This week’s stories are about the perils of time travel, resisting and embracing change, and coming of age on a distant planet. And they all come from the December issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.
If you remember, last week I talked about how all of the “Big Three” digest magazines have changed editors in the past few years—Analog and F&SF most recently.
I’ll admit that I don’t always read my review copies of Analog because I don’t often find stories I like. Analog has a pretty specific tone, and it’s not usually my thing. But after reading the most recent Asimov’s, I got interested in the latest issue of Analog as well. And here’s what I found:
Paris, July 27, 1835.
And she was hungry.
Warm, almost hot, sunshine bathed the Boulevard du Temple. Cafe tables,protected by starched white tablecloths,spilled out and across the sidewalks and on to the narrow strips of lawn, stopped only by the line of gaslights which separated everything from the street itself. Harried waiters sliced, quickly and efficiently, through the crowds, around the chairs and tables and people,to the kitchen and the bar and back again,their left arms protected by serving napkins,their hands busy with bottles of wine and plates of food. Canopies and sun umbrellas over the tables, parasols and tall hats for the patrons, the air thick with the smell of baking and grilling and flowers and . . . she wrinkled her nose and stepped carefully away from the street and a fresh deposit from a horse.
Still, it smelled much better than New York.
She continued down the street. The buildings on both sides of the street topped out at five floors. Finally, high up on the wall of an otherwise undistinguished building, she saw it.
A carved stone eagle.
Below it was an unmarked door. She approached carefully and positioned herself so the spy eyes could scan her; facial recognition and retinas. She touched the door handle, let it confirm her DNA, and heard the lock click open. She turned the knob and stepped inside.
Obligatory hugs and California-style air kisses. The door firmly shut behind her. Air conditioning and discreet artificial lighting. Floor to ceiling display paint covered the walls to make it seem they were actually outdoors. Cafe tables, several occupied by guests in various period clothing, and a discreet staff of waiters, at attention, in the back of the room. And still the smell of cooking bread and soup and grilled meat and vegetables. Minus the underlying odor of fresh horse output.
If you’re a time travel story geek like me you’ll appreciate this one. It’s got history and timey-wimeyness and a pretty interesting premise. The only misstep is an offhand comment where a character says he has three kids: a boy, a girl, and a herm. Herm? *sigh*.
Builders of Leaf Houses by Catherine Wells [Excerpt]
The three young males approached Motherlove cautiously, bobbing their crested heads in nervous respect. Earlier, while cooling her three-toed feet in the soft mud by the lake, she had seen them with their heads bent together, gesturing urgently, though her aging eyes could not make out what they’d said with their f lashing fingers. Now as she entered the village, the tallest one signed a greeting. “Honor and respect, Motherlove.”
He was Swiftfoot, who had covered Motherlove’s elder daughter Workwork during her last mating heat. Motherlove was gratified to see he did not presume this gave him any special privileges with her. The other two hung back warily. Ha. What did they think she would do to them? Give them a good nip for their impertinence? She was too tired after her journey, and she had a bad tooth in front. She gave an impatient twitch of her tail to remind the males of their station and blinked her permission to continue.
“We hunted in the southern forest today beyond the salt rocks and saw two strange creatures.” His clawed fingers hesitated, then continued.“I think they are Fragile Ones.”
Fragile Ones! Motherlove gave a short, breathy hoot of annoyance through her tubular crest. That was all she needed. Spindly limbed creatures with no tails, who dug rocks out of the ground—Why didn’t they stay on the banks of the Great River, where they had been coming and going for a generation? Why must they come into her forest and trouble her already difficult last days?
Unbidden, her eyes turned to the Smoking Mountain rising up across the lake, and to the puffs of ash hovering above it. Once, such plumes had come only once or twice a cycle. But six had occurred during the cycle just past, and three more already in this cycle. . . . She nodded to the males. “I see your words,” she signed. “My thanks for bringing me this information.”
Just then Neverrest scrambled down from the leaf house of her friend Lazyfingers and pelted across the clearing toward them. Motherlove tooted her annoyance, and her younger daughter skidded to a halt before proceeding at a slower pace. “You’re back!” Neverrest signed. “I was afraid you might be lost, and it’s almost dark.”
Motherlove glared reprovingly. “I am not a foolish young one, to make such a mistake. Go stir the fire and heat some stones for our bed. It will be cool tonight.”
Neverrest’s tail drooped as she turned away, making Motherlove repent her snappish words. But as the child walked off, Motherlove noticed one of the young males sniffing the air discreetly. Neverrest was entering her tenth cycle; she would come into her first heat sometime this season. The male was checking for any trace of the scent heralding that event.
Motherlove wanted to nip at him, but what was the point? He was a male; scenting fertile females was part of his role. At least he had tried not to be obvious about it in front of her. At least he did not scorn Neverrest for her handicap.
Brushing that thought quickly aside, Motherlove turned her attention back to Swiftfoot. Her time of meditation in the Valley of Bones had not rendered the solutions she sought, but her decision in this matter of the Fragile Ones was clear. “Leave the Fragile Ones alone. With luck, they will do the same for us.”
Disappointment showed on Swiftfoot’s face, but he bobbed his head in acknowledgement of her authority and backed away.
When he and the others had gone, Motherlove trudged over to join Neverrest at their fire. The youngling looked up expectantly. “I gathered some nice tender watershoots for supper,” Neverrest signed. “And Workwork is cooking sweetbeast.” She pointed to a f lat stone partly obscured by coals.
Motherlove glanced at the stone and knew a joint baked in the warm earth beneath it. “Good.” She settled on her haunches beside her daughter. “I’m not sure I have the energy to chew anything as stringy as plump-pods tonight.”
Seeing her mother was less peevish now, Neverrest brightened. “What did Swiftfoot want? Did he tell you about the Fragile Ones?”
Motherlove gave a sharp toot of annoyance. “Has he spread news of them across the village?”
“Oh, no.” Neverrest’s fingers flew in hasty response. “He and his friends talked as they came back, and I couldn’t help but see. . . .”
Motherlove suppressed a sigh. No doubt her daughter wasn’t alone. “Let’s hope the rest of the village ‘couldn’t help but see’ my answer. Leave the Fragile Ones alone; do not interfere with them or even cross their path. In blindness they come, in blindness let them depart.”
It was seven cycles since Motherlove first heard of the Fragile Ones at a Friendly Council across the Great River. Some of the Thinking Ones there had memories of them from their mothers’ time: how they traveled on rafts with walls, like baskets; how they grew excited about some black rocks they found, loading them into their basket-rafts and taking them away.
Motherlove shook her head. She could not worry about Fragile Ones and their peculiarities just now. This was the spring of her fortieth cycle, and soon she would walk no more among the Thinking Ones, but must lie down with her ancestors in the Valley of Bones. It was a respite she did not fear, but important things needed doing first. She must select her successor. She must decide what to do about the Smoking Mountain. And she must make law about the defective children, children like Neverrest, born without the one trait on which the Thinking Ones depended for survival.
Children born without memories.
I’d heard rumors that the new Analog was featuring more LGBT themes and this was upsetting longtime readers—but if anything, this novella is aggressively heterosexual and heteronormative. The society of the creatures we see in the opening is matriarchal, which is cool, though I take issue with the species having just two genders (at least that we see). When we do see some humanoid folk (Fragile Ones) it’s a man and a woman, and the man keeps literally picking up or grabbing the woman to initiate sex. There’s no indication that this isn’t consensual, though he never asks, he just takes. It’s a problem.
Still, I enjoyed the anthropological aspects of this story and that the author crafted a matriarchal society that works and isn’t just patriarchy with gender flip. Also appreciate that the “alien” creatures do feel genuinely alien—just enough to differentiate from the humans, who are far future humans and thus different from us as well.
It was my seventh birthday, a big day, and I know that in other families and clans in the settlement reaching one’s seventh birthday means a day-long celebration of sing-alongs, sweets, and a few gifts. But for the Stone family and for the Lockheed tube, the afternoon of my seventh birthday meant cleaning up goat turds in the Beta farming tunnel. Bad enough to work on my seventh birthday, but I also hate goats! Some of my cousins shy away from naming their goats— since they don’t want to get too friendly to a creature that will eventually end up as sausage or a meatpie filling—but I don’t care. The crew I was cleaning today I had named Satan, Baal, Bathsheba, and Lilith—after Father’s permission, of course—and they took a cruel delight in getting in my way as I tried to clean things up. Which was fine, because I knew that my future was a hell of a lot brighter than theirs.
Eventually I got the job done, got out of the goat pen, and put everything in its proper collection space, and went to the local terminal to key in how much I had collected and how the four little devil goats were doing, and then, soon enough, I hoped, I would get to my home cubic and my seventh birthday celebration.
Some celebration so far. School in the morning, chores in the afternoon—and my chores weren’t done, not even close. I know that in some families, the brothers or sisters chip in on the seventh year celebration, to make the birthday boy or girl have even a more special day, but that little trend has yet to reach the Stone family, and knowing Father and Mother, I doubt it ever will. They’re big on doing your chores and taking care of your own responsibilities.
This is the kind of story I expect out of Analog. There’s a TON of detail about the day-to-day workings of this space colony, but not much in the way of story. It’s slice of life with a bunch of science. Normally not my thing, though I was pulled in by trying to suss out exactly what was going on, where the character is, and the little details about life and community.
All in all, I’m glad I read this issue. There are more stories in it that I enjoyed than I would have guessed from previous attempts. Analog Magazine and I are not done with each other.
What’s your favorite recent story from Analog or one of the other “Big Three” magazines?