Thursday, May 8, 2008

Finishing April's Analog

"Into That Good Night" is a short story by William Gleason that puts me in mind of an early Heinlein story. Specifically, the Heinlein story it reminds me of is "The Long Watch" where a young man has to think fast in an emergency and save the day by sacrificing himself. Here a young man has just joined a facility on a moon somewhere. As he's getting checked out on his equipment all hell breaks loose, and the boss that everyone thinks is a complete jerk calls on him to save the day. The reversal here is in the role of the sacrificial hero, which is nice. However, by itself that isn't really enough to make this story worthwhile. Yes, asshole bosses can be heroes too, but there's nothing else new here.

The last short story in this issue is "The Anthropic Precipice" by Jerry Oltion. In this one, some "grey" aliens (like the ones from X-Files) visit a physicist to dissuade him from conducting an experiment he has planned regarding the dark energy of the universe. Or rather, from giving a paper that will lead to being able to conduct the experiment. He shrugs it off and gives the paper anyway. Going to dinner with colleagues that night, they are all abducted along with their taxi driver, and once again given a stern talking to.

The interesting part of the story is the physicists' response to all this. They know for a fact that the instant they say they've seen aliens, their credibility will be shot forever. In this way, it hearkens back to the story that opened this issue: "Guaranteed Not to Turn Pink in the Can." No one pays attention to crackpots, no matter how serious they seem. In the end, I think the author comes up with a perfectly plausible response to the scenario he's set up. Nicely done for such an outlandish premise.

Finishing off this issue is the last installment of Joe Haldeman's serial "Marsbound." I read it through to the bitter end, but I was never able to settle into the story. Even in this last installment, as an adult, the heroine never rang true for me. (I'm going to note without comment the fact that she's fascinated by xenobiology, having made first contact with Martians, but is so bad at math that she can't major in it and has to major in English instead.) The end the story takes a turn for the "The Fate of the World is At Stake!" It's a problem I've had with sf stories before (*ahem* *Kiln People!* *cough, excuse me*). The plot is perfectly suited to a story of limited scope, one investigating a certain intellectual space of "what if" questions. Then, as if needing a large fireworks show for the finale of a small intellectual symposium, they threaten the fate of the entire world and our protagonists have to make an instant conversion to pulp heroics. (Here I'll mention without comment that the heroine's space-pilot boyfriend is the actual pulp hero here, putting his life on the line while she sits and waits, tearfully, back on the station.) I found it an unnecessarily dramatic ending. Also, most of the characters don't gain any depth: the bad bureaucrat woman is still evil, the heroine still makes immature decisions, her boyfriend may as well be made of cardboard. The other characters can be distinguished only by their different names. It's a shame. The story's strongest point is the world-building, which is excellent. So again, this was throughout a readable story with good science, but it never quite found its focus. It wandered through a few different types before going out with a whiz-bang ending out of left field. I hope that the transitions gets smoothed out when this is published as a stand-alone novel later this year.

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