While the cover of April’s Analog might promise an exciting story about a phallic looking Big Dumb Object on a generic pock-marked landscape, what we get is a below average issue with only two of the eight stories getting more then 3 out of 5.
The first of those is fortunately the longest. Adam-Troy Castro’s novella, Hiding Place, is part of his series featuring investigator Andrea Cort. I own both the Andrea Cort novels but because I buy far more books than any human could ever read in a lifetime, they lie unread in my bookshelf amongst at least 1,000 others. After reading Hiding Place, I’m more then tempted to dust them off and read them. The only thing stopping me is the backlog of short fiction I need to catch up with.
This story takes places after the most recent novel, though it doesn’t require expert knowledge of the series to understand what’s happening. Actually, that’s one of the stronger points of the story, how Castro fills the newbie reader in without lumping the first half of the novella with exposition. Still, as good as Castro is, it did take me a few hundred words to figure out that the murderer Andrea was investigating was actually three physical humans who’ve been joined to form a single person. The process is called “cylinking”.
The fascinating conundrum at the centre of this novella is that before the three individuals became single one of them murdered a person on a far flung research station. Now that they’re linked, and are one person both practically and legally, the question is how you convict this “individual” for murder when only one… err… component committed the crime.
This legal issue also has person implications for Andrea because as we discover she’s agreed to become cylinked to her two lovers (both of whom have already gone through the process).
The novella is just long enough to give a good account of what makes Andrea tick, hinting at her violent past (which I assume is explored in more depth in the novels) and providing a clear reason why she might want to join her mind with her two lovers. But like her old friend Bengid (whose prosecuting the case and has called Andrea in for help) we can only feel a little horrified at how much of her individuality will be lost (if not all of it) as part of the joining.
While the legal issue of how to deal with the murderer(s) drives the narrative of the story, unfortunately Castro undermines this by finding an easy answer out of the problem. He tries to have his cake and eat it by making this simple solution have major ramifications for Andrea and her proposed cylinking. And while it does work on the character level, it annoyed me that the legal issue was conveniently avoided.
Lois Tilton (who enjoyed the story as well) had another problem with the piece, that the victim (who’s an awful piece of work) has an obviously ethnic name unlike most of the other characters in the piece. I’ll be honest the potential ethnic stereotyping in the story didn’t register with me. But on reflection I think it’s a point worth making.
All that said, the interesting legal issue coupled with Castro’s excellent handling of his main character, makes this a highly enjoyable novella and easily the best story in the issue.
The second story that I enjoyed was Jerry Oltion’s Quack. The story is nowhere near as polished and clever as his March piece, Taboo, but like Taboo, it raises an interesting question, this time around faith and science. Essentially a scientist is challenged on a TV show to prove through science that homeopathy is just quackery. The research, however, proves that while homeopathy doesn’t work faith in the healer or the medicine plays a significant role in curing the sick. It’s a lovely little twist, the idea of science proving the power of faith. It’s a shame, though, that Oltion doesn’t make more of the material, basically ending the story with a weak punchline.
Of the rest, I didn’t mind Paul Levinsons’ Ian’s Ions and Eons and not just because my name is in the title. It’s a time travel story about a guy wanting to go back and change the Supreme Court decision that saw Bush get into power over Gore. Levinson works cleverly through the time travel mechanics but, as Tilton points out in her review, there’s something lifeless about the narrator which means you never really care about the outcome.
The rest of the stories were mostly competent, but forgettable. Though I did find Edward M Lerner’s Blessed Are The Bleak not only to be pointless but also offensive. Like the Castro, there’s a legal complexity driving this story. This time is when a person is considered to have died, especially if they download their essence into a computer. Not only does it feel a bit “been there, done that” the anti universal health care theme that underlies the story (the main character works for Universal Care AKA “Yuck”) gives it that annoying didactic feel that makes an avowed National Health Care supporter (AKA a communist) like me feel dirty for reading it.
Also, we’ve had three issues so far (four if you consider that the first Analog was a double) and we’ve only had five stories out of 28 written by woman. Does anyone else think that 18% simply isn’t good enough? We’re only a third of the way through the year and so the obvious gender bias may improve. (I’m not holding my breath though).