Analog, October 2016

Saturday, 17 September 2016 19:17 Jason McGregor
Print

Analog, October 2016

"Progenesis" by J. L. Forrest

"Angles of Incidence" by Nancy Fulda
"The Blue Lady of Entanglement Chamber 1" by Ron Collins
"Mom in the Moon" by Muri McCage
"Revenge of the Invisible Man" by Robert R. Chase
"The Soul Behind the Face" by Adam-Troy Castro

Reviewed by Jason McGregor

The October Analog presents us with a half-dozen stories, most of which involve noir and/or crime/mystery elements. There's nothing really bad here, though a couple are slightly below the issue's average, but nothing to get truly excited about, either. It's a good read overall for the general SF reader, though, and any given story will likely appeal more strongly to specific people.

"Progenesis" by J. L. Forrest

This is a tale of elementary school sweethearts who have grown up to found a company which is now on the cusp of developing posthumanity through nanotech. This causes both foreign Muslim terrorists and local Christian terrorists to launch a wave of assaults on the company and the protagonists. Undeterred, the woman becomes Goddess 1.0 and takes the benevolent high road in response to the terrorists. Then things change.

This is a familiar tale in most of its parts and, indeed, has an utterly predictable plot, partly from clear necessity and partly from what seemed to me isolated, telegraphed elements along the way. It also seems to be genuinely dear to the author's heart but a couple of items (including the swipe at corporations, which I appreciated in the abstract) seemed like checking a list of ideological points. Some may also find fault with its lack of mourning over a certain event, though I felt it an efficient sidestep of the obvious, rather than a maudlin belaboring of the emotions. A similar approach was taken to describing a childhood battle, with mostly objective description and implicit emotion. The story was briskly paced and confidently told. While I doubt it would appeal to many who weren't innately sympathetic to it, if you're already in sympathy with at least some of its views, it's a good read. But it felt like it was aiming for more and could have achieved excellence with a bit more surprise and nuance.

"Angles of Incidence" by Nancy Fulda

This is an example of the "bureaucrat dragoons scientist into attempting to solve the puzzle aliens have set so that the aliens and humans may agree on deals, made difficult due to differences in conceptual frameworks" type of story. In this case, the aliens are crustacean-like critters who can grow to enormous size, live mostly underwater, have multiple temporally-drifted (so to speak) languages and visualize fourteen dimensions. Things are further complicated by the scientist being an archaeologist used to dealing with dead things rather than a linguist or diplomat. (This would also seem to be a recurring protagonist though I don't recall having read other stories featuring her.)

This is a very familiar story and may be hopeless for people who don't like the sort of thing it is, but should appeal to those who do because of its interesting ideas, concise and energetic plot, and descriptive writing of things vividly imagined. (The underwater journey to, and the arrival of, the alien Evermother was especially captivating.)

"The Blue Lady of Entanglement Chamber 1" by Ron Collins

A woman is hired to write a story on the anniversary of the mysterious death of a famous scientist who met her end (or sort of end) during her test flight of a sort of space ship. Despite resistance from her boss (an ex-boyfriend of the ex-scientist), she continues with her research, aided by a feeling of connection to the scientist's "ghost." The woman, who is a scientist herself, yet also a reporter of sorts, also becomes a detective as she tries to solve the mystery of what happened. In the end, all is revealed.

Whether all is revealed perfectly smoothly and clearly is a matter for debate and I'll grant that I might have missed something, but I was utterly unconvinced by the ending. While you can figure what must have happened, it all has a feeling of "inverting the phase-coil modulator" or similar arbitrary technobabble and how the protagonist really proves anything seems unclear to me. It's all in the math, though. Fundamentally, this is another "quantum magic fantasy" even if the "ghosts" are psychological artifacts (which they may not be in the context of the story). Most disappointing, perhaps, is that the boss character seems like a stereotype at first, but there comes a brief passage where one is hopeful he'll turn out to be different, yet one is ultimately disappointed as it's clear what he must be and he becomes an even worse stereotype.

"Mom in the Moon" by Muri McCage

Regardless of listed category, all the stories in this issue are about the same 10-15 double-columned pages (mostly c. 10) except the novella at the end and this short one of four and a half pages. All are structurally at least "novelettes" in the sense of being story-centric, whereas this is an actual "short story" in the sense of being more a scene and mood, whose story is mostly implicit. An old colony leader and his pseudo-adopted granddaughter journey to high elevations with communications gear for their annual visit with the girl's mother who was colony leader until she got herself stranded on one of the planet's moons. While much of the brief space is devoted to this situation and the feelings it engenders, it turns out there's one more twist waiting in the remainder of the tale.

There's a fine line sometimes between a story being constructed and being contrived. This treads perilously near the latter. It also plays heavily on near-maudlin sentiment to which some people, including your reviewer, don't always respond enthusiastically. That said, it is a possible situation and could genuinely provoke the emotions described so it may appeal to some.

"Revenge of the Invisible Man" by Robert R. Chase

The Shadow gets on the trail of the Invisible Man. Sort of. In the near future, a company has been working on human invisibility and has succeeded in making a human invisible—but not in getting rich off it, which means the guinea pig gets no reward either and, worse, it turns out not to be reversible. So the heads of the company start falling down stairs and having their throats cut. This prompts a call to a mysterious Power who sends his agent, our protagonist, in to discover how the invisible man has been committing these crimes from the locked room in which the company holds him. The agent adopts the name Kent Allard (one of the Shadow’s real names) for this mission (which, as with Fulda's archaeologist's mission, seems likely to be one of a series) and proceeds to investigate.

The strongest feature of this story is probably the direct, sinewy prose which is reminiscent of the standard "spy/PI/gumshoe/etc." style without seeming like too much of a pastiche. It dovetails with the plot and both move the story forward well. I don't think this story especially aims at greatness or anything, but it does hit the mark of being a good read.

"The Soul Behind the Face" by Adam-Troy Castro

Draiken is a shadowy man with a shrouded past. He's been in hiding from some very powerful, bad, angry people but has decided to take the fight to them. This involves recruiting a few people to perform seemingly minor tasks which should combine to create a larger effect on his enemies. One of the key people in the plan is a woman who lives in a cubicle/vat most of her days, only coming out for pay to completely become whatever personality she's hired to be, in this case, a middle-aged/elderly wife. With her, he pretends to be a businessman on the cusp of retirement, as he tries to avoid all the high-tech and extremely detailed surveillance and semi-AI algorithms and, especially, a very persistent and engaged cop, in order to observe the status of his unfolding plan. Matters get more intense when the cop debates whether to throw him into a dark hole from which he'll never return.

This is a tricky story to review as it has a very complicated plot (even more so than hinted at above) and yet nothing much happens. I'm also sure I missed something because part of the essence of the plan is to have a certain piece of information found out and become public, so why couldn't our man have just called a cop (who might even have turned out to be the cop of our story) and reported the piece of information? Is the elaborate plan even really necessary? However, through the course of the story, I was thinking the plot didn't even matter much, because the essence of the story seemed like it was going to be a thematic tale of a kind of existentialism regarding "self-deception" and the lives of "bad faith" some of us lead or the "roles" we play, as exemplified by the protagonist and his "wife" and their fake relationship. Yet, at the end, since all the emphasis came down on the plan and nothing was really done about the philosophical/thematic aspects, it appeared that it really was about the surface layer after all. Yet again, there was a section earlier in the story, and confirmed by a last-second twist, that basically declared that this is no story but a stealth serial and this plan, itself, was but a step in an even larger series of tasks and that the existential elements may take precedence in later installments. So, as I say, "tricky." A lot of moving parts and I can't yet recommend seeking out or avoiding this story on its own. But it was interesting, if a bit slow.


Jason McGregor's space on the internet (with additional reviews) can be found here.