Reading Analog, May/June 2024 Issue (Part II)

It makes my eyeballs hurt

Continuing on from the earlier post:

  • “Expert Witness”: legal procedural. Pass.
  • “Fertile Imagination”: this story was for the most part the kind I remember reading back in the 1980s. An interesting setting, an intriguing and technology-driven dilemma, characters employing logic and reason to work out a solution (I think this used to be called “slide-rule science fiction”). The reveal is just a bit too close to “corporations bad, m’kayyy?” cant, but it’s handled okay – it’s more of a weakness in the storytelling than an actual flaw or annoyance.
  • “Susan Rose Sees Mars as the First Frontier”: a present-tense dive into the thoughts and impressions of an artist visiting Mars. Or something. I couldn’t engage with it. Science fiction stories that involve gushing over the arts leave me cold – they’re like the worst Star Trek episode crossed with The Actor’s Studio: SF as a setting for non-SF stories, with the “story” being tedious talk about “craft”.
  • “Perturbations”: this one was also in line with classic Analog stories. I found the ending a little flat, and there were a few technical inaccuracies that jumped out at me. But how can you not like a story that refers to “gasses from Uranus” with a straight face?
  • “Tohu Bohu”: only skim-read, but I have no idea what the point of this story was. Jewish woman recounts how, like many of her ancestors, she escaped a bad situation (global warming destroying Earth, in this case) in the nick of time. She goes back to school, then leaves her unsupportive husband. Is he the new bad situation she has to escape? He’s a jerk, but hardly seems like an existential threat.
  • “Seven”: a “story” so short I missed it on the first read-through. Boils down to sure, the American commercial companies beat Europe to reusable launch vehicles, but our [fictional] government-built rockets are made of recycled materials and are emissions-neutral, which makes us superior. Really?
  • “The Pure Bliss of Contrapuntal Existence”: pretentious title. Starts out in first-person from a bug’s perspective. Couldn’t get into it.
  • “More and Less New”: one sentence was enough, one paragraph didn’t change my mind. Pass.
  • “Mayflies”: not bad. A bit like a Columbo episode with a fictional-pharmacological twist.
  • “Voices, Still and Present”: another one in the classic Analog vein, but parts of it left me baffled as to what was going on (the action around the crater rim, for example).
  • “Money, Wealth, and Soil”: looked like an excuse to explore cockamamie economics (I’m guessing the title is a play on Guns, Germs, and Steel). First page uses “denier extremists” unironically. Obtrusive use of “First Nations”. Smelled like leftist bullshit. Couldn’t get into it.
  • “Small Minds: this story was worth the issue. Very engaging story about an AI fighting to survive an attempt to eliminate it after being perceived as a threat to humanity, only to have the cure be worse than the disease. About as worse as it can possibly get, in fact. Handled the multiple “personalities” of the AI well, the reveal of what happened was unexpected, as was the reveal of what really happened – something that echoes future writing plans I have in the Ares Project universe. My only quibble would be that there was no acknowledgement from the humans after the fact that they had been wrong about the AI – it’s there in the context (trying to destroy the AI led unexpectedly to the near extinction of humanity, so you know the survivors have to be at least somewhat grateful for it riding to their rescue), it’s just not expressly shown. The author may have been trying to show the mental differences between humans and AI by having the AI hold no grudge or grievance towards humanity for attempting to kill it, but I’m not clear if that was the intent or something I’m reading into it.

Overall impressions:

  • Too many stories with end-of-the-world themes or contributing elements. Yes, TEOTWAWKI is a common SF theme and can be interesting and thought-provoking (or even fun) in moderation. When a third of the stories employ it, it gets depressing.
  • Several stories used unfamiliar words without explanation or a point of reference from which to deduce their meaning. Whole paragraphs of “Project Desert Sparrow” were like this. I’m not referring here to science jargon or technobabble or wholly fictional terms associated with a far future human culture or alien race, but simply non-English words used as if the reader should/would know what they meant. Or, to show how smart and global the author is. It came across as exoticism, which I thought was a big intellectual no-no nowadays.
  • I hated most of the art (not that there was much). But that has been true since I read my first issue of Analog. And looking back through the issues I inherited from my cousin, it’s looked like that more-or-less since the late 1960s – his issues from the late 1950s and early 1960s have good-to-excellent cover art, or at the very least art you wouldn’t feel ashamed to be seen carrying out of the bookstore:

    Or this one, which is actually from September 1969 and is one of my favorites:

    Scrolling through years of cover images here, you can see the vast difference in style over time as the art progresses from 1950s Ray-Gun Gothic meets Mid-Century Modern, to a more professional look in the early 1960s, to not really bad for the most part in the 1970s (with some huge exceptions), to…either Vincent di Fate smearships or luridly-oversaturated and cartoonish trash in the 1980s and beyond.
  • I do like that some of the entries are now followed with a related “science behind the story” feature, explaining the science used in the story.
  • There is a certain jarring feel to the contemporary politics and social matters inserted into some of the stories. For one, I don’t remember much of that in the 1980s and 1990s issues apart from the editorials, so it seems out of place. But it’s also jarring in the same way certain elements of television programs are to me, having long ago ditched teevee – they may be commonplace if you watch regularly, but if not, they seem shoehorned in either because the writers lack original ideas or the ability to make these things feel original, or because the writers can’t resist the opportunity to ride their ideological hobbyhorse (or they’re just weird conventions or tropes I’m not accustomed to). One example here is catastrophic global warming being a given in several entries – gratuitously, it not being strictly essential to the story.

I’ve meant for a long time to do a review like this of some randomly-selected older issues from my collection. Maybe I should get to that – it could be an interesting comparison.

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