REVIEW: “Dangerous Orbit” by M. T. Reiten

Review of M. T. Reiten, “Dangerous Orbit”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June (2021): – (Kindle) 8–17 Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

As a result of a past space war, Earth’s orbit has been rendered impassable due to a large amount of debris, prompting a concerted effort in the present to clean up Earth’s orbital space. One day, Neela discovers that one of her drones is not responding and decides to go on an EVA to investigate. There she discovers one of the unpleasant remnants of the war.

This is a well-written story packed with tension and excellent world-building. The author provides just enough setup to establish the dangers that the characters face, and then proceeds to focus on the conflict at hand. Since it’s focused mostly on plot, the characters end up mostly archetypal and shallow placeholders serving the story.

All in all, this is one of the best stories in this issue.

REVIEW: “Absolutes” by Jay Werkheiser

Review of Jay Werkheiser, “Absolutes”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June (2021): 99–104 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Cal is hell-bent on proving that Einstein was wrong, and that time is absolute. However, no reputable institution will listen to him or grant him any funding to test his hypotheses. He decides to do it himself with his own (or rather his girlfriend’s) money, an ambition that puts a terrible strain on his relationship.

If you can get past the utter implausibility of the ideas used here, “Absolutes” is an enjoyable story with a rather heartbreaking ending. The conflict relies on fairly cliche tropes and characters, but it is nevertheless handled expertly and even manages to surprise once or twice. The prose moves at a brisk pace, yet it is deep enough to allow for the characters to shine through. By no means groundbreaking, but overall a pleasant read.

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.