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Analog Science Fiction and Fact, May 1999

Analog, May 1999
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.

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A review by A.L. Sirois

Analog has gotten so self-consciously venerable that it has taken to reminding us of the fact. On the colophon page, in a box with the names of the publisher and advertising representative (vital information for SF readers, to be sure), are two separate reminders: "Published since 1930," says the first one above the names, and "First issue of Astounding January 1930," below them. Okay, okay, we know that. Thanks for reminding us. Amazing is still older, if not continually published, but I'm willing to be impressed by Analog's longevity anyway.

There's a reason it's been around so long: quality. Not necessarily overall quality, but a high enough level that we're willing to skim over some of the rough places in order to get to the good stuff. And if any one issue of Analog doesn't pack the solid punch we might like, well, any two or three issues do.

The cover story in this issue is Catherine Asaro's "The Quantum Rose," here represented as the first of three installments. It's a far-future story, of the type where people have names like Gallium Sunsmith and Lyode (short for light emitting diode), don't remember what these names refer to and couldn't tell you what Earth was to save their lives. Kamoj Quanta Argali is a provincial governor on a distant world, reluctantly preparing to enter an arranged marriage. All of a sudden a mysterious new suitor appears, offering a price for her that the province's coffers can't match -- nor can her originally intended husband. So Kamoj finds herself married to someone who, the reader realizes soon enough, is a representative of a space-faring culture that has apparently re-discovered Kamoj's planet.

There's nothing new in the tale (at least, not in this installment), but it is well told and the characters are appealing. There's not much hard science involved, but Analog never felt the need to dish up the tech stuff in each and every story. "The Quantum Rose" has whiffs of Poul Anderson about it, which ought to please most people.

Next is a science fact article by Stephen Gillett about the putative 10th planet. There are, he concludes, not one but many: untold hundreds of thousands, perhaps, planetesimals out beyond Pluto, comprising if you will a second asteroid belt that might be exploited by future mining operations. Very interesting.

Following this is a forgettable tale titled "Smoking Gun" by Mark Rich, which doesn't really rise above the level of a workshop story for my money. Still, it has some nice action. After this is a Probability Zero tale titled "Wrong Answers" by Shane Tourtellotte that I also found inconsequential, something about talking gorillas. Well, signing gorillas, anyway. I may be dense, but I didn't get the joke.

Then comes another short science opinion piece, an informative article about Hubble's Constant, by John G. Cramer.

After this is the issue's centrepiece, as far as I am concerned: an effective, scary little story by Bill Johnson, with the clunky title "The Vaults of Permian Love." It's the first believable scenario I've ever seen detailing what a third human sex might be like. If this one doesn't cop some Nebula recommendations I'd be very surprised. It's exactly the sort of tight, nifty little story that you'd expect to see in Analog, and I think John W. Campbell would have been happy to see it arrive in the mail.

He would also have been happy with editor emeritus Ben Bova's novelette, "Red Sky at Morning," a tale set on Mars in the middle of the next century. Two members of the second expedition, which has been financed for the most part privately, head out to retrieve the Mars Sojourner vehicle. They find themselves cut off from their base by a sudden dust storm. Meanwhile, the dust storm envelopes the base itself with unpredictable results.

Bova knows how to write this sort of thing with his eyes closed. Again, there's nothing new here, but Bova writes so solidly that I was through this tale almost before I realized it. It's part of a forthcoming novel, Return to Mars, and definitely has that taken-somewhat-out-of-context feel to it; for one thing, the story really sort of stops rather than ending, but that's okay -- I don't think many people will mind, given the quality of the writing. Bova keeps things moving right along with never a dull moment.

In a way, this particular piece is emblematic of what readers have come to expect from Analog over the years: reliable, solid fiction with few demands made on the reader.

The issue rounds out with Tom Easton's review column and Brass Tacks, the letter column.

So. We have at least one excellent story, the Johnson piece; good science articles; a good offering from Ben Bova; the Asaro installment, and lesser efforts from Tourtellotte and Rich.

The one area in which this incarnation of Analog falls short is art. Gone are the days of Schoenerr and Freas, gone are the spacescapes of Rick Sternbach. None of the artists on display in this issue makes much of a contribution to the overall proceedings. I don't know, maybe Dell isn't laying out the coin for decent artwork these days. Or maybe Victoria Green, titular Art Director, is hiring her friends. Her cover painting is stiff and unconvincing, and none of the interior work is any better, really.

Copyright © 1999 by A.L. Sirois

A.L. Sirois walks the walk, too. He's a longtime member of SFWA and currently serves the organization as webmaster for the SFWA BULLETIN. His personal site is at

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