Saturday, October 1, 2011

Analog Capsule Reviews: December 2011 Issue - The Novelettes

Yes, this is a new feature. I recently subscribed to both Analog and Asimov's so that I could keep up to date on some of the short fiction that's currently being published in the genre, and I figured I might as well use both magazines as blogging fodder while I'm at it.

Below, I review the novelettes featured in the most recent issue of Analog. In a few weeks, I will cover the short stories -- and a few weeks after that, I will tackle Asimov's. (We're planning on alternating between SABR Matt's TNG reviews and my lit reviews once the eighth season of House gets underway next week.)


Ray of Light, by Brad R. Torgersen

Premise: Some years before the start of this story, a mysterious alien race set up a cloud of deflectors inside of Earth's orbit, effectively blocking the light of the sun. As Earth's surface became an utterly uninhabitable ice sheet, the remnants of humanity retreated to the ocean floor, where they built habitats near volcanic vents in a desperate bid to survive. Now, the point-of-view character has gradually grown accustomed to his gloomy existence within the habitats -- but his daughter is an entirely different story. His daughter, you see, continues to hope that sunlight will one day return to Earth.

Steph's Comments: Hmm. I'm sensing a theme in Torgersen's work -- well, in the novelettes he's published in Analog anyway. In last year's Outbound (which won the AnLab Reader's Choice Award, by the way), the point-of-view character is a refugee of a total war that basically wiped out the population of Earth who is flying out of the solar system in the hopes that he can find the humans who left on colonizing missions many years before. In the current novelette, the point-of-view character is a survivor of another near-extinction event, though this time it is alien-initiated instead of human-initiated. Torgersen, it seems, has a fondness for apocalyptic scenarios.

But what's refreshing about Torgersen's stories - and this is a reason why I think he should be on the short list for the Campbell Award next year - is that he doesn't kill off most of the human race for the purpose of dwelling on what is awful in our nature. Instead, he focuses on our capacity for hope. Even when the circumstances are very grim, Torgersen's characters - like the daughter in this story - still cling to the possibility of salvation -- and they usually find it, too. Does this reflect Torgersen's Mormon background? Well, I'll leave it to Torgersen himself to confirm such an interpretation conclusively. However, it reads as distinctly Christian to me -- and obviously, I like that. I like that a lot.

Steph's Rating: 9.5

The Impossibles, by Kristine Katheryn Rusch

Premise: The main character here is a public defender who works for the InterSpecies Court, a court that handles cases in which members of the Earth Alliance have inadvertently violated alien law. It is not a pleasant job, for at the InterSpecies Court, efficiency is valued over genuine justice, and many humans are subjected to alien punishments without being given a real chance to defend themselves. Is an acquittal ever possible in this environment? When the protagonist takes on a pregnant client, she hopes the answer is yes.

Steph's Comments: I've seen interviews in which Rusch calls herself a liberal, but apparently, she's one of those rare liberals who recognizes the pitfalls of the multicultural project, for in this particular novelette, she savages its logic and essentially declares that certain bedrock principles shouldn't be sacrificed on the altar of maintaining friendly relations with other cultures -- especially not when people's lives are at stake. If only some folks in high places could read Rusch's warning!

Steph's Rating: 9.5

Not For Ourselves Alone, by Charles E. Gannon

Premise: A Russian officer is sent to an American space station in orbit around Jupiter. His mission? To figure out the technology behind a frightening alien super-weapon and thereby give Earth a fighting chance to survive an imminent invasion.

Steph's Comments: Once again, I'm impressed. This is good hard science fiction (near as I can tell). I appreciate that Gannon consulted an expert to help beef up his descriptions of the Jovian station. But even more importantly, I appreciate the care with which Gannon crafts the story within the tech. I particularly like the way in which the Russian officer's distrust for the Americans gradually gives way through organic human interaction. This, I believe, is how international cooperation should be sold.

Steph's Rating: 9.0

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