On Analog January/February 2010
Analog Science Fiction Science Fact
is the oldest surviving Science Fiction magazine. As Analog's
(then Astounding's) editor,
John W. Campbell ushered and nourished the
Golden Age of Science
Fiction. Campbell insisted on science in Science Fiction. Today, Analog still
contains hard science stories and has a regular Science Fact feature. I had not read Analog in years, and am absolutely thrilled with my first issue in far too long. In a world where I feel I would be better off without a television, It's refreshing to find drama and suspense that does not reek of violence, and comedy and humor that is not redolent with obscenity/profanity. At a time when the Discovery Channel has reached new lows in pseudo science, it is encouraging to read science popularizations that are actually based in science.
The underlying motif to this issue is doing the right thing. In Buddhist terms-- Right Action. Of course, reasonable beings may disagree as to what Right Action might be in a given situation. And sometimes one learns after the fact that one's action was not the best choice after all.
Rejiggering the Thingamajigby Eric James Stone is a wonderful story about doing what's right. Never thought I'd read a story where a Buddhist T. rex was the protagonist. Bokeerk is a wonderful character, and her companion for her mission, a sentient gun, is a delight. The gun reminded me of the talking bullets in Who framed Roger Rabbit or Yosemite Sam. To get home to her children's imminent hatching, she must follow the Eightfold path.
Neptune’s TreasureBy Richard A. Lovett is an AI story. Floyd has an AI living in his head name of Brittney. Reminiscent of the movie All of Me, only set in Neptune space and without Steve Martin and Lilly Tomlin. Floyd and Brittney have serious personal/autonomy issues. The science of the story is wonderful-- mass drivers and recovery vessels. And space bicycles as well.
Also spracht StrattmanThus Spake the Aliens by H. G. Stratmann is a story about saving the world, complete with large red Doomsday-cutoff-switch-button. These aliens are in the same business as Clarke's Others with a more up close and personal approach. And they are quite implacable about weeding if the need arises. To say the story is rich in allusions to other works would be a vast understatement. The connection between the title of the story and of Richard Strauss's song, widely acclaimed for its use in 2001, could not be an accident.
The key to the story is a problem that is not often addressed, or more to the point-- it's largely ignored. There is a dead line for establishment of a real presence in space-- the point at which we exhaust cheap, abundant sources of energy. Somewhere before we reach that point is the point where a struggle ensues for control of those energy sources that remain. Whether or not civilization survives that struggle will have little impact on what happens next. No alternative, renewable source will be able to fill the gap that will be left with the depletion of fossil fuels. Nuclear power will remain expensive, dangerous, and will only postpone the collapse. Fusion will remain as elusive as a will-o'-the-wisp for some time. We have gigatons of Hydrogen, but fusion's most promising process relies not on Hydrogen but Lithium. Even if a Lithium-to-Tritium plant started working tomorrow, we have no way of foreseeing the consequences of eliminating any particular element from the biosphere and would need to work with highly radioactive Tritium.
Unless Stratman's aliens show up soon to terraform Mars and Venus, and hand us the keys to the secrets of the Universe, tough times are ahead of us. We will have to use less energy per person or reduce the number of people using energy. We would eventually return to subsistence farming with limited manufacturing powered by wind and solar power-- essentially back to the 17th century. Perhaps the answer to the Fermi-Hart paradox is that no civilization has been able to solve the energy crisis and overcome the energy gap. (It takes a huge amount of energy to go from planet to planet. Witness the huge fuel tanks of the Saturn V's needed to send Apollo to the moon.) Even if one used the Orion nuclear pulse drive to establish a local system space program, the unavailability of cheap, abundant energy would make it difficult to maintain the necessary level of technology. Once nuclear fuel became the mainstay of the economy, space exploration could be sacrificed as having a lower priority than meeting needs back home. Perhaps we are not the first civilization to see the stars not quite in our grasp and then to watch them slip away forever.
The Possession of Paavo DeshinKristine Kathryn Rusch has a profile in this issue of Analog. I'm impressed by the thoroughness of her stories. Rusch builds her characters in a believable and sympathetic manner that leaves me yearning for more. Possession is one of her Retrieval Artist” stories. Retrieval artists are bounty hunters in a convoluted universe, and Miles Flint is among the very best. Paavo was adopted after his birth parents fled to evade some outstanding alein warrants. But his birth parents have made sure they can keep in touch, naturally.
Paavo's birth parents are Disappeareds-- essentially outlaws in the old sense of the word. Flint is hired by not one but two clients to locate the birth parents. His adoptive parents are well to do, powerful, and tainted by underworld connections. And they adore Paavo as if he were born to them. Maybe more so. Rusch make quite plain her view on the subject of birth parents that re-enter a child's life wreaking havoc as they assert their rights. She equates them with terrorists, while Paavo's adoptive father is in his eyes, regardless of how others see him, the ideal and epitome of fatherhood. (Uncle Orson review of the Retrieval Artist stories.)