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Analog, March 2001
Analog, March 2001
The pages of Astounding/Analog have been home to many of science fiction's foremost writers and stories. Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Spider Robinson, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Michael F. Flynn are just a few of the prominent names which have often appeared there. Their stories have also won many Hugo and Nebula Awards, and such classics as Frank Herbert's Dune and Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight first appeared in Analog.

Analog Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Marc Goldstein

The issue opens with Bud Sparhawk's "Magic's Price." Young Jacob's fascination with the ancient derelict machines strewn about his village makes him an outcast. He dreams of one day meeting a magician, one of the secret sect who can work the magic to restore the old machines to life. His dream grows within reach when a group of three magicians march into town and take up residence at his parent's farm. I'm giving nothing away by saying that the magicians, of course, turn out to be little more than simple repairmen. The rest of humanity appear to be colonists who, isolated from advanced civilization for generations, have lost their understanding of science and technology. Rather than showing gratitude toward the magicians, however, the villagers regard them with suspicion and fear.

This premise, a fallen civilization maintained by a select few who remember the old ways, has been thoroughly strip-mined in SF and Sparhawk's tale doesn't really offer anything new. The characters are likable, if not especially complex, and the clumsy, tender courtship between Jacob and a female magician provide the tale's greatest moments of humour and pleasure. The villagers' fear and resentment of the magicians eventually manifests itself in violence. As the mob chases down the magicians, magic's price becomes evident. These scenes generate genuine suspense, and could have taken the tale into the realm of parable, but Sparhawk has his own agenda: setting a world for the further episodic adventures of Jacob the apprentice magician.

The narrative of Brian Stableford's "The Milk of Human Kindness" follows an argument between a mother and father over whether to feed their infant a new genetically modified milk product. The mother argues for the product, a derivative of rabbit milk engineered with hormones designed to help children control their emotions and make them docile. The father takes the conservative position, observing that the long-term side effects of the new product are unknown. It's a sobering meditation on the conflict between advancing technology and human interests. The recent outbreaks of "mad cow" and hoof-and-mouth disease in Europe underline the tale's darker implications.

J. Brian Clarke's "Wet" describes a covert invasion by aliens, named Menopians, who closely resemble humans. The only thing that seems to distinguish Menopians is their need for moisture. Unfortunately, their stealth technology is sufficiently advanced to mask the hardware they need to manipulate the climate. It seems that the only thing that can stop them is the intervention of another alien race. If the Menopians are capable of secretly immigrating to Earth, perhaps another race has already beat them to it?

In Pauline Ashwell's "Out of the Fire," volcano expert Simon Hardacre is abducted by a time-travelling recruiter to help colonists in the far future settle on volcanically active planets. He dithers and attempts an ill-advised escape.

David Phalen's "One for the Road" opens with a barfly named Mike trying to pick up a middle-aged woman. She turns out to be God. Their conversation ruminates on the nature of time and fate. Phalen presents an intriguing vision of time in which the smallest of personal decisions splits off an infinite number of realities. The discussion energizes Mike to change his life for the better. Mike's unconventional first-person narration humorously replays the incident from hindsight, revealing the depths of his transformation and creating a memorable character.

The issues closes out with "Creative Destruction," an absorbing pot-boiler by Edward M. Lerner and my favourite story of the lot. Justin Matthews works as a xenotechnomist (an expert in the analysis of the impact of alien technology on the human commerce market) for mega-corporation Interplanetary Space Systems. The plot jump-starts when he discovers that Alicia Briggs, a college buddy who specialized in computer hacking, has died under suspicious circumstances. Things get more complicated when he finds that she has named him the executor of her estate. As he sorts through her business records, he is drawn into a conspiracy so scandalous that the conspirators killed Alicia to cover their tracks. Justin vows revenge, and calls upon all his resources and contacts to unravel the threads of deceit. Lerner's well-conceived setting seamlessly lays the ground rules, from which the conspiracy dovetails as an inevitable outcome. A gripping mystery-thriller, "Creative Destruction" also serves as a dire warning about the consequences of corporate corruption.

Copyright © 2001 Marc Goldstein

Marc is the SF Site Games Editor and the principal contributor to the SF Site's Role Playing Department. Marc lives in Santa Ana, California with his wife, Sabrina and cat, Onion.

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