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

Analog, March 2007

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“Trucks” by Amy Bechtel
“Misquoting the Moon” by David Bartell 
“Cool Neighbor” by Michael Shara & Jack McDevitt
“The Small Pond” by C. Sanford Lowe and G. David Nordley

Amy Bechtel
postulates a world in which the typical person demonstrates savant skills when it comes to numbers in “Trucks.” The flipside, however, is that daily tasks like reading expressions and basic social interactions are more difficult for people.  Ryan is a young boy who has been labeled slow because of his inability to understand numbers, but his mom slowly comes to realize there are more ways to look at his situation than first meet the eye.  However, Bechtel never really explains how her world and the rewiring of people’s minds came to happen, so even though the story is meant to be read allegorically, the fact that there is no explanation for her world tends to get in the way.

In the modern day, it is difficult to make a big game hunter, especially one who is hunting endangered species, sympathetic, but David Bartell manages to do so in “Misquoting the Moon.”  With the early revelation that the Earth is about to be destroyed and only a limited number of people will be able to be saved, Bartell is able to turn the reader’s attention away from the idea of hunting a species to extinction and instead focus on the relationship between his hunter, Ted Hathaway, and Ted’s friend and guide, Hendrik Izaaks.  This relationship plays out well as it becomes apparent that Ted has a means of saving himself from the destruction of the Earth, but Hendrik and his family are fated for the doom so many humans will face.  While the story comes to a satisfying conclusion, it also raises questions, not of ethics, but rather more practical considerations, which might be interesting for Bartell to explore in a sequel.

Michael Shara
& Jack McDevitt previously wrote about Kristi Lang and Greg Cooper in “Lighthouse” (Analog, April 2006, or McDevitt’s collection Outbound) and now revisit the characters in “Cool Neighbor,” although any knowledge of the earlier story is completely unnecessary for enjoyment of the new tale.  The story starts with a burst of hard radiation that threatens everyone in space, including a group of tourists being shuttled between Clarke and the Weber gravity wave observatory.  While this may have been the focus of many stories, Shara and McDevitt use it as a jumping off point for a completely different story, and a completely different scientific mystery.  Their characters are highly likable and competent and treat the mystery presented to them, which centers on Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930, as the most important thing in the universe.  Given the characters’ backgrounds and relationships, the reader has no trouble accepting the importance of their work.  While the story does end rather suddenly, the authors do not end the story before they have reached a satisfying conclusion.

“The Small Pond” is the third story to deal with the Black Hole Project (following “Kremer’s Limit,” Analog, July-August 2006, and “Imperfect Gods,” Analog, December 2006).  As with many story series, these could easily be patched together to form what the late A.E. van Vogt termed a “fix-up.” In “The Small Pond,” C. Sanford Lowe and G. David Nordley tell the story of Liz Avonford, beginning with her unauthorized landing on a newly discovered kuiperoid to her being placed in charge of a major part of the Black Hole Project.  Along the way, the authors show Avonford’s dealings with bureaucracy, her voyage to the planet Campbell (a.k.a. Lacaille 9352), and her experiences once she arrives.

The authors are also attempting to do too much in the space they have allowed themselves.  Their story comes across with the feeling of an outline for a longer and more detailed work.  While the story flows naturally, in many cases the situations play out more quickly and with fewer complications than might be expected.  Characters’ reactions and actions seem to be a little too sudden, as if they were placeholders for an expansion that might come with a novelization of the story.

The ideas in “The Small Pond,” however, are interesting, as well as the penultimate conflict when the possibility of life is discovered on a doomed planet.  As with many of the situations the authors set up, this one is given short shrift as the authors appear overeager to leave the moral and philosophical discussion behind in their dash to the inexorable denouement.  Deeper investigation into the debates and concerns of the characters throughout would have strengthened the whole, and it is hoped such will be done when and if the novella is turned into a novel, a length which could easily support what happens in “The Small Pond.”