Tangent Online

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Analog -- May 2014

E-mail Print
Special Double Review
by Ryan Holmes & Louis West

Analog, May, 2014

“All Human Things” by Dave Creek
“Another Man’s Treasure” by Tom Greene
“Bodies in Water” by Sarah Frost
“Cryptids” by Alec Nevala-Lee
“In Perpetuity” by Ellis Morning
“Repo” by Aaron Gallagher
“Snapshots” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Reviewed by Ryan Holmes

“All Human Things” by Dave Creek is an alien invasion novelette set in Earth’s near-distant future. The title comes from a quote by John Dryden and clearly sets the theme as the decay of humanity. Our hero, Mike Christopher, is in the middle of a rescue operation when the invasion begins, and Mike is propelled on an adventure to stop the invasion. Mike isn’t like other humans. He’s the first, and apparently the last, genetically engineered human. His uniqueness creates conflict both external and internal. This is the story’s strongest feature. The invading aliens are every bit his antithesis, though they are less inventive than our hero. This story had a good beginning but quickly fell apart for me after a strong dose of exposition disguised as internal monolog marked by blocks of italics. The entire story is crammed with unnecessary and often redundant explanations. Looking past that, the story suffers from plot holes and illogical actions. I found myself saying ‘no way’ and ‘why?’ often. Worst of all, I failed to see how the ending matches the theme defined at the beginning. The story has mounds of potential but needed another round of editing.

Tom Greene in “Another Man’s Treasure” creates a short story set on Earth in a probable near future where common folks mine landfills to scavenge a living. Maggie, a widowed mother with two kids, mines a plot for scraps of plastic to pay for food. Despite her lot in life, Maggie is intelligent, brave, and hardworking. Life gets worse when a geologist for a petrol company threatens to seize her plot. Maggie risks her life, going deep into the landfill, in search of anything that can give her children a good education and a chance at a better life. The risk pays off, but word of her little treasure reaches the landfill’s only buyer. Maggie is forced to give it to him. Things escalate when he doesn’t believe its value and demands she take him where she found it. Maggie digs, knowing she won’t find anything, knowing she’s digging her own grave. Her only chance is to dig her way out. I found the characters complex and detailed. The world is imaginative. The tension builds well and concludes with a satisfying ending. As a father, I sympathized with Maggie’s struggle to provide for her children and to fight for what belongs to her. The story is well-written, entertaining, and believable.

“Bodies in Water” by Sarah Frost is a short story set in the ruins of an American spaceport. It centers on Kay, a little girl with a big disability. Kay enjoys fishing in the wreckage of a behemoth starship where she catches a relic from the past, one that will change her world. Kay is a powerful character. Her disability is both heart-wrenching at times and a source of strength. She’s determined to be seen and treated equally, even by her father, who sees only her disfigurement. The ending is both potent and poetic. It leaves the reader wishing to know more about this amazing little girl’s story.

Alec Nevala-Lee’s “Cryptids” is a short story about Karen Vale, a biologist researching birds in New Guinea who agrees to locate the origins of a toxin for Amanda Lurie, a former student now working with a pharmaceutical company. The toxin is passed along from plant to beetle to bird, growing more potent with each step up the food chain. Amanda theorizes the birds will lead her to the plant, and needs Karen to track them. Karen plants a tracking device on a bird that leads the researchers to a remote island. A storm forces the party to camp overnight. While there, they encounter a local, legendary creature (the cryptids of the title) and discover it preys on the birds. The discovery turns deadly when the cryptids attack the camp. Their only hope is to reach their ship anchored off shore, and the researchers fight to survive until the storm passes. I had to suspend belief a bit when the storm prevented their rescue, but the author crafts the cryptids with just enough menacing characteristics and evolutionary theory to make them believable given the remote location. I also feel the story would work better if not narrated in the omnipresent; quick point of view shifts pulled me from the story.

“In Perpetuity” by Ellis Morning is a short story about Ali Nazari, a geologist conducting government-funded research at a lunar science colony. Ali discovers a rock of pure ilmenite in an area that should be titanium-poor. His determination to solve the riddle brings him to Swain, head of the colony’s Information Sciences program. Swain is eccentric and distracted by his work, printing large amounts of information in his office within the colony. When funding is cancelled, Swain barricades himself inside the Information Sciences facility, which is apart from the rest of the colony. Ali fears for the man’s safety when no one else does. He sets out to check on him and must descend into a crater where the facility is located. This story falls flat for me. It comes off slow, and the plot is muddled. The mystery rock is never resolved, nor is Ali’s potential relationship with another colonist developed beyond more than a casual mention. The plot hangs on Swain and the mystery of his work. At the end, when we find out why Swain is printing endless amounts of information, it feels abrupt and unfinished. The author takes the time to comment on the cost of delivering the program manager’s office furniture and completely overlooks the cost of shipping paper to the Moon, the amount of which is astronomical.

Aaron Gallager’s “Repo” is a short, hard science-fiction adventure set in a future where travel within the Solar System is routine but still dangerous. Elise Rosemonde is a scrappy, independent, recovery agent contracted to reacquire a ship docked in orbit around Pluto. The ship’s captain defaulted on his loan, and Elise proceeds to detain the captain and secure the ship. Afterward, she sets off on a twenty day journey to tow the ship back to lunar orbit. Halfway there, she encounters a distress call from Wilder, another captain stranded on a crippled ship. Wilder turns out to be after the same ship. Elise is experienced and more than capable of handling the situation, but Wilder’s silver tongue talks her into trusting him more than she should. The story has good tension and each character gains advantage over the other more than once. The author does a nice job of building sympathy for both Elise and Wilder, which I enjoyed as my appraisal of them kept evolving. Who the characters are when faced with difficult decisions is revealed through their actions instead of explained in interior monologue or through narration. This is easily my favorite story in Analog’s May issue.

“Snapshots” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a short story that starts out as historical fiction and ends as near-future science fiction. It centers on racial conflicts and gun violence. The story is told through snapshots in history, including a couple in the near future. They are punctuated by real or imagined journal clips, and follow the lives of a family through three generations. Cleavon Branigan begins the story as a boy witnessing the funeral of a fellow friend in Chicago. Cleavon eventually leaves Chicago and has a daughter, Lakisha, who defies his wishes and attends school in Chicago. Lakisha appears to be unscathed by violence but her son, Ty, is less lucky. When Ty is a teenager, a friend is shot and killed by a stray bullet right next to him, and he develops a fear of guns. This fear builds as he grows older, but instead of promoting gun control, he develops a technology to make catching gun criminals more effective at the cost of violating everyone’s constitutional rights. This story didn’t work for me. Aside from having scarcely any science-fiction elements, it is less fiction and more persuasive argument. I also had to suspend belief concerning the technology and how it provides law enforcement with useful evidence. Another suspension of belief comes from the technology’s need to be kept secret. That’s hard to do when it’s imbedded in every personal device. The only thing that left an impression with me is the vague ending. I scratched my head as to whether the author believes her own argument.

Ryan Holmes is a Marine Corps grunt turned aerospace engineer who works at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and writes science fiction and fantasy in his spare time. You can find his blog at: www.griffinsquill.blogspot.com


Analog, May 2014

“All Human Things” by Dave Creek
“Cryptids” by Alex Nevala-Lee
“In Perpetuity” by Ellis Morning
“Bodies in Water” by Sarah Frost
“Snapshots” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
“Repo” by Aaron Gallagher
“Another Man’s Treasure” by Tom Greene

Reviewed by Louis West

An enjoyable collection of mostly hard-SF stories.

In “All Human Things” by Dave Creek, hive-mind aliens, the Jenregar, have invaded Earth and set up living mounds in the centers of major cities. From these protected sites, they are slowly conquering humankind. Mike, the only artificial human in existence, and Jeremy, a man Mike rescues from a Jenregar ship, have critical information about what the Jenregar are doing and possible ways humans could defeat the invaders. Unfortunately, Jeremy is a Religionist who believes that Mike is a soulless abomination that shouldn’t be alive, which makes their working together a rather testy affair. Much of the story follows Mike and Jeremy’s journey to Earth’s HQ in Belgium. Once they arrive, Mike decides, “We have to think not only about what we may have to do . . . but what we may have to become.” Out of this profound conclusion, a solution is finally reached as to how humans can successfully take the war to the Jenregar, regardless of the cost.

There are some interesting, albeit not novel, ideas in this story: hive-mind aliens, artificial humans, plus religious condemnation of anything not a “natural” human. I did enjoy the exploration of the Jenregar’s predominant use of the sense of smell and how Mike had previously used that against them. However, I was disappointed in several ways. First, Jeremy’s rejection of Mike as “human” is expressed primarily in an intellectual way, not visceral. Jeremy never acts on his anger, either in a way that would put them at risk or to threaten Mike physically. Mostly, they just talk about it. As a result, I never felt like Mike faced any real danger. Second, the encounters with the Jenregar were almost gentlemanly—no horrific violence. Yes, Mike met several humans who had been experimented upon by the aliens, but nothing like mass exterminations that would inflame human anger sufficiently to justify acceptance of the extreme solution Mike and Jeremy come up with. Lastly, and this bugged me the most, if Mike and Jeremy possess critical intelligence, why weren’t they debriefed the moment they’d been rescued instead of sent helter-skelter all over the planet trying to get them to Brussels? I think the story would have been much stronger if it’d been about the kinds of things humans tried to become to defeat the Jenregar rather than the efforts to get Mike and Jeremy to Belgium.

Alex Nevala-Lee’s “Cryptids” is a Jurassic Park type of story. Karen, a Naturalist studying birds on the islands near Papua New Guinea, is approached by Amanda, an old student of hers. Amanda works for a drug company seeking to find the plant source of the alkaloid, batrachotoxin (a neurotoxin ten times more potent than the puffer fish tetrodotoxin) in order to evaluate its possible medicinal uses. To accomplish this, Amanda wants Karen’s help tracking the New Guinea Hooded Pitohui bird to its nesting grounds. In exchange, her company will fund Karen’s research projects, which is particularly attractive to Karen since her grant requests had recently been denied (due to intervention by Amanda, it turns out). Karen agrees. Together they track some of the Pitohui to a small, uninhabited island. There they discover that this poison had migrated even further up the predatory food chain than they’d realized, into a creature thought extinct for millions of years. Surviving until morning becomes their only goal, as the long night sees all their companions killed and eaten by something straight out of a nightmare.

I enjoyed the story in that the science was accurate, the settings richly detailed and the struggle to survive told well. Karen presents as a kick-ass independent person, something like an Indiana Jones Naturalist. I liked her. In contrast, Amanda initially came across as strong but devolves into a stalker who screwed up Karen’s financial backing in order to get close to her old teacher again. Interesting idea by itself, but it never translated into selfish actions by Amanda that put Karen at risk. My biggest concern is that the first half of the story appears to simply be the means to get the main characters exposed to the cryptids, using the poison as the linking agent. I would have hoped for a more substantive conclusion than: they survived. Lastly, there was a scene shift in the middle of the story, from Karen’s POV to Patrick’s and back, that lacked any scene breaks. It confused me for some moments, while I sorted out what was going on, breaking the momentum of the read. Regardless of its flaws, I’d recommend this story as an enjoyable read.

“In Perpetuity,” by Ellis Morning, is set on a lunar research station where Earth-based bean-counters have just axed numerous projects, sending many scientists back home.

Among those remaining are Ali Nazari and Victor Talbot, two friends deep into efforts to identify deposits of economically valuable elements on or under the Moon’s surface. On a recent surface excursion, they discovered Titanium rich ore where none had been reported before. To try and ascertain where this Titanium might have originated from, Nazari consulted with Dr. Swain in Information Sciences (IS). However, once the budget cuts had been announced, including closure of the IS department, no one had heard from or seen Dr. Swain. Concerned, Nazari decides to investigate and finds an old entranceway into Dr. Swain’s domain. There he discovers the good doctor awash in piles of printouts. Evidently, Project Alexandria, which had also been cancelled, is about archiving as much of Earth’s art and literature as possible in hard-copy form for the benefit of future generations, hard-copy being preferred because it doesn’t require power to maintain any files.

I had lots of trouble with this story. First, the Titanium ore deposit excitement didn’t lead anywhere—a dead end. Second, storing paper on the Moon does make a kind of sense except power is still required to maintain the integrity of the storage area, and it requires massive amounts of space that must be engineered into the Moon. Hardly efficient. Besides, it must have cost a fortune to ship all that paper up from Earth! No wonder projects got cancelled. Third, satellites and rovers could do lots of the surveying work on the composition of the Moon without requiring resident humans. Lastly, I didn’t find any tension in the story. A disappointment.

In Sarah Frost’s “Bodies in Water,” Kay lives with her mother and father in a small, broken town on what’s left of the Florida coastline, the sea and storms having long-since destroyed the nearby cities. Her body is twisted and stunted, hands maimed and speech difficult, although her mind is inquisitive. Sadly, her father is reticent to touch her although her mother is ever ready with a hug. To pass the time and help provide food, Kay fishes from the partially sunken remnant of an old starship. Today she catches a mechanical fish and takes it to her father, who recognizes it as an old monitoring device to track wild currents and rogue submarines. But, it’s damaged, and her father can’t fix it. Kay, however, has long watched and helped her mother in her forge make and repair things. After her family survives the maelstrom of a warmer-world hurricane, Kay decides she can repair the mechanical and does so using parts from her mother’s shop. Her father is impressed. Even though the storm took the starship remnant, Kay’s father asks her mother to build them a boat so he can take his daughter fishing, showing a warmth towards her that he’d never demonstrated before.

A touching story of a girl’s efforts to impress her father and to excel in spite of her limited physical abilities, a tale that’s timeless regardless of the setting. I also enjoyed the parallel story of the town’s struggles to survive and retain as much pre-collapse knowledge as they could. Definitely recommended.

“Snapshots,” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, follows Cleavon’s life from childhood to old age surrounded by the threat of violence: an older neighbor kid beaten and shot by racist whites, Cleavon caught in the cross-fire of a South side gang shootout, his unease at his daughter going to the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, his grandson’s experience watching a fellow prep school student shot while they took refuge from the rain in the city’s South Side Harsh Park, his finding his best friend dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound due to depression at the loss of his long-time wife. Ultimately, though, the story is about his grandson, Ty. Ty invents a simple means to activate cell phones and all portable electronics in the vicinity of a shooting to capture everything nearby. A guaranteed way to catch most shooters. But what he does with this technology is what separates him from his grandfather—“a new kind of naïve, one that didn’t even exist in Cleavon’s day.”

A remarkably insightful tale that reminds us that it’s not just new laws and technology needed to solve the problems of violence, but changes in people’s attitudes. Definitely recommended.

Aaron Gallagher’s “Repo” is about a bounty hunter, Elise, who repossesses the cutter Adage, while it’s in Pluto orbit, plus captures its captain. A simple job, until another bounty hunter bluffs his way on board. Threats and counter-threats ensue. Ultimately, Elise is left with no other options than to do whatever is necessary to fulfill her contract. This is a quick, fun read that reminds of the “good-old-days” of shoot-em-up SF where action ruled and character development wasn’t the prime driver of a story. Unfortunately, there were basic editorial problems: some grammatical errors, POV shifts between Elise and Wilder in the same scene plus several undefined terms on the first page. For example, I had no idea what “The octopus” was nor “a large slab of green gel.” Recommended.

In “Another Man’s Treasure” by Tom Greene, widowed Maggie struggles to raise three kids on her own while making a living by mining the enormous decades-old landfill outside of what remains of Las Vegas. Scavenged hazmat suits are the norm since she never knows what kinds of toxic stuff or pockets of poisonous gas she might uncover. Everything they have and eat are acquired from the landfill—housing materials, furniture, biomass for their methane plant and rats for protein, at least when they find ones that aren’t diseased. Their rooftop garden provides the rest . . . or sometimes they go hungry.

An entire village survives by mining this landfill. Knowledge is the key to keeping alive, and Maggie constantly encourages her kids to read and learn—all from books extracted from the landfill. But a bully rules this area, taking the best finds, and outsiders hunting for petroleum products threaten Maggie’s claim. When she stumbles upon a packrat nest and extracts a rare find, the possibility of escaping life in this hellhole beckons. Until the bully’s thugs descend and destroy her house looking for the item, destroying it in the process of their search. Angry, they force her to return to the site of where she’d found it and dig—her grave, she figures. When she hits the bottom of the landfill and discovers the large drainage pipes, she has only one recourse. Escape into the drainage system, hopefully not to become buried alive. But fate sometimes smiles, and Maggie finally makes the ultimate find, one that will ensure the financial security of her family.

An exceptional story set in a detailed, gritty environment, with compelling characters. The science of landfill mining is well thought out, and I found myself, at times, almost tasting what Maggie’s world must have been like. Highly recommended.

Louis West. Sub-atomic physics, astronomy, biophysics, medical genetics and international finance all lurk in Louis’ background. He’s fond of hard SF, writes reviews for a variety of Speculative Fiction publications and volunteers at several New England SF&F conferences. As an Author-in-Progress, his SF writing explores both Nanopunk and Biopunk genres.