Analog, Jan/Feb 2005

Review: Analog, January/February 2005

Editor: Stanley Schmidt
Issue: Volume 125, No. 1 & 2
ISSN: 1059-2113
Pages: 240

Analog is the science fiction magazine with the highest circulation and the one that tends to take the most awards, over either Asimov's or Fantasy & Science Fiction. It has a reputation for being focused on engineer with a wrench stories and not as much the kind of science fiction that I prefer, so I'd been focusing on other magazines. This is the first issue I've read; I was expecting to not be as fond of it.

What I wasn't expecting was this degree of simple shoddiness.

I'm working from a sample size of one, so I don't know if this is typical. If it is, I'm embarassed for Schmidt to be putting his name on a magazine with this many simple editing errors. A few misspellings, dropped words, and grammatical errors are tolerable; magazines get less care than books. At least one, often more, per article is distracting and irritating.

The stories were worse even than I expected. It isn't so bad that I had no idea why a story would have been accepted, but there's a lack of writing skill in most of the stories, particularly around characterization. Characters speak in cliches, telling rather than showing is common, and rarely is a character sufficiently compelling to pull me into the story.

The editorial was interesting, as was the science fact article (on theories of the likelihood of the development of life on planets). The book review column was also competent, although mostly plot synopses. The less said about The Alternate View, the better; if I want to read prickly arguments over what is and isn't crackpot, I'll read Usenet. I don't care about either side of that debate. But the letters column underscores that I have little in common with the Analog readership.

"The Stonehenge Gate, part 1" by Jack Williamson: I was looking forward to this serialization. Jack Williamson has been writing science fiction for something like eighty years and is one of the giants of the field, and I'd not yet read anything by him. For first experiences, though, this was quite disappointing. The characters were wooden chess pieces existing just to show off a world concept, even though the story is written in the first person. Ram's constant negativity (frequently expressed in exactly the same words) started to grate by halfway in and was painful by the end of this section. His world is vaguely interesting in a "huh, Stargate but not as well done" sort of way, a classic story of exploring an alien world and trying to figure out what's going on, but the world feels sparse and underpopulated and too much time goes by between interesting discoveries. Combine that with characters who are wooden and obnoxious by turns and I can't say I'm thrilled by the prospect of more installments. (4)

"Seventy-Five Years" by Michael A. Burnstein: Proving that I just don't get what Analog readers see in this stuff, this unoriginal political statement masquerading as a short story is a Hugo nominee. A politician's ex-wife argues freedom of information about census data in a thinly veiled reference to the arguments around copyright terms. There's a bunch of wooden dialogue, a bit of blackmail, and a completely unconvincing "happy" ending. I agree with Burnstein's political point, but a non-fiction essay would have had a more believable plot. (3)

"Rough Draft" by Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta: This one was a bit better. What would a one-shot writer do if an explorer in alternate time lines found a book that an alternate version of himself wrote? The idea is interesting and the writing is at least competent. I can't say as much for the plot, which goes about the way that you'd expect complete with an moralistic happy ending. It's at least average, but I think so much more could have been done with the concept. (5)

"The Supersonic Zeppelin" by Ben Bova: Here's another story with a blatant moral (I'm noticing a trend). A project manager and a bunch of engineers come up with the idea of a supersonic zeppelin. The project manager ends up leading the project, trying to get funding, and goes to Washington to play politics. Unoriginal, over-the-top political parody ensues. The story is full of cliched dialogue and stabs at politicians and the press that were old years ago. The predictable demise of the project amidst political wrangling sets up a groan of an ending. Pointless. (4)

"Mars Opposition" by David Brin: This is the strongest story of the issue and the only one that manages to say something worth thinking about for more than a few moments after finishing the story. Martians arrive, with spectacularly advanced technology and no interest in human hierarchy. They approach and start trading with whoever they encounter. And then they start killing people. This clash of cultures and motivations, with resonance with colonial contact between advanced and primitive cultures, is quite well-done and builds into hard moral choices and a nasty conundrum. Well done. (7)

"Nova Terra" by Jeffery D. Kooistra: Kooistra had me with the setup: a mysterious last letter from an old boyhood friend who was involved in top-secret government projects, a plan for an engine that shouldn't possibly work, and encounters with secret government agencies. It's not original, but it seemed like the material for a good SF thriller. The problem: we get no satisfying explanation, Kooistra completely defuses the promised conflict, and by the end we're no more enlightened and feel vaguely silly for thinking that any of this was important. Disappointing. (5)

"Uncreated Night and Strange Shadows" by James Gunn: For me, BDO stories (stories about the exploration of mysterious alien artifacts) live and die in the explanation. I want a slow unveiling of some neat concepts. I want a sense of wonder thrill from the discoveries. I don't want a rather boring and frustrating exploration slog followed by a gift of a wad of exposition. It didn't help that the characters all felt interchangeable. The underlying explanation isn't horrible, as these things go, but it comes as an undigestable lump and sets up a dilemma that I didn't find compelling. (4)

"A Few Good Men" by Richard A. Lovett: This is the only other story of this issue that I can say I truly enjoyed. It's a fairly standard take on a time travel story, with people from the future interfering with the past but trying to avoid creating paradox and skew that would badly affect their time. Think Millennium, but not as dramatic. The selling point is solid characterization of the first-person protagonist, who ends up as a psychological counsellor for men kidnapped into the future, slowly making friends and working out what's going on. The ending was an anti-climax, but the story still kept me interested all the way through. (6)

Rating: 4 out of 10

Posted: 2006-05-14 11:46 — Why no comments?

The first several months of 2005 marked a very noticable decline in quality for Analog. Several months later they made some half-hearted apologies for the problems after a lot of people made complaints.

Posted by James Lick at 2006-05-14 19:11

FYI, the typos were apparently the result of some sort of computer crash that caused the unproofread copies of some stories to be printed by mistake. My presumption is that the "restore backup" function got the wrong files, or something like that. Analog readers tend to complain if they see a typo, so what you read is not the norm.

Posted by RALovett at 2006-07-29 20:21

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