REVIEW: “The Boy Who Cried Fish” by D. A. D’Amico

Review of D. A. D’Amico, “The Boy Who Cried Fish”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2022): 162–169 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Ijemma’s brother has discovered something astounding within the waters of Europa, but nobody in the expedition believes him. He is willing to risk his life to prove he is right.

D’Amico’s story suffers from prose that is a bit sloppy and redundant, though the action is narrated well enough to maintain the suspense. Indeed, the action is the centerpiece of the story, making the science fictional part – and the characters – feel a little like an afterthought. The story deserves credit for attempting to portray an autistic character in somewhat realistic fashion, though it’s not enough to make the characters likable or interesting.

REVIEW: “Standard” by Thomas Webster

Review of Thomas Webster, “Standard”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2022): 153–156 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

A tech repairman helps a young woman maintain and enhance her artificial implants that enable her do her job. She keeps asking for more regardless of the dangers involved.

I always appreciate stories that are able to pack a lot of meaning in small amounts, and Webster’s story certainly fits into that category. The subjective narration has an unruly quality about it that helps get across the psychology of the narrator as he sees his younger self in his client and her inevitable demise. There’s an interesting contrast between a highly technological world and a simple life, and to what extend either path is a choice. Overall, an excellent and thought-provoking short story.

REVIEW: “Philanderer” by Monica Joyce Evans

Review of Monica Joyce Evans, “Philanderer”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2022): 120–121 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

The main character explores one of the methane lakes of Titan using a powerful AI suit. Not everything goes as planned.

A very short story with a nice twist at the end, though everything is a bit too vague for my taste. The tight first person narration (along with the brevity of the story), while evocative, makes the prose somewhat hard to decipher. We’re never given a good explanation for what happens. Still, an enjoyable story.

REVIEW: “Nirvana or Bust” by Michael Swanwick

Review of Michael Swanwick, “Nirvana or Bust”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2022): 49–53 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Huiling is a woman on the run wearing a sentient exoskeleton she calls Nirvana or Bust. One day she meets her old advisor, Catherine, who informs her that her assassin is on the way. Huiling must protect her revolutionary discovery from bother her human and AI pursuers.

In Nirvana or Bust, the author presents a highly automated world where the joining of natural and artificial intelligence is a massive leap forward – even though neither humans nor AI see it that way. This is by no means a new idea, and I’m not sure if the story adds anything new to it. Still, it is presented well and with immersive prose (particularly the dialogue), even if the ending is perhaps a bit too convenient.

REVIEW: “The Four Spider-Societies of Proxima Centauri 33G” by Mercurio D. Rivera

Review of Mercurio D. Rivera, “The Four Spider-Societies of Proxima Centauri 33G”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2022): 42–48 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

On planet 33G of Proxima Centauri, an earth crew is trying to establish a trade relationship with any of the four local spider-like communities: the Rantulaharans, the Manti’ti’ti’tropicans, Kl’kryopolaishans, and the Zilli-tik-nesians. Things don’t go as planned.

This was a funny and well-written short story about the incompetence of the crew trying to accomplish its mission. Rivera takes the old trope about human-alien (mis)communication and turns it on its head by presenting it through the lens of a business transaction. The political commentary is a bit heavy-handed, though it occupies a mostly minor role in the story. The focus (and humor) remains in the clueless protagonist.

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.