REVIEW: “Ceres 7” by Lorraine Alden

Review of Lorraine Alden, “Ceres 7”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2023): 118–123 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

This review may contain spoilers.

Ceres 7 is on its way to the planet Esperance with a mission to preserve the human race after Earth has presumably suffered nuclear Armageddon. Ruth and Jill, the youngest members of the all-female crew, are uncertain about their chances to survive the whole trip. With the cryogenic module half broken, only some of the members are destined to survive.

Alden’s story reminded me of Tom Godwin’s “The cold equation,” presenting yet another variation on the classic unwinnable scenario in science fiction (albeit far more plausible than Godwin’s version). I appreciated the tight economy of the prose, revealing just enough about the story’s background without drowning it in exposition. The final twist is genuinely surprising, but somewhat Deus-ex-machina for the protagonist. All in all, a great story.

REVIEW: “Party On” by James Van Pelt

Review of James Van Pelt, “Party on”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2023): 80–87 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Tribley is jumping between dimensions searching for parties to take his mind off something. Someone is after him, trying to bring him back to reality.

The story does a fantastic job at bringing each location to life. Van Pelt has a gift for description that he puts to great use in this story. The ending is simply heart-breaking.

REVIEW: “The Area Under the Curve” by Matt McHugh

Review of Matt McHugh, “The Area Under the Curve”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2023): 80–87 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Emi and Zeika discover that their son Benny is an average boy – plain average – and therefore not qualified to join them in the upcoming mission to the generation ship. They must decide if they will join follow him on earth, or remain in space and continue with their mission.

The drama in the story is absolutely superb. The richness of detail in the fights and arguments between the two parents give the story a certain familiarity that every reader is bound to recognize. Moreover, the source of the tension in the story is wonderfully melancholic. I took some issue with the ending, as it felt like a bit like a cop-out from the original dilemma. Nevertheless, this is still one of the best stories in this issue.

REVIEW: “Cornflower” by Victoria Navarra

Review of Victoria Navarra, “Cornflower”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2023): 74–79 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Living in a space station after Earth has been rendered uninhabitable, Reza gets his first job tending the semi-automated garden of the colony. He thinks it’s the worst and most boring job he could have, until a young girl his age, Amelia, changes his mind.

Though short and simple, the author does a great job at going through the characters’ motivations and psychology to move the plot forward. The world building is also excellent, providing the necessary fuel for the story’s themes. All in all, thoroughly enjoyable.

REVIEW: “A Real Snow Day” by M. Bernardo

Review of M. Bernardo, “A Real Snow Day”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2023): 94–97 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

In the middle of a snowstorm in 1948, Lyria and Kenton decide to spend all day inside, enjoying a the warmth and comfort of their living room. However, nothing is really as it seems in their household.

This story is all about the final reveal, which I must admit that I didn’t see coming. The brevity certainly helps, because the first half is not that interesting — and the author doesn’t do the greatest job at foreshadowing. But in the end, it is a worthy read.

REVIEW: “Direct Message” by Tom Pike

Review of Tom Pike, “Direct Message”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2023): 88–93 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

An alien race starts a Twitter poll about which region of earth to vaporize with their heat ray. The protagonist must negotiate with the aliens to save his hometown.

An amusing and funny story, though the implausibility is at times hard to swallow. Despite the author admitting to the tongue-in-cheek nature of the story (breaking the 4th wall in a manner of speaking), it still leaves a bit to be desired. I’m not sure the author’s final message gets through.

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.