of environmental cop, protecting the world from the use of fossil fuels. On one such mission he meets Casim Rhazes, and old man using a coal fired generator to produce electricity for air-conditioning in order to preserve a library. Much philosophy ensues.
I wish I had the training to understand the discussion that followed. As with such dinner-party level philosophical talk, much is spoken but little is said. This is another in a long line of Really Smart Writers showing off what they know. I think I've got an old copy of When Worlds Collide I can dust off. Stuff happens in that.
Clancy Weeks is a composer by training, with over two-dozen published works for wind ensemble and orchestra—his most recent, “Selene,” will be premiered in Houston on April 3rd, 2016—and an author only in his fevered imagination. Having read SF/F for nearly fifty years, he figured “What the hell, I can do that,” and has set out to prove that, well… maybe not so much. His first short story, “Zombie Like Me,” will appear in an upcoming issue of Stupefying Stories. He currently resides in Texas, but don’t hold that against him.
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