Analog, March 2008

Catherina Asaro. The Spacetime Pool.

A plot with more than a nod to Charles Stross’ ‘Merchant Princes’ series it would appear, although a story which feels more like it should be written by a nerdy male scientist type, in its having an attractive young woman wearing a flimsy harem-type outfit escaping from peril using her mathematical skills.

Janelle is hiking in the Appalachian mountains, a couple of years on from losing her family in a terrorist attack, when a mountainous hunk of a man appears from nowhere and whisks her off to an altogether different place. We quickly find out how this jump in time and space took place, in some clunky explanatory text – rather than quantum branes, we’re talking about Riemann Sheets and she is in an alternate world with some major differences to her Earth, with her being a person of whom a prophecy has been made. Fortunately her captor had studied her version of English, which is an archaic form on his world (he in fact speaks it extremely fluently, and as the story progresses more and more people appear to have her language down to a t).

In the semi-medieval setting, it is spoken that she will be married to one of two identical twins, Princes of the Realm, and he who marries her is destined to kill his brother. Fortunately she falls into the hands of the ‘good’ prince, rather than the ‘evil’ prince, although the ‘evil’ prince at one stage captures her. Chained up in his dungeon the Prince leaves her one route of escape, doing the Evil Guy thing in explaining how she can escape. But he is confident as she needs to know the combination on the padlock – which is …. the same as the number of terminal zeroes in 4089 factorial. Bwahahaha.

But of course, the evil Prince doesn’t know that Janella is a mathematical whizz, and we follow her mental arithmetic as she works out the sum (this being a scientific mag, authors are evidently required, as in math tests, to show how the solution was reached).

Having escaped from the dungeon, Janella hides in a wagon and ends up, (hey Ms Asaro, what are the mathematical odds on this?) in the library of exactly the very man who made the prophecy about her. All is sorted in the end, with Janella happily taking on her role as wife of the Good Prince.

It fairly romps along with the odd intermission of advanced math, but for me the underlying concept behind the story promised more, with perhaps too much attention on the ‘scenes of mild peril’. The ending suggests that more may follow, so that balance may be changed in future stories.

If I may be allowed to play further the part of amateur psycho-analyst, there appears to be an intriguing subtext here for Ms Asaro, in fantasing a world in which she can hide her academic and mathematical prowess (even to the extent of violently removing her family who know this version of her) to move to a world in which she can play the petite object of lust that swoons into the manly arms of the bemuscled alpha male (but secretly maintaining her intellect).

Robert R. Chase. Not Even the Past.

A locked room murder mystery, although the low-grav setting will doubtless tip the wink to afficionados of this sub-sub genre.

John G. Hemry. The Bookstore of Bastet.

A short philosophical piece in which an Earth diplomat bemoans his lack of success in bringing peace to another planet – if only the knowledge contained within the pages of the titular bookstore could be taken on board by the warring factions.

Howard V. Hendrix. Knot Your Grandfather’s Knot.

I’ve just read Asimovs Feb 08 issue, in which Analog regular Edward M. Lerner provided a more Analog-y grandfather paradox story, and here Howard V. Hendrix provides a story more like an Asimov-y grandfather paradox. Somewhat longer, Hendrix looks back to the days of the 1939 World’s Fair, through the eyes of an ageing neo-alcoholic. A message from the past gets to him – from his future/past self, and all is explained in said letter (not the subtlest of literary devices AND ALL OF IT IN CAPS), and Mike is encouraged to tie the loops of time together and to go back to the past to replace his own grandfather. Hey, even Einstein makes an appearance!

James C. Glass. Helen’s Last Will.

Courtroom drama in which the late Helen Winslow’s last will and testament are being fought over, as her sister believes that Helen’s son has done the dirty to get his hands on his mother’s money, and doesn’t at all believe that Helen would want to have had her head frozen with the intention of being revived at such time when medicine has effected a capability to undo the work of the stroke she suffered. (Phew, that was a sentence and a half). However, there is a dramatic witness appearance, as Helen herself is able to make crystal clear, through her virtual AI substantiation, of her wishes.

Joe Haldeman. Marsbound. Part II of III.

I don’t as a rule read serialisations, but have been known to break said rule (that is what they are there for). But I won’t break the rule for this, as having read a few paragraphs it’s clearly a juvenile SF story, written for those with a reading age in the low teens, which stretches even Analog’s practice of hard science but easy fiction a bit too much.

Conclusion.

As is mostly the case, nothing to trouble the award panels, but if you’re in the Analog comfortzone, then this issue won’t move you from there.

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