A review that originally appeared in The Fix #7:-
ANALOG – FEBRUARY 2003
Edited by Stanley Schmidt
Leading off the fiction in this issue is the first instalment of ‘Shootout at the Nokai Corral’ by Rajnar Vajra. The backdrop to this is that mankind is bored to the point of extinction, a malaise that the big brains have set out to rectify by establishing test colonies on twelve planets, each one modelled on a society from Earth’s past. On the world of Paladin the template is America’s Old West, though with quite a few changes, such as gunslingers bred for speed and strength, plus a whole host of genetically modified flora and fauna. Marshal John Davies , who can run up a wall and draw his gun faster than the proverbial speeding bullet, rides into the town of Sunstone on his specially bred zebra in answer to a call for help from the local law enforcement. Sunstone is under threat from Dirty Jake and his gang of miscreants, who have an offworld weapon and don’t seem to care what trouble they cause. There’s a fair bit of exposition that might have been better worked into the text, or indeed left out altogether, but that’s a minor consideration. This blend of High Noon, superhero shenanigans and SF is a fast paced, colourful and entertaining brew, with plenty of incidental invention to keep the reader off guard and some nice touches of humour. It is of course too early to judge how the series will turn out, but writer Vajra seems to be having a lot of fun with the scenario he has created and that carries over to the reader.
Novelette ‘Capture Radius’ by Stephen L. Burns is more in the nature of what I expect from Analog, an exercise in problem solving with the prize going to the one with the best technological know-how. A space station is taken over by the Russian mafia, Outland style, and it’s up to the pilot of a junk recycling vessel to outwit the bad guys. There’s never any doubt about how this is going to end, while the characters seem rather two dimensional and the writing seldom rises above the competent. The other novelette, ‘Distance’ by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, is far more readable, with people I could identify with and an intriguing first contact scenario, but after capturing my interest she goes and blows it all out of the water with a nod of the hat to the American love of baseball. Okay, McDonalds in Peking I’ll give you, but aliens travelling the length of the galaxy to play ball is taking cultural imperialism a step too far. This is so steeped in sticky sentimentalism for Mom, Pop and apple pie I doubt even Spielberg would touch it.
Short story ‘Lavender in Love’ by Brian Plante is similarly challenged for credibility, with a dystopian society in which a man downloads his personality into a vending machine to make it a better salesman, and the silly old machine can’t help but fall in love with one of its customers. We get no real explanation of this or serious attempt to address the themes of identity and freedom touched on. The whole thing seems there simply to give us a naff romance culminating in the sort of punning end line Asimov in his worst moments used to delight in. Wolf Read’s ‘Between Singularities’ wallows in a similar sentimentalism, with two all powerful immortals who get so bored with their lives they can think of nothing better to do than get reborn as ordinary beings with average life cycles. The sensitive reader will no doubt brush a tear from his or her eye at the end of this wholly meretricious nonsense.
I was pleasantly surprised last time I saw Analog. This time I’m disappointed, though not for reasons of scientific obscurity as I’d feared. With the exception of the Vajra all the stories here come with emotional baggage that undercuts whatever worth they might have had as either literature or entertainment. I miss the hard edges.