Tuesday, May 6, 2008

April Analog, Pt. I

April's Analog starts off with a story that is about a real manuscript. "Guaranteed Not to Turn Pink in the Can" by Thomas R. Dulski takes as its plot center the Voynich manuscript. This is a work in some sort of indecipherable language, originally created around the 15th century. It has served as an endless source of entertainment for cryptographers and conspiracy theorists alike (I first read about it in Fortean Times Magazine, a wonderful place to find out about odd things in the world such as this). Most people dismiss it as an early and elaborate forgery.

That option isn't open to our protagonist. He's a private investigator, hired by a girl's father to find out why she abandoned a promising career in chemistry to follow a bunch of crackpots who seem to think that the Voynich documents have something to do with alien abductions. She engaged to the ringleader of this conspiracy-theory group, and her dad is really unhappy about that. So now our hero has to find out about the manuscript, the girl, the guy and the group. Along the way we learn some very interesting things about all four of them.

I found this a very enjoyable story. However I suspect that some Analog fans will be a bit disappointed by the ending, which takes a turn for the mundane instead of opening out into the fantastic. There's nothing wrong with that; conspiracy theories in sf stories can't all turn out to be true. For those waiting for the sf genre conventions to kick in though, it feels a bit like stepping on a step that isn't there. Kudos to Dulski for reminding us how close and yet how far away the fantastic is in daily life right now.

The next story, "The Beethoven Project" by Donald Moffitt, is another story that seems to have its Real Year somewhere in the 1950s. I get this impression mostly from the set-up: a bunch of recording studio executives worrying about market share and figuring out where the next big hit will come from. While I'm sure that's been a constant ever since the days of phonographs, the company names seem outdated (Divergences, Inc. vs. The Music Factory) and so does the dialogue: "We need a biggie, Marty," he said. "Something surefire."

That nitpicking aside, the rest is an enjoyable "what if" story. What if you could go back in time and get Beethoven to write a 10th symphony? In fact, what if you could restore his hearing? He was notoriously money-hungry (as so many artists have been throughout history). What would he do faced with that sort of scenario? I'll leave it to you to find out, but Moffitt has obviously done his research and I could completely buy in to his extrapolations.

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