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20 December 2016

REVIEW: "Analog" December 1972 -- Dimension X-Mas, part 4

The Christmas story involves outer space, so in the spirit of the season I'm going to review as many of my vintage science fiction magazines as I can before the new year!

Finally, George R. R. Martin! I haven't written an official review of his collection Sandkings yet, but if you only know GRRM because of A Song of Ice and Fire / "Game of Thrones" you're missing out on weird, grimdark science fiction!

Not that you'd guess it from the cover art on this magazine: there's some serious 70's blond coiffure going on there. (I guess that's its own special kind of horror...)

The Second Kind of Loneliness
George R. R. Martin

The diary entries of a man tasked with opening a wormhole for ships passing beyond the orbit of Pluto, as he awaits his replacement and the end of his tour of duty.

Except, this being George R. R. Martin, there's going to be an emotional gut-punch somewhere. (Anything else will ruin it; just read the damn story.)

I will say, though, that Martin's space stories (especially the ones explicitly set in his "Thousand Worlds" future history, are often bizarre and bizarrely poignant. If the excessive wordiness of the Thrones series bothers you, read some of his sf to convince yourself that Martin can actually spin one hell of a tale. He's also very imaginatively grimdark in the sense that the settings and stories end up being grim and dark without necessarily excessive violence and brutality. This story, for example.

Original Sin
Vernor Vinge

This might be sort of the opposite case to GRRM. Vinge is pretty well acclaimed as a novelist―two novels (A Fire Upon the Deep and Rainbows End) won the Hugo awards for their respective years, and two more (The Peace War and its sequel Marooned in Realtime) were nominated―but while I've read and greatly enjoyed Rainbows End I found this story somewhat lacking.

The setting is that the narrator, one Doctor Hikkonnen, is secretly working on longevity drugs for a race of non-human aliens, the Shimans, and the Earth Police Force wants to stop him. "Earthpol" does have the point that the Shimans are sort of like shark-headed kangaroos who have voracious appetites and die because they give birth to thousands of ravenous spawn at the end of their two-year lifespans―this is the only limiting factor to their civilizational growth in spite of their above-human-baseline intelligence.

On the other hand, maybe humanity deserves a challenge? (I think that's almost exactly the supervillain Vandal Savage's reasoning in Young Justice...)

While the setting is interesting, the social aspect to the story seemed both weird and preachy (the aliens were really only civilized because of the introduction of Christianity and its doctrines of sin and self-abnegation[???]; technological progress has been entirely co-opted by the Japanese to the point where technical terms are only in Japanese[???]). There was a bit of this in Rainbows End (specifically a scene where the University library's science fiction section is dumped into a machine to be shredded and digitized in the interests of a megacorp) but it had a bigger, meatier story wrapped around it. Here it's just odd.

When I Was in Your Mind
Joe Allred

This is sort of a different spin on "psychic surgery." Yeah, it involves psi (ding ding ding!) but Allred implies that natural psi is something sort of like the atomic forces: too weak to do anything at macro scale, but advanced technology can enhance the effect for useful work. And in this case it's more of a neural interface than anything spooky.

So anyway the story is about a famous psi-surgeon who's going to do a demonstration of brain surgery for hopeful med students, but things go wrong. It's a surprisingly straightforward "medical" story (in the sense of "E.R." or "House"... you know, not real) but with the sci-fi twist of having some machine-prosthesis/"Inception" style stuff. Pretty well done overall.

Sf social progress watch: It's THE FUTURE and we have machine-mediated brain-to-brain interfaces, but the med students are all male, and there are still secretaries (implied all female). Meanwhile in the actual future we're closer to gender parity among doctors and their secretaries than we are to full machine-facilitated telepathy and cyber-surgery.

Cemetery World (serialized; part 2 of 3)
Clifford D. Simak

Skipped; not going to read serials if I don't have the part 1.

P.R.D. and the Antareans
Miriam Allen DeFord

Another female sf writer! (There really are more than people think.) Too bad this story is sort of an eye-roller.

Pard
F. Paul Wilson

This is a weird one. The setting is during a new wave of human expansion into the galaxy, after a previous human stellar empire collapsed, so the scattered worlds have diverged somewhat, and the new Federation (hm) has a certain policy against re-introducing worlds to spacefaring civilization (hmmmm).

The actual plot involves the narrator getting infected with an unusual parasite, and also intriguing his way back into a quasi-medieval backwater world to rescue a cyborg spaceship brain.

It's definitely odd. But I found myself sort of enjoying it.


The next magazine on my shelf comes from 1973. So far my liking a story has tracked decently well with whether it was republished elsewhere after the magazine, or at least the ones that weren't republished have been ones I didn't like.

Well, the next magazine only has one story that ended up getting republished, so my expectations are low. We'll see how that plays out!

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