REVIEW: “Five-Star Review” by Beth McMillan

Review of Beth McMillan, “Five-Star Review”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June (2021): 121–124 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

When his car breaks down, the driver of an “Uber”-like service is worried that his passenger will leave him a bad review, effectively ruining his career.

It seems to be somewhat of a theme in this issue, but this was another very short piece full of info-dumping, much of it unnecessary or awkwardly conveyed. However, the final interaction between the protagonist and his passenger was very poignant and sent the story off on a good note. This dystopia the characters live in is a bit too over-the-top (although not entirely unrealistic), nevertheless it’s nice to see these two characters find a connection in such a selfish and judgmental world.

REVIEW: “The Message” by Bond Elam

Review of Bond Elam, “The Message”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June (2021): 111–113 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

An AI is infected by an alien virus that gives it consciousness — and a strange message: be wary of the nearby humans, because they don’t always take AI sentience kindly.

Other than the excessive “infodumping” and occasional plot hole that this story suffers from, I found it to be a rather enjoyable read. There isn’t a particularly deep examination of consciousness here, but the AI’s ability to make decision contrary to its programming is an interesting twist (although, it may also be acting purely in self-preservation, which would not necessarily be the result of consciousness.) Overall, this was a flawed but nevertheless fascinating story.

REVIEW: “Dendrochromatic Data Recovery Report 45-274” by Steve Toase

Review of Steve Toase, “Dendrochromatic Data Recovery Report 45-274”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June(2021): 105–108 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

An engineer is trying to diagnose an unusual system shutdown in their arboreal server structure.

The idea of trees turned into computational units is interesting and – to the best of my knowledge – not really explored before. However, the story itself is a bit cryptic, exposition heavy, and the with rather unexciting prose. Still, given the story’s brevity, it might be worth reading just for the novel premise.

REVIEW: “In-Flight Damage” by Sara Kate Ellis

Review of Sara Kate Ellis, “In-Flight Damage”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June(2021): 54–59 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Astrid is planning on having a “genetically corrected” child with her wife, but before she goes through with the procedure, she decides to pay a visit to her adventurous father in the seceded territory of Texas.

The story’s premise is another spin on the ideas of the film “GATTACA,” although it focuses more on relationship of the protagonist with her past (after all, the “faults” on her DNA are not necessarily inherited but the result of trauma). The plot is competently handled, allowing the connection between Astrid and her father to shine through. The story’s background – involving the secession of Texas which leads to the state’s demise – suffers from a lack of plausibility that is typical of someone who doesn’t really understand Texas. Nevertheless, the setting is mostly intended as a foil to explain the protagonists trauma, and it works well enough for that purpose.

Overall, this is an excellent story, one of this issue’s best.

REVIEW: “Small Turn of the Ladder” by Kelly Lagor

Review of Kelly Lagor, “Small Turn of the Ladder”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June(2021): 51–53 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

A woman is suffering from an autoimmune disease that is likely to claim her life. She contemplates about her death on a short walk with her best friend.

Lagor’s story can hardly be considered speculative, and the few vaguely speculative elements about it seem forced into the narrative. Even as a meditative existentialist tale about death, the story has little to offer outside the usual cliches – although I found the protagonist’s relationship with her best friend touching. The premise is one that could have certainly benefited from a longer story.

REVIEW: “Sunward Planet” by Terry Franklin

Review of Terry Franklin, “Sunward Planet”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June(2021): 48–50 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

The first manned mission to Venus discovers life in its densely packed clouds.

There is not much to say about this story. It’s a pleasant enough sub-2000-word story with an ending that’s perhaps a bit too conveniently positive. Nevertheless, I liked the description of the aliens and the brief speculations about their possible biochemistry.

REVIEW: “The Acheulean Gift” by Matthew Claxton

Review of Matthew Claxton, “The Acheulean Gift”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2021): 60–68 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

In “The Acheulean Gift,” some children have been genetically modified with DNA from pre-“Home Sapiens” humans, hoping that this will reduce some of humanity’s most descriptive tendencies. The program didn’t work as expected,

I found the “Acheulean genetics” program described in the story rather implausible, in more than one way. It’s hard to suspend your disbelief for this one, though if you are able to, then it is a pretty good story. The writing is competent, the characters were well-crafted, and I particularly appreciated the little touches the author put on the brother-sister relationship (like their playful rivalry in the ax throwing exercises).

Overall, there’s a lot to like about “The Acheulan Gift,” even though I personally could not get past the premise.

REVIEW: “It’s Cold on Europa” by Filip Wiltgren

Review of Filip Wiltgren, “It’s Cold on Europa”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2021): 42–48 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

The protagonist is stuck on Europa on a mission to collect ice for Mars, with no one to keep her company but a coworker and her wife’s “construct” (essentially an android with a downloadable personality that needs to be updated periodically). She becomes concerned when her wife’s construct begins to behave unusually strange. Is it her wife growing cold towards her, or is there something wrong with the construct?

The premise of collecting ice from the outer part of the solar system and send it to Mars is nothing new (e.g. Asimov’s “The Martian Way”), although the idea of “constructs” as described in the story is fascinating. The main character’s paranoia is described with great skill and ample tension. The author is really able to get in her head with some delicious internal monologues. The ending felt somewhat rushed, however, and perhaps a little disappointing. What started as a great psychological examination of protagonist life in deep space ended with a simple “brawl in space” – an ending more suited to a typical pulp adventure tale than something like this.

Despite that, this was still a very enjoyable read.

REVIEW: “Second Hand Destinies” by Marie Vibbert

Review of Marie Vibbert, “Second Hand Destinies”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2021): 139–145 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Tatiana is troubled young woman living with her brother and grandmother on a battered space-station that barely works. She is not the real Tatiana, but a tentacle creature – a symbiote/parasite – that has taken her form. Her brother and grandmother know this, but are happy to have her in their lives. One day, a damaged spaceship carrying a royal fugitive lands on their station, bringing all sorts of trouble for the unorthodox family.

Vibbert is great at establishing mood and this story is no exception. There are a few great moments in the story that create a rich and complicated universe in just a few paragraphs (or a few line of dialogue). However, after a rather tense climax, the author opts for a conveniently “happy” ending that doesn’t quite land, in my opinion. Still, this is very much a story worth reading.

REVIEW: “The Pond Who Sang” by Charles Hand

Review of Charles Hand, “The Pond Who Sang”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2021): 132–135 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Due to a plane crash, a scientist’s revolutionary neural network device falls into a pond where it interacts with the local flora and fauna to become sentient. A perplexed musicologist who lives nearby attempts to understand the sounds that are coming from it.

“The Pond Who Sang” has a poetic quality about it that I enjoyed very much, even though I don’t think the artificial neural networks described in the story are accurate at all. Otherwise there’s little that stands out about this piece. It’s a nice little tale about nature, AI, and the fateful convolution of the two.