A private investigator is hired by a concerned father to check up on his daughter – an academic who has suddenly eschewed her scientific background for best-seller popular science. The PI is intrigued, as her first book, about alien abduction, is clearly an academic treatise, whereas the second one is very much ‘out there’ in looking at ancient manuscript cryptology. Not being an expert, the PI isn’t stymied for long, however, as fortunately one of his contacts is an expert in steganography (look it up), and he is able to explain to him, and to the reader, at quite some length, details of just how messages can be hidden in texts. All having been explained, there is a rapid denouement.
Donald Moffitt. The Beethoven Project.
In the cut-throat music business, with time travel at their disposal, historical figures are fair game, and when one company gets the inside track on Beethoven, and plan to fix his hearing, and get him to compose a Tenth Symphony, they look to be onto a winner. However, returning from the trip (we do get to meet Ludvig), the junior music employee has to explain just what went wrong. Call me old fashioned, but I do prefer a story to actually show what goes wrong, rather than having someone summarise it.
Craig DeLancey. Amor Vincit Omnia.
A quick whizz through what could feasibly have filled a novel. A successful young businessman finds out that his childhood in an orphanage was much more influential in turning the boy into the man, as he is threatened by someone who believes he and his fellow orphans to have been genetically modified to be killing machines. However, the ‘ghost’ of the orphanage founder turns up to reveal the truth – they were all genetically modified instead to care about the future. The bad guy is disposed of.
Stephen L. Burns. Righteous Bite.
A short piece in which two heroic American soldiers are able to sneakily infiltrate deep behind enemy lines to take out a terrorist, an anti-American who has become addicted to dealing out death (hmm, physician heal thyself!). But there’s a twist in the tail, with regard to the nature of the soldiers! There are some clues in the story, but also some big misdirections (the soldiers look forward to steak and chips on their return, which I wouldn’t have put down as canine fodder, and are adept at using a taser, and at one point one soldier pulls back the other by his shoulders, which isn’t really a four-legged kind of action?) I’d have thought with Bradley Denton’s ‘Sergeant Chip’ having gained plaudits a few years back for a K-9 story, you would want to make sure a story in a similar vein had a lot going for it, for fear of being seen as a pale shadow.
William Gleason. Into that Good Night.
Read over a half pint of Adnams Broadside in a historic Woodstock pub, which is how all stories should be read. On a very high-gravity planet, the shit hits the fan very early on in the story. Fortunately, Harry was pretty much inside the heavy mechanized suit used to work in such conditions, and so is able to head off to the reactor before it goes totally kaboom. (We follow him suiting up, struggling to remember a mnemonic to get through the process, which is the kind of silliness I recall reading in Asimovs early short stories). He is aided by Bob Roberts, a scientist held in scorn by all and sundry, but when Harry gets to the reactor Bob has done a very noble thing, sacrificing himself to save everyone else. The impact is slightly lessened by the readrt not having been given the opportunity to get to know Roberts before he does the noble deed, or to witness the character faults for which he was so roundly condemned early.
Jerry Oltion. The Anthropic Precipice.
Upon arriving at the hotel at which a scientific conference is to take place, a young scientist is warned off making his presentation – by an alien! It transpires that by ‘measuring the dark energy density at the moment of quantum disentanglement’ he may be about to define a very important property of the universe. And the aliens don’t want him to do it.
Fortunately, they are fairly easy going aliens, and at first do no more than turn off the lights during his presentation. However, fearful that this has not been enough to stop him, he and some colleagues are tractor beamed in a cab into the alien UFO in order to be persuaded to the aliens viewpoints.
Joe Haldeman. Marsbound.
As is mostly the case, nothing to trouble the award panels, or the Year’s Best anthologists. Mind you, whizz it back in time to the 1930s, and some of the stories might be in with a chance!