Following Stanley Schmidt’s editorial in which he muses on children’s play and the role of pretend gun play, the fiction gets under way with the venerable Jack Williamson’s The Ultimate Earth. Williamson covers a lot of ground in this tale, from the perspective of a youngster who is one of several young people cloned from long-dead lunar settlers. The earth has eventually recovered from an asteroid impact that all but wiped out life, and the terraformed Earth offers no home to the historical remnants of the old earth. The youngsters however manage to find their way to Earth, into an unsettling theme park which has the feel of late 20th century Disneyland. And Nanorobots have enabled those on Earth to achieve virtual immortality, and the young moon dwellers are seen as a threat. And then a galaxy-threatening plague comes along, and there is this long-estranged brother who has been feared dead, and, and, well all is finally resolved. Phew!
The story actually reads quite like a juvenile SF, particularly as it is written from the perspective of a teenager, and also due to the way that potentially enormous plot elements are covered quite briefly.
A somewhat more measured approach comes with Brian Stableford’s Snowball in Hell, which explores a number of complex moral issues surrounding the new and frightening challenges and opportunities that genetic modification now poses. The British police raid an establishment in the countryside, where they suspect some very illegal experiments have been taking place. One of the experts brought into the team comes face to face with an example of that experimentation, a girl born from a mix of pig genes and human genes. Is she human? Pig? Chimera? She passes as a very mature and moral human, but what would her DNA have her classified as? And what of the actions and morals of those doing the experiments? And of the police, some of whom are pursuing the fleeing experimental subjects with utmost prejudice? Stableford asks a lot of questions, and explores the moral dilemmas, partly through extended conversations and interrogations (this is Analog, after all).
Jerry Oltion’s It’s the Thought That Counts, is a *very* lightweight piece of whimsy piece of festive frivolity around a human/alien Christmas. The only thing I can say about this is that the illustration for the story is absolutely awful.
The Missing Mass by Larry Niven, follows. Set in the author’s Draco Tavern (picture the Star Wars I canteen scene and there you have it), the story slightly grates, to my mind, in that the descriptions of Toshiba laptops, websites, discussion groups, Macintoshes, and telephone jacks are all very resonant of late 20thC. It feels a little like a middle-age Uncle trying hard (and failing) to show how trendy and up to date he is (or is Niven being ironic?) The story itself revolves around some hard sf theory about missing matter, and the nature of technology transfer. There is a lot of science talked back and forth, as is the case with this kind of story, which probably makes this a story you will either enjoy hugely, or else fail to engage with it. The latter, in my case.
Christopher L. Bennett’s story Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele has a slightly unwieldy title, but at least you won’t be surprised that it is a story about AIs and robots. Native life on a planet is threatened by cybernetic creations, with a battle of wills between one woman who is determined to support the AI creations, and others who fear for the planet’s entire biosphere.
Stephen L. Burns’ Eden Tag is a nicely worked story set on the moon, with a religious sect settlement offering a peacable existence for the part-time lawman. But the relatively cosy lifestyle is challenged when political extremists with a mysoginistic views and violent tendencies upset the applecart. The constable, a rebel teenager, and a large ancillary worker who is probably more than she seems, have to face up to the villains to save the colony. The story has neat touches of humour and is well structured. Probably the most enjoyable read of the issue.
You might like to read Michael Swanwick’s take on three of the above stories, in his review in the excellent LocusMag.