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

Analog, September 2005

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"Sanctuary" by Michael A. Burstein
"Search Engine" by Mary Rosenblum
"Take Me To Your Liederkranz" by Lawrence M. Schoen
"Breeding Maze" by Larry Niven
"The Speed of Understanding" by Carl Frederick
"The Best-Laid Plans" by Jerry Oltion
"Paradox & Greenblatt, Attorneys at Law" by Kevin J. Anderson
"Give Up the Ghost" by Grey Rollins
"Resonance" by Eric James Stone

The September issue of Analog begins with Michael A. Burstein's novella "Sanctuary."  A Catholic priest assigned to a large space station confronts an ethical dilemma when an alien approaches him seeking sanctuary in the chapel.  The female insectoid, an adherent of a fringe religion, has developed a pregnancy that violates her people's mainstream traditions.  Seeking to protect her from a forced abortion, the priest grants her request for sanctuary, and diplomatic turmoil results.  The situation sours further when the priest learns of the alien's ulterior motives.

"Sanctuary" is a complex and thoughtful piece, well-written and accessible.  Burstein’s noble protagonist struggles to answer some serious moral questions, and for that reason, the story is sometimes uncomfortable to read.  Readers may find the theme vague, and each person may take away something different from the story's unexpected ending.

"Search Engine" by Mary Rosenblum posits a dystopic future in which information clearinghouses track individuals' every move.  Against this bleak backdrop, a private detective is hired by the government to locate and apprehend a fugitive guilty of an unspecified crime.  While tracking the subject, he comes to know the person behind the data—a man who reminds him of his estranged (and missing) son.  His determination to learn the man’s crime leads him to an irrevocable personal choice.

Stylistically, this piece stumbles before it hits its stride.  The author’s use of non-standard grammar, especially at the beginning, results in lurching prose.  Also, it isn't obvious at first who the story's point-of-view character is.  The opening's clipped dialogue doesn't help much; it is the polar opposite of expository.  All this together delays the reader's grounding in the setting and the situation.

The prose soon settles down, though, into clearer storytelling, and the plot unfolds very logically.  While the piece includes several long stretches of lonely narrative, vivid sensory details enhance the skillful worldbuilding.  The protagonist's believable and poignant transformation makes “Search Engine” well worth the read.

Next up is “Take Me To Your Liederkranz,” a lighthearted short by Lawrence M. Schoen.  A "man in black" visits a hospitalized girl who can only communicate by naming objects after cheeses.  To discover the truth about her suspicious injury, he must break through her verbal mental block.  The problem and its solution are quite clever, and the logic may delight readers who are interested in linguistics.  In the end, though, this piece is little more than an extended "shaggy dog" story, and the rather weak punchline does not justify its length.

Legendary science fiction author Larry Niven contributes "Breeding Maze," a quirky tale exploring alien mating behavior.  The protagonist manages a tavern that entertains countless species of extraterrestrial travelers.  (Imagine a subdued version of a bar in Mos Eisley.)  Hass, a wolfish alien, informs the manager that a female of his species is using the installation to lure a mate.  To find her, he must follow a series of clues, and he engages the manager's help.  The manager is more interested in finding Hass's caretaker—an alien he suspects is conducting an unethical psychological experiment.  His search culminates in an amusing climactic twist.

The story’s first-person narration is not as clear or dramatic as it could be.  Backstory and plot points are sometimes revealed via expository dialogue, and important developments often occur "off-screen."  Character description receives short shrift.  (At one point, we learn what a character does not look like, but not what he does look like.)  Similarly, few details are offered for immediate settings, sometimes leaving the reader to guess whether a character is indoors or outdoors.  All that aside, this is a worthy light read with a solid plotline.

Carl Frederick’s “Speed of Intelligence” is an alien first contact story with a number of sharp ideas, including a clever way of storing and transmitting memory from generation to generation, and a unique twist on the hive mind.

Rau’s Planet has a rich, Earth-like biosphere. At the top of the food chain are the dog-like canoids (land), batwings (air), and lucifish (sea). Paul, a theoretical exolinguistics graduate student, is the junior member of the Colonization Approval Team exploring Rau’s Planet. One day, while playing fetch with his pet canoid, he witnesses an odd anomaly: a swarm of lucifish swimming just off the coast form a parabolic mirror, focusing reflected sunlight on an ill-fated batwing. To Paul, the action smacks of intelligence.

Paul, fond of the canoids, might be forgiven a bit of wishful thinking. Proof of sentient indigenous life would scuttle any further colonization attempts, thus protecting Rau’s Planet from human predations. His team’s reaction is understandably skeptical.

What follows is a solid, old-fashioned first contact story, complete with misunderstandings and revelations. Old-fashioned is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly since Frederick provides new angles on a familiar tale. “Speed of Intelligence” thus succeeds as thought-provoking brain fodder.

The plot depends too heavily on coincidence, and the characters (except for Paul) were flat. Paul, too, could have been more richly drawn. Though likable, he seemed more like an overgrown ten-year-old than a graduate student presumably in his twenties. The story as a whole is not entirely successful because of these problems. If, however, you are content with a story of ideas, you’ll likely come away from “Speed of Intelligence” fully satisfied.

"The Best-Laid Plans" by Jerry Oltion is a grim fable that almost deteriorates into a rant.  In the first half of the story, astronauts manning a space station receive news that the installation is to be shut down and dismantled.  They conspire to preserve some of their research by launching engineered biological specimens toward Mars.  The second half of the story narrates the results of their actions and how humanity reacts to them over the next few thousand years.

The narrative drips with cynicism and lacks subtlety, and it is rather casually written.  The ending is delivered with a heavy-handed slam—a punchline, perhaps, to a joke this reader doesn’t get.  The moral of the story is misanthropy, and many readers may strongly disagree with the author's assessment of humanity's long-term progress.  "Tainted" from the May 2005 issue preaches a similar theme, but with much more finesse—proving that this author can do much better.

"Paradox & Greenblatt, Attorneys at Law" by Kevin J. Anderson features the familiar time-travel paradox.  A man stands accused of attempted murder for traveling back in time to prevent a conception.  His "victim" is a womanizing, unscrupulous businessman whom he blames for breaking up his family.  The protagonist, a lawyer, agrees to defend the accused.  When the stubborn businessman refuses to drop charges, the attorney delves deeper and discovers just how different circumstances would be if he had never been born.

This piece is clearly not meant to be taken very seriously, given character names like "Greenblatt" and "Delano R. Franklin."  It offers a few good laughs, and the author's use of simile is imaginative and amusing.  It is disappointing, however, that the author resorts to a rather artificial and ineffective device for ratcheting up dramatic tension—allowing his protagonist to hide information from the reader.  At the same time, he telegraphs the climax so strongly that it's predictable from two pages away; the story's "ah-ha!" moment becomes an "uh-huh" moment.  That being said, the logic of the plot is solid, and the author ties up all loose ends with a big, shiny bow.

"Give Up the Ghost" is a page-turner by Grey Rollins.  Before the story commences, the governor of an off-world colony loses his mind and executes several dozen colonists before he himself is killed.  The surviving colonists report encounters with the ghosts of their murdered compatriots, and as a result they are desperate to return to Earth.  The story follows the new governor as he confronts the mystery of the ghosts head-on.

This briskly-paced tale is short on descriptive detail; characters’ physical appearance and indoor setting details are often vague.  That being said, the characterization is strong and sympathetic, and the outdoor scenes are enriched with ghost-story atmosphere.  The storytelling is clear and straightforward, and the prose occasionally offers up a quotable gem.  The solution to the plot's central mystery is not only believable but highly satisfying.

The issue concludes with "Resonance" by Eric James Stone.  A scientific triumph ends in disaster when the first tether of a space elevator snaps, killing dozens as it thrashes about its platform in Quito, Ecuador.  The president of a company working on a competing project sees his dreams grind to a halt as a result.  Nervous governments, environmental lawsuits, financial problems, and threats of eco-terrorism force him and his capable employees to devise a creative solution for their own space elevator—but it doesn't solve all of their problems.

Readers may struggle with the beginning of this piece, especially the visualization of the doomed space elevator.  After the exposition, however, this complex and intelligent piece unfolds very smoothly.  The author creates a clever plot and characters worth rooting for, all leading to an exciting climax.  This story may particularly appeal to fans of hard SF, given its emphasis on physics concepts.

(Reviewed by Brit Marschalk except for "The Speed of Understanding" by Carl Frederick which was reviewed by Douglas Hoffman.)