REVIEW: “Aboard the Mithridates” by Sean Vivier

Review of Sean Vivier, “Aboard the Mithridates”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact July/August (2020): 86–89 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Aboard the generation ship Mithridates, the passengers are slowly adapting their bodies – through training and gene therapy – to survive on the planet Hephaestus, the atmosphere of which contains large amounts of sulfur. Zarah Ngata is coping well with these changes, but not all kids at school are handling it as easy. One young man, Gavin, is having a hard time as his lungs seem unable to process the increased concentration of sulfur in the air. Zarah speculates that he won’t survive the next stage of the adaptation process. She’s determined to do whatever she can to help save the life of her less capable schoolmate.

In “Aboard the Mithridates,” Vivier presents an interesting take on the popular science fiction trope of the generation ship. Many stories such stories are often focused on the breakdown of the generation ship’s society, whereas here, the ship’s inhabitants remain focused on their goal. Vivier also comments on the unpredictability of the offspring and the real possibility that they’re not fit for the harsh environment of a generation ship. I was happy the story addressed these issues. Running at approximately 2400 words, the story does not have the chance to dive very deep into its themes, but it does, nevertheless, raise some interesting questions regarding the communal lifestyle that would be required in a generation ship. Is individual sacrifice acceptable if it benefits the rest of the community?

There are some plausibility issues, however. For example, I find it unlikely that Gavin’s health issues would be totally ignored by everyone except another child. It’s also unlikely that a society capable of building generation ships would not have some way of easing his pain. A respiratory aid, perhaps.

REVIEW: “Rite of Passage” by Jerry Oltion

Review of Jerry Oltion, “Rite of Passage”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact July/August (2020): 99 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

After graduation, Roshi prepares for his first solo moonwalk in his new 5-piece space suit.

There’s not much happening in this story other than the titular “rite of passage”, which presumably is the act of putting on the new suit. There’s a brief moment of tension (if one can call it that) when the character almost forgets to put on a helmet, but otherwise there’s not much plot to speak of. The story is simply a 460-word description of someone putting their space-suit on.

REVIEW: “Calm Face of the Storm” by Ramona Louise Wheeler

Review of Ramona Louise Wheeler, “Calm Face of the Storm”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June (2020): 119–131 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

In a planet orbiting twin suns, Bret is a flying man that has strayed away from his home while chasing a strange looking lizard. On the way, a violent storm almost kills him, knocking him unconscious. Bret wakes up in one of the lighthouses that populate the edge of his people’s territory. There he finds out that the lighthouses are maintained by a set of “transparent” flying people, not as technologically advanced as his own culture, living a more natural way of life. Bret falls in love with Mornell, the daughter of the lighthouse keeper, and with her help, adopts their way of life. However, he soon realizes that he can’t stay with them forever and must return home.

I always try to not be a stickler about “genre purity,” but I was nevertheless surprised this story was included in Analog. While it has some elements of science fiction (twin suns, spaceports, possibly aliens, etc.) it reads a lot more like a fantasy story — or at the very least, a convoluted hybrid of the two (I could not stop thinking of Avatar). It doesn’t matter so much, since most of the story takes place inside the main character’s head, but it is nevertheless something that stood out to me.

Genre nitpicking aside, I was rather disappointed with the story. The world that the author creates, while rich in detail, is nothing new or original, drawing on many preexisting tropes. At times I was impressed with the author’s prose, but much of it felt padded with one unnecessary description after another, making the story rather painful to read. Similarly, the plot offers little more than a standard coming of age story with the addition of some serious holes in its logic. For example, Bret comes from a somewhat technologically advanced society, yet nobody knows what lies just a few miles outside their city. This sounds highly implausible to say the least.

Overall, I found very little to enjoy in “Calm Face of the Storm.”

REVIEW: “Net Loss” by James Sallis

Review of James Sallis, “Net Loss”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June (2020): 107–108 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

The protagonist is unfairly sent to jail when a  “smart” TV hears an argument between him and his girlfriend and calls the police. From then on, his life takes a serious turn for the worse. After he gets out of jail, his girlfriend leaves him, his landlord evicts him, and his name ends up on a sex offenders list. As such, he decides to give in and turn into a real criminal.

Except for the “smart” TV that calls the cops, there’s hardly any speculative elements in the story, so its place in Analog may be questionable. That aside, it was a pleasant read. The prose is written in stream-of-consciousness style, which makes the rather sardonic twist at the end (if one may call it that) work surprisingly well. It felt like navigating through an unstable mind, which I imagine is what the author intended. However, I’m not sure what the title “Net Loss” refers to in the story.

Overall, this was an enjoyable piece of flash fiction.

REVIEW: “Candida Eve” by Dominica Phetteplace

Review of Dominica Phetteplace, “Candida Eve”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June (2020): 96–101 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Susana is the last surviving member of a terraforming expedition to Mars. An unexpected fungal pandemic claimed the rest of the crew while on flight, in addition to claiming millions of lives back on Earth. Despite the tragedy, Susana must find the courage and will to carry out her mission and create a new home for the future of humanity.

The story’s subject matter — i.e. a deadly pandemic — certainly makes it a relevant read at the time of publication (I’m guessing that is why it was included in this issue). There are startling similarities between the plague in Candida Eve and Covid-19. I’d be very surprised if all of it was just a coincidence.

Aside from that initial impact, however, “Candida Eve” leaves a lot to be desired. The prose is clear but relatively dry, making for a less than engaging read. Almost half the story consists of info-dumping about the details of Susana’s mission and the unexpected pandemic that devastated humanity. There’s little that actually happens in the story, and by the end, little gets resolved in a satisfying manners. There’s little sense that Susana overcame any of the challenges of her mission as she displays very little agency throughout the story.

REVIEW: “To Persist, However Changed” by Aimee Ogden

Review of Aimee Ogden, “To Persist, However Changed”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June (2020): 105–106(Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

A sentient moon crashes into a planet and discovers another sentient form of life there. The story is told from the perspective of the moon-consciousness as it prepares for the crash.

Billions of light-sensitive organelles orient to the brilliant patch of sky, and magnetosomes orient along familiar field lines. The diffuse awareness of the Moonmind comes to an agreement: Soon.

I must confess, I’ve never been keen on stories that describe an alien consciousness through the physical and chemical interactions that make it up — which seem to be popping up rather often lately. They always strike me as rather contrived. After all, consciousness is an emerging quality. Human thought-processes do not involve moving ions and chemical imbalances, even though it is such events in our brains that make thought possible.

From a fictional standpoint, however, it is a rather effective tool at conveying the “otherworldliness” of an alien mind. The author manages to successfully filter a different kind of consciousness through familiar scientific concepts, and does so clearly and concisely. Moreover, the author did a relatively decent job at maintaining a clear and readable prose, which is crucial for these kinds of stories.

Ultimately, I still don’t think it works, but I can appreciate the effort.

REVIEW: “A Compass in the Dark” by Phoebe Barton

Review of Phoebe Barton, “A Compass in the Dark”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June (2020): 109–112 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

In a Lunar colony, a young woman moves away from her family to a geological station on the far side of the moon. She is embarrassed by her father’s belief that dead soul are guided by electromagnetic fields and does not want to maintain his “compass towers.” When her father dies, she comes to regret her hostility towards him and reconsiders her attitude towards his beliefs.

I think the author has a great talent for prose as I was really drawn in by some of the descriptions in this piece. However, the plot did not do it for me. The father-daughter relationship could have been fleshed out more to give the story a better grounding for what happens when the father dies. All we have of their background is their respective beliefs towards “magnetic spirit guidance,” which in my opinion is not enough to understand why the characters act and feel the way they do. The ending does not work for the same reason.

Overall, I did not care much for this piece, even though I did enjoy the author’s writing style.

REVIEW: “One Hundred” by Sean Monaghan

Review of Sean Monaghan, “One Hundred”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2020): 173–182 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Earth is gone, and the last one-hundred remaining humans have managed to carve out a living on a Martian colony. It’s been over 18 years, and nearly every day presents a new challenge for the colonists. After a disastrous fire that takes out a whole portion of their habitat, the colonists rethink their survival strategy, allowing for more innovation and freedom.

First of all, I must mention that this story has some serious plausibility issues: for instance, it is hard to believe that the colony went over 18 years without any new births. And if it did, there can’t be many people left that are of childbearing age. All in all, this colony seems doomed in more than one way. The author touches on some of these issues very briefly (and unsatisfactorily), but ignores most. 

If you can somehow make it past all that, then this is a fairly enjoyable story. The premise is nothing new, but the author’s tone and style have a rather endearing sense of melancholy that add depth to the prose. The characters feel real and so do their emotions in the challenges they have to face (in spite of the aforementioned plausibility issues). I also enjoyed the optimism of the ending, even though I do not think it is entirely earned.

REVIEW: "Dix Dayton, Jet Jockey" by Liz A. Vogel

Review of Liz A. Vogel, “Dix Dayton, Jet Jockey”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2020): 113–116 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

In a future when humanity has colonized the solar system, a lone spacer is flying his ship Euphrosyne to Peekaydee. On the way he sees a pirate ship attempting to board an unmanned freighter headed to Neptune. Determined not to let the pirates steal the contents of the freighter, the protagonist changes his ship’s course to intercept. Though unarmed, he manages to stop the pirates and incapacitate their ship.

This was an enjoyable adventure story reminiscent of the pulp tales preceding the golden age (i.e. the 10s, 20s, and 30s). While Vogel is not as cavalier with the science as the pulps used to be, there is a “free-spiritedness” about the story drives the reader to believe anything is possible. There’s a hero and there’s a villain, and as such, it becomes easy to root for the protagonist’s pulp-style bravery.

The style of narration also matches the adventurous and carefree tone of the story, resembling the (tall) tales recounted around a warm campfire, or a cold rainy night at a bar. Even the author’s tendencies to meander or over-explain things seem justified in the given style. Overall, I had a blast reading this story.

REVIEW: “Rover” by A. T. Sayre

Review of A. T. Sayre, “Rover”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2020): 165–172 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Against all odds, a Martian rover has survived long past its expiration date and is still carrying out its exploratory mission on Mars. So far, all its attempts to communicate with Earth have been unsuccessful. One day while searching for replacement parts, the rover stumbles on a repeating radio signal of a spaceship. Since the signal indicates the possible presence of humans on the planet, the rover risks everything to reach the source.

While it takes a bit to get there, “Rover” builds up into beautiful story full of suspense and melancholy about an advanced (albeit unrealistic) A.I. trying to cope with loneliness and abandonment. Sayre imbues the Martian rover with relatable characteristics without indulging in too much anthropomorphism. At times, the rover reads like a lost pet in an old fairy-tale or fable, adding a great deal of charm to the piece. Of course, it takes a bit to get there. The first third of the prose is rather dry and could have done with some cuts or edits.

Overall, a delightful piece that highly recommend.