ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT Vol. CXXXI #s 3 and 4 (March/April 2021) Edited by Trevor Quachri


Another overall impressive issue from Analog, which is nicely becoming more diverse and balanced in their offerings. I wouldn’t say they have lost the core mission of the hard SF that they tend to go for, but they have broadened the representation of authors and interpretations of what that means beyond what had in past become a somewhat cliched standard. A wider range of readers will find things to enjoy in issues these days.

“Invasive Species” by Catherine Wells — The wife of a man goes missing on an alien world where humans are kept in a small enclave by the native intelligent population to limit human damage to the ecosystem (and also supposedly for human safety.) When the missing wife cannot be found anywhere, the man seeks permission to go search beyond the enclave’s walls, and takes in a native nanny to watch his newborn while off looking. The ideas in the story are wonderful, and it’s entertaining. However, by its end I was left wondering about the alien actions and I can’t help but think a lot of action/lack of communication occurred simply so the story could happen.

“Flash Mob” by Meg Pontecorvo — Too much science fiction spends efforts being speculative or focusing on technology. I adore a nice story simply focusing on doing science. In this one, a researcher tries to balance single parenthood with the demands of academic research. Her research into squid behaviors allows an opportunity to observe a rare, inexplicable mass of Japanese squid gathering off the coast of CA. She thinks there may be something to their bioluminescent signaling. Fantastic ending for this as well.

“Tail Call Optimization” by Tony Ballantyne — AI stories aren’t inherently my favorite. However, this one manages to put a spin and unexpected twists into the story to make it very entertaining and thought provoking. An apparently malfunctioning alien AI comes into contact with a human intelligence that forces reconsideration of the situation.

“Damocles” by Sean McMullen — An alternate history story of higher technology in WWII, specifically an invention that could be a devastatingly dangerous weapon in the wrong hands. Those that like this genre of story will likely really enjoy this one. It’s written well, but didn’t really capture my interest.

“Problem Landing” by Sean Monaghan — A story of Mars, drawing inspiration from private-funded space exploration corporation like Musk’s SpaceX. As the title suggests, landing on the red planet goes awry. The existing Martian colonists try and come up with a rescue plan for any survivors among the new arrivals. A classic sort of Analog story where human ingenuity is needed to solve a technical problem. It works well as that, but I didn’t find it as compelling on the level of the characters so much. Hard SF fans should really love it though.

“The Trashpusher of Planet 4” by Brenda Kalt — Excellent story that balances seriousness and humor, the familiar and unexpected, with things alien and human. It’s told from the point-of-view of Awi Trashpusher Nonnumber, a lower caste worker on a spaceship traveling through our solar system. Though Awi sits as low-rung as one of his People can, he aspires to more. While his fellow species members give him no respect, the ship’s AI starts giving him greater tasks in secret. The protagonist may be alien in appearance, but the social and personal struggles of the tale are all very familiar to us humans.

“It’s Cold on Europa” by Filip Wiltgren — Two isolated ice miners on Europa live with artificial constructs of their spouses, which have personalities/memories updated as part of the slow communication from their real counterparts based elsewhere in the solar system. The protagonist becomes increasingly concerned that her spousal construct is acting colder and distant, but she has no indications of why. A really fantastic story that postulates new iterations of time-old communication problems in relationships. It takes the concept of ‘ghosting’ and anxiety to larger scales.

“The Acheulean Gift” by Matthew Claxton — A camp houses children born from a now defunct program that used genetic engineering to express genes of extinct humanoid species (like Denisovans and Neanderthals) in H. sapiens. It’s an interesting, and good, story that explores the biological basis of things like cooperation, tool use and problem solving, but also then of fear of the other and racism. I wish the story delved into the genetics in more detail with more believability though.

“If a Tree Doesn’t Fall” by Jerry Oltion — A hiker in Wyoming comes across a floating tree, and he investigates how the heck this could possibly be happening. Nothing much to this short story at all, but a pleasant enough diversion.

“Thh*sh*thhh” by Aimee Ogden — Another story with not much to it, but just the right amount given this is flash fiction. A human researcher (xenoanthropologist?) attends the exceedingly rare funeral for a member of an extremely long-lived (practically immortal) alien species. At this she learns the painful emotional downside to their exceptional life spans. High quality flash fiction.

“John Henry Was a Steel Driving Man” by Shane Halbach — Another classic Analog problem-solving story, set on a space station, where workers have to deal with potential disaster. Complicating matters are divisions among the poorly treated workers who want to strike, and the corporate powers above them. Sometimes the actions of fellow co-workers can make the situation worse. If not great, a decent story that preaches the virtues of hard work that one takes pride in, and attention to detail, no matter the situation.

“Recollection” by Elise Stephens — When the status and destination of many stories in Analog can be known from very early on, it’s nice to have a more slow building story included here that at first puts the reader in uncertain waters. Set in a barren dystopia, a government representative (Harvester) arrives in town to look into aid that they might need. A teenage girl there becomes intrigued by technology the woman uses that holds memory and images of the time before. An interesting look at the ethics of uneasy decisions.

“The Burning Lands” by Tom Jolly — Strange, seemingly spontaneous wildfires are breaking out and killing people. A detective and arson investigator try and solve the mystery. For methanogenesis playing such a key role in this, was very disappointed archeaea were not properly discussed in such a ‘hard’ SF venue.

“Hillman, Charles Dallas, Age: 35, No Partner, Parents: Deceased” by Ron Collins — A former finance broker on the run decides to enter into a clinical trial to go off the grid with free room and board. The brain scans they do on him have unexpected consequences for someone trying to maintain a low profile. An ironic cyberpunkish kind of story that felt as jumbled by its end as the protagonist seems to be.

“I Have Loved the Stars Too Fondly” by James Van Pelt — A very short story (flash?) where a social program provides the homeless with a new chance and home as lunar colonists. Among other possible interpretations, the tale illustrates how such programs can be mistrusted and also taken advantage of. Parallels to how different societal groups react to SARS-CoV-2 vaccination spring to mind.

“The Pond Who Sang” by Charles Hand — Many have combined the mathematical aspects of music with concepts of neural networks (biological or other), such as Hofstadter. Here, Hand puts such musings into a very inventive short SF. I’m not sure this works as is without further development, beyond being intriguing and a speculative ‘mood’ piece.

“Second Hand Destinies” by Marie Vibbert — SF with symbiotic creatures helping animate a humanoid body aren’t new, but Vibbert does interesting things with the concept in this story (more parasitic perhaps) of a small family eking out survival on a dilapidated space station. Vividly written and great characters.

“The Shadow of His Wings” by Ray Nayler — Transfer of consciousness into animals (that still allows total control) forms the speculative crux of this story that explores issues of obligation and power. Strange, but written in a way that makes it seem completely ordinary.

Includes science fact article “From Atmospheric Rivers to Super Typhoons: The Future Looks Bright for Weather Disaster Fans” by Christina De La Rocha and poems “Mostly Hydrogen” by Jack Martin and “First Scientist (?-?) by Jessy Randall. With guest editorial “Better Than Being Fossilized!” by Ian Watson, The Alternative View by John G. Cramer and Guest Alternative View by John J. Vester. Reference Library by Don Sakers and Upcoming Events by Anthony Lewis.


ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION & FACT Vol. CXXXI #s 1 and 2 (January/February 2021) Edited by Trevor Quachri


The first issue of the year features a number of strong stories, but also some (particularly among the shortest) that seem less complete or impactful. Though still dominated by ‘hard science fiction’ that favors technology and speculative details, a surprising number of the stories here put the speculative element to the back to focus on character relationships or other non-technical themes. I’m fine with that trend, and certainly with the balance that it brings to this issue.

“Mixed Marriage” by Dan Helms — Soon Jae-won, the only son in a Korean family, awakens within their small allotment of living space to an important day ahead when he will meet his future wife. The story is set in a future where human population levels have resulted in adoption of ‘time share’, where families are designated just one day a week for going about activity, while sleeping the other six in cramped, shared quarters. Jae-won is a Friday, but the woman he is to marry is a Sunday, and generations kept separate has given rise to class and cultural differences that his family worries might interfere with a successful marriage. Interesting premise and story here from a clash of a conservative, traditional mindset with one more relaxed and open. I liked the ending and its take on how people can get comfortable in anything, and fear the work or discomfort that might arise from changing even something repressive. I don’t know why Helms chose Korea as the setting, and am not familiar enough with Korean culture enough to know the accuracy in portrayal here. Looking at other’s reviews of the story I’m concerned that so many of those seem to conflate Asian nations and cultures.

“A Shot in the Dark” by Deborah L. Davitt — On Uranus’ moon Titania, Dominic Vadas works for a UN space agency alone at the farthest station from Earth, happy to live a hermit away from human contact, and keeping interactions with his AI to a minimum. A new message from Earth with orders for Vadas to leave the autonomous robots going there and pack his bag to intercept and check out an extrasolar object that has arrived in our system. Along with the increased news from Earth arrives a letter from a daughter Vadas hadn’t realized he had. Fantastic story with natural dialogue, lots of technical details, and a strong human element with character development to boot.

“The Liberator” by Nick Wolven — A man infiltrates a criminal group that supports human reproduction without genetic modifications. Though the story is written well and engagingly as a thriller, the central theme here seems well-trodden and I didn’t feel the story added much perspective on what human modification should or should not entail, or the nature of how ‘defective’ could be defined.

“The Nocturnal Preoccupations of Moths” by J. Northcutt, Jr. — One of two stories in a row in the issue featuring a Martian colony. Here, the setting centers on botanists who are working hard to maintain seed banks amid the failing colony mission. The story is followed by a note of its historical influence from actions of botanists during the siege (of Leningrad if my memory serves) during WWII. The scientists actions and discussions are interspersed with passages on the behaviors of moth in the habitat. For me it was a beautiful, melancholy story of nature and human behavior during times of short supply.

“Belle Lettres Ad Astra” by Norman Spinrad — Written for a special volume themed around the state of reading in the future, this tale involves “Elon Tesla”, interstellar expansion of humanity through hibernation, and the possible discovery of a Dyson Sphere. I’m not a fan of Spinrad’s columns usually, and this story felt just as ambling and uninteresting.

“By the Will of the Gods” by Charles Q. Choi — A young man who has been raised an orphan in a temple found on a space route looks into the death of the temple’s caretaker, the one man there who showed love for the boy and helped mentor him. A nice mixture of SF, mystery, and class commentary.

“My Hypothetical Friend” by Harry Turtledove — Dave Markarian has built Interstellar Master Traders by profiting from his carefully established business relationship with the enigmatic Brot, a slug-like alien race that arrives on Earth with advanced technology well beyond humanities capabilities or even comprehension. He learns that the Brot representative that he has worked with for decades – perhaps even developed a friendship with – is leaving. Markarian’s symbolic gift for the departing Brot shows a deeper perception of the human-Brot relatioship than he may realize. Alien contact (arrival on Earth) stories stereotypically go the way of conqueror or altruistic saviors, but as he excels at, Turtledove looks to history to speculate more realistic and imaginable interactions (business and personal) between trading partners with such differences in development between them.

“Photometric Evidence of the Gravitational Lensing of SAO23820 By a Nonluminous Low-Mass Stellar Object” by Jay Werkheiser — A physicist relates being ostracized into an academic pariah after relentlessly pursuing publication of data he feels indicates the presence of a black dwarf star. Others refuse to accept this as it runs counter to the Standard Theory. Maybe physics is more black/white than bio, but I would think a bit of data might be consistent or inconsistent with something without leading a grand theory being so threatened. Other explanations seem to always exist. And this, I guess, takes place in the days before preprint servers? Story does say something about dogma in science that is worth saying, I just am not sure it did so in the best way.

“Conference of the Birds” by Benjamin C. Kinney — Only after reading the author biography after this story, did it completely click with me. This is a story that merges artificial intelligence concepts with neurobiological intelligence concepts, a tale of drones acting out the will of a central hub, of individual actions within a larger societal organism. This one is dense, with a unique voice for its major character. For my tastes in fiction I’d say I like the concept more than the execution. But I get why some readers would find this a fascinating and rewarding read. Scientists or laypersons with an interest in neurobiology or AI should definitely give this a look.

“Interstellar Pantomime” by Martin Dimkovski — A probe from Earth responds to an object trailing it as programmed, but unbeknownst to the probe’s designers, this alien object can use its observations of the probe to extrapolate its origin. A simple, fair speculative idea. But, I’m not a fan of this kind of minimalist story around a hard SF concept, even if short.

“Matter and Time Conspire” by Sandy Parsons — Flash fiction like the previous story, this one dealing with multiple ‘me’ characters due to the messing with time. An enjoyable enough read, but nothing special or particularly new to it.

“The Tale of Anise and Basil” by Daniel James Peterson — This brief story features a human prisoner forced to be royal storyteller in an alien court. The alien ruler demands a story that conforms to rules of leaving no details unexplained or left to the imagination or face death. Considering the demand and its traps, the human storyteller finds a way to oblige. A commentary on unreasonable reader/reviewer demands for authors? Reads like a fable, but with the technical/philosophic arguments that perhaps make it fitting for Analog.

“The Practitioner” by Em Liu — Medical students in 2093 observe events through time from past eras as part of their Medical Ethics course. One student has difficulties coming to terms with what she observes in the mid-1960s at an underground (illegal) abortion clinic. The politics of the story stay relatively muted despite the subject matter by focusing mainly on the student’s emotions and her rationale for being involved in medicine. I liked it, and the story focuses less on the technology than I would have expected from the Analog venue, but that’s fine with me.

“What Were You Thinking?” by Jerry Oltion — What is consciousness? What is intelligent behavior compared to simple programmed responses. A boy observing his girlfriend’s cat vomiting up hairballs designs an animal behavior experiment to address this question. I adored this story, and will probably feature it in my Biology in Fiction course where the debate over consciousness comes up quite a bit.

“Changing Eyes” by Douglas P. Marx — The second story featuring Martian colonies, here with people descended from Sherpas, where a man who helped terraform the planet returns to help solve a technical problem/disaster, having left some time ago after his wife and daughter perished. The science behind the story (involving energy generation) was inconsequential to me, though may interest some. But, I did enjoy the theme of returning to a belovedly important place that also holds painful memories.

“A Working Dog” by anne m. gibson — The second story in the issue featuring animal behavior and this one is humorous, clever, and charming. A woman who has invented lawncare robots made to appear like rabbits becomes concerned when she realizes they provoke canine hunting instincts, so she searches for a solution. Aside from the topic the story perfectly illustrates scientific problem-solving and carefully considering assumptions of what the problem is.

“So You Want to Be a Guardian Angel” by Michael Meyerhofer — Candidates looking to work in the protection of Earth from asteroids receive a talk about what the job would entail, especially the loneliness. Very short story – not quite flash – but nothing particularly special about it.

“Choose One” by Marie DesJardin — This strange piece of flash fiction features a dancer who has been selected by aliens as a potential ‘best of’ humanity (from all walks of life). Housed separately but with information on who remains, she watches as one-by-one other candidates ‘disappear’. Unclear what happens to those who fail to measure up, or what the aliens are actually looking for. Existential angst is what this story seemed to be for me.

“We Remembered Better” by Evan Dicken — Interesting story where two siblings are left one single memory in their estranged, abusive mother’s will. One sibling is trans, and this decision seems to have led to much of the rift between mother and children. The story raises issues of what one might choose to do with the opportunities to view memories from the point of view of others, including those who you might vehemently disagree. It also touches upon sibling support.

“The Last Compact” by Brian Rappatta — Another set on Mars. A young man and his mothers are moving, ending an AI-related museum project he was helping work on, with an AI saint now going into archive that the man wishes he could save and take with. This felt like a fragment of a story, and I cannot find it fulfilling anything significant with what it does contain.

“Riddlepigs and the Cryla” by Raymund Eich — A vet who is really excited to get to treat a dinosaur is sad to discover her patient is actually a pig who has been injured by the escaped dino from the nearby preserve on this extraterrestrial planet setting. Some interesting ideas here on the ‘value’ of organisms common versus exotic, some speculation on transplant organ production, but lacked any depth beyond.

“The Last Science Fiction Story” by Adam-Troy Castro — Flash fiction almost akin to a prose poem (although I guess that is oxymoronic?) The title is ironic, for there can never be a last one, as the story explains.

With “Constructing a Habitable Planet” science fact by Julie Novakova and poetry by Jennifer Crow (Hidden Things) and Bruce McAllister (If).