Thursday, August 24, 2017

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, July-August 2017

A pretty good issue in which most of the stories were enjoyable. However, there were some less-good ones, too.

Not Far Enough • novella by Martin L. Shoemaker

The second expedition to Mars arrives. As there were some problems with the first one, the current mission is controlled in part by artificial intelligence. It turns out to be extremely badly designed and is partially responsible for a catastrophe that almost destroys the party. There are deaths and one member of the expedition loses a leg. (I wonder why—the severed leg is described in detail and it seems to be perfectly fine.) The psychological profiling of the expedition is apparently of the same "high" quality as the AI design and causes some problems. A fairly good "survival" story. Andy Weir did survival on Mars so much better, though. ***
The Fool's Stone • short story by Aubry Kae Andersen
A magician/alchemist finds a stone that can actually transmute metals. Unfortunately it turns gold into lead and not other way around. It also apparently makes people very sick. A caliph who murdered the previous caliph believes the alchemist has valuable secrets and isn’t telling everything he knows. It's a very good story that happens in an eastern setting. The “MacGuffin” of the story is an intriguing substance that is clearly radioactive, but otherwise doesn't really seem to obey the laws of nature. ****-
The First Rule Is, You Don't Eat Your Friends • short story by Robert R. Chase
A monastery raises pigs and the abbot has noticed they are really intelligent. Should they be used as meat? Or should their capabilities be enhanced? A scientist also seek asylum at the monastery. Not bad, but not much backstory and then the story just ends. ***-
Alouette, Gentille Alouette • short story by Andrew Barton
An ancient satellite with historical value is being rescued from orbit. It has parts that don't fit into the docking bay—should they be broken? A very short story—more of a scene than a real story. It was perfectly nice, though. ***
Fat Bubble • short story by Thomas A. Easton [as by Tom Easton]
An overweight couple invests heavily into gut bacteria that make you thinner. A very short, but fairly good, story—and it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. ***
Perspective • short story by Kyle Kirkland
A retired expert of direct brain stimulation is enlisted to examine the president. He has misused brain stimulation in his youth and there is a chance of brain damage. A pretty good story with unlikely, but certainly possible, type of brain injury. ***+
For All Mankind • novelette by C. Stuart Hardwick
A joint mission of Americans and Russians is sent to intercept an asteroid that will hit Earth in a few decades. To deflect it, the asteroid must be reached as soon as possible. A joint mission of two women (they weigh less than men and consume less food and oxygen) is sent to the asteroid. Their payload is enough bombs to slightly shift the asteroid's trajectory. And the mission is one-way only—there will be no return or rescue. An excellent and moving story. ****+
Clarity of Signal • short story by Holly Schofield
A woman studies alien animals on an interstellar mission. She is convinced they are intelligent and intends to prove it at all costs. A fairly short story with a main protagonist who somehow manages to be very irritating. ***-
Belly Up • novelette by Maggie Clark
A story I didn’t really get at all. The backstory is pretty scant: there is apparently some sort of racing, space ships, a war going on, and there is some sort of revenge. The plot felt pretty confusing and I found the language hard to read and understand. Didn’t like it at all. **-
Pitch • short story by Bruce McAllister and Patrick Smith
A plot proposal for a movie in the future with some prophetic undertones. Short and OK—probably contained references to something I didn’t get. **½
Phuquiang: A History • short story by Uncle River
A sort of folk tale of a post-apocalyptic future (or a feral colony planet). Cousins discover some sort of hot vents that can be useful and which turn out to be important. A pretty short story, but not bad.***-
Blinking Noon and Midnight • short story by Tim McDaniel
User interfaces tend to be hard to use, especially for elderly people. It always has been so, and it probably will always be so. A pretty fun story about an old man in a future “smart house” with a confusing UI. ***
Teamwork • short story by Eve Warren
The kids who live in a Martian colony have fun in dangerous ways. A very short story, but not a bad one. ***
Often and Silently We Come • short story by Ron Collins
Aliens with truly different physiology examine samples of beings with a more ordinary physiology. As they don’t really understand what they are doing, they first make some grave errors. Not bad, but a bit short. ***+
Galleon • novelette by Brian Trent
A space ship with a very powerful AI takes an active interest in its occupants. It has some very advanced and sometimes unpleasant ways to influence its occupants. It turns out that all other ships like it have been decommissioned. A very good, well-written, and fresh story, where the main character (the AI) is very well drawn with sufficiently “alien” thought patterns. ****-
Across the Steaming Sea • novelette by Rob Chilson
I have loathed the previous installments in this series. The characters have extremely irritating speech patterns that make them seem like brain-damaged half-wits. Did not read. Not rated.

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