Review of Wendy Nikel, “Around a World in Ninety-Six Hours”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2020): 145–151 (print) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.
Polly Wynne is on a scientific mission on Venus, while her brother, Casper Wynne, is on a similar mission millions of miles away on Mars. Fueled by a healthy dose of sibling rivalry, the two place a friendly wager: whoever can complete a full revolution around their respective planets the fastest wins a free dinner. While the first 24 hours look very promising for both parties, the excitement does not last long. A violent wind storm knocks Casper’s communications out and leaves Polly uncertain of his fate. Polly must now use every tool in her arsenal to figure out a way to help her brother.
The story was more or less a middle-of-the-road piece for me: an interesting premise (e.g. flying airship on Venus) brought down by a not so interesting execution. The author structures the plot cleverly enough to maintain a well-balanced thread of suspense throughout the story, keeping the stakes high until the very end. On the other hand, I found the prose clunky and filled with unnecessary exposition. I can’t help but think that another round of editing would have benefited this story greatly.
Lastly, I’ve never been one to nitpick the science in science fiction, but there are a few things here that might make the reader raise an eyebrow or two. For instance, why did the Mars rover have to resort to Morse code to send its distress signal? If the mic was broken, couldn’t they have send a written message? Or shouldn’t the rover have a dedicated — and separately powered — SOS system? The use of Morse code instead does not seem sufficiently justified.