REVIEW: "Analog" June 1970 -- Dimension X-Mas, part 3

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!

This issue features a serial by Hal Clement, one of the top "hard science fiction" authors, and in his case it actually means something. Clement wanted to write a story on a world with both high and low gravity, and then invented a planet with just such a property: Mesklin.

Star Light (serialized; part 1 of 3)
Hal Clement

This story, part of the same fictional universe as Mesklin, features some of the same characters from the original Mesklin story "Mission of Gravity" as they explore a different planet, Dhrawn, under the guidance of a human science team in orbit. Dhrawn is another sort of contradictory world: huge, but not a gas giant, so the humans don't know whether to call it a planet or a star. Its gravity is also too much for humans to bear, but Mesklinites, adapted to a world of hundreds of gees, take 60g quite easily. The problem is that their technological culture was still in the "muscle-and-sail" stage when humanity first contacted them, so there are some interesting problems of how to keep the planet rovers Mesklinite-accessible.

"Interesting problems" is probably a good summary of the story's strong points. Dhrawn is a puzzle that Clement sets up and the characters have to reveal by experience. The weaker points are probably that the aliens don't seem alien enough. The description is certainly alien: Mesklinites are six-inch super-dense armored caterpillars that breathe hydrogen and are congenitally terrified of heights and overhanging objects (hundred-gee worlds tend to do that!)... but they talk just like humans would. By comparison, Larry Niven does better with Speaker-to-Animals and Nessus in Ringworld, though since they're also the sole representatives of their species he probably got away with less nuance. Iain M. Banks doesn't really try to make his aliens "alien" in the Culture novels, but he does make sure to have them all seem different. In "Star Light," though, Clement doesn't really differentiate the Mesklinites from the humans, and so muddles it.

Overall, I'm about 50/50 on this story.

A Tale of the Ending
Harry Harrison

This was a weird one. Two humans discuss the nature and history of humanity as they step through portal-like "Doors" connecting far-flung worlds, eventually arriving on a long-dead Earth to look at a museum to humanity... only to realize that maybe they aren't really human in the same way, after all.

It was an interesting setup, but as a standalone story it didn't really do anything for me.

Compulsion
James H. Schmitz

A story about psychic alien trees and the women who convince them that they can stop psychically addicting and mutating people into harmless parasitic organisms.

Lots, and I mean lots, of psi stuff, as well as implied ludicrous-speed FTL or something. But the idea is interesting, and I sort of want Schmitz to lean into the fucked-up weirdness even more in the other stories in this series.

This might also be one of a couple times I've run into a story that I sort of knew about previously, from one of Wayne Barlowe's illustration books. The first time was after reading about the alzabo in Barlowe's Encyclopedia of Fantasy Creatures and again in Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series; this time it was the weird psychic jelly-slug Old Galactics. So that's fun!

A Matter of Orientation
Bob Buckley

An American AI space probe and a Russian AI space probe fall in love on Venus. Forgettable in the extreme.

Message to an Alien
Keith Laumer

A weird sort of military-sf story. It's about a guy who does the "wrong" thing to do the right thing by a race of aliens for whom actions speak louder than words (and so for whom lenient peace treaties are worse than useless). Of course, in the absence of actual aliens in real life, stories like this seem a bit jingoistic when real-life politics inevitably get read into them.


Another late-period Campbell issue of Analog, and it's... not great. But the next one on my shelf, December 1972, has a great (read: depressing as hell) GRRM story! Hooray!...?