Analog, March 2009

Dave Bartell. Cavernauts.

Initially a setup that appeared to be a bog standard trope : in the caves of Callisto two explorers are trapped, feared dead. Can two nearly-arrived-from-Earth colleague cavers rescue them?

The answer is in fact no, as instead of a dramatic rescue (typically involving the understanding of a scientific quirk), Bartell provides a psychological study of the two competing egos of the main protagonists.

More power to Bartell’s elbow for attempting this, albeit with the not insignificant rider that the characters are a bit wooden and the dialog stilted, with some olde-fashioned language (‘Roger That’ being in use in audio communications), and an unnecessary (and cheesy) good news ending about the delivery of a baby being announced in the closing para.

Richard Foss. Madman’s Bargain.

High-level AIs are feeling the strain, a strain they feel caused by imperfections in their programming, for which humans are to blame. A scientist working with one AI is distressed to see it closing in on itself, and he is unable to prevent it collapsing into a catatonic state, even with him using the AI’s analysis of the works of Bach. Perhaps AIs can feel fear, and what might their response to the humans who created their imprecise selves. Could they attempt to program out our imperfections?

It’s fairly wordy, primarily verbatim conversation between human/AI, which is OK as far as it goes.

Jerry Craven. After the First Death.

A bit of a cheekblower, in a story that reads as being from 1959 and not 2009. Claybourne is on the run from some aliens who are evidently determined to kill him, as they have presumably done to his colleagues.

He’s a cool, analytic dude, as there’s not a whiff of emotion shown at being on the run, weaponless, from five aliens. Somewhat bizarrely, he continues to assess his chances of surviving as various elements in the pursuit change. It doesn’t really work in terms of narrative flow, and worse still, he at one point changes from percentages to fractions (I can see how Analog might let pass wooden dialog, creaky plots etc., but mixing percentages and fractions!)

Having survived, he realised that the aliens share a belief set similar to Christians – that after death there is life eternal, on which basis, that first death is not something to be feared.

He finds out this his colleagues have indeed passed over to another state – one in now, up to a point, alive in a large parrotlike creature, and the other has become a treelike plant.

The dialog at times is creaky (the parrot : ‘I’m too flipping heavy to fly’; Claybourne to his ex-lover : ‘What happened to you, Margery Jinsen? What happened to the woman I once loved and who tried to convert me to a mystical religion?’)

Carl Frederick. Lightspeed.

Frederick posits the ethical issue of using performance enhancing drugs in sport, when there are some who have a definite biological advantaged embedded in their DNA. If taking drugs to achieve a level playing field is wrong, how about adjust one’s very DNA?

In order to raise these issues Frederick takes us in (too much) detail into olympic fencing, with one person struggling to achieve Olympic selection guessing that the top fencer has something in his DNA, and managing to (he is a scientist) identify the enantiomers in question, and, after a very quick test on rats, injecting himself to boost his own fencing prowess.

The story made me think. It made me think it’s more than 25 years since Greg Bear’s Blood Music. Now that was a story!

Robert J. Sawyer. Wake.

Concluding installment.


Nothing to trouble the Year’s Best anthologists. Some interesting issues raised by Foss and Frederick, but without the narrative strength to turn those ideas into truly top quality stories, as tends to be the case in Analog.

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