Short Reviews of Short Fiction

Jan 31, 20:41 by Bluejack
There was a lot to review this month... Let's talk about short stories!

(The reviews are here.)
Feb 1, 12:45 by Carl Frederick
My story, The Fruitcake Genome, in Analog was briefly reviewed this month.
Unlike the Tangent Online reviewer, the IROSF reader didn't much like it. Not a problem; hard SF is an acquired taste.

The story though, had a hidden agenda--which might become apparent to visitors to the Analog website (
On the site, at the Science Behind the Story column, one can read the story for free, and, more interestingly, listen to the translation from the fruit fly genome to music (an MP3 file), and also read an article about the translation. The story was prompted by an 'untouched by human hands' translation of chromosomes to music.

I invite all to the site for words and music.
Feb 1, 12:50 by Bluejack
Thanks, Carl! Here's the direct link for people to click through.

I will say that your science behind the article, while fascinating, does make clearer one of my objections to the story: the vast number of assumptions you make in order to turn genetic material into music are all human assumptions -- indeed, they are assumptions based on western musical patterns! So to find messages in the DNA would either require assumptions the encoders could not have planned for, or else the patterns of repetition, either at the base or the codon level, would be so apparent to anyone analyzing the sequence that it would have been discovered long ago.

Hunting for patterns -- and finding them! -- where there are no patterns to be found is a fascinating side-effect of the human brain, to date the most efficient pattern-recognition machine on earth. I think you're on to some amazing stuff here, I'm sorry the story didn't work for me, but at least it worked for many! (That's often the way with Analog and me, I'm sad to say.)
Feb 1, 14:15 by Carl Frederick
Bluejack, you're most kind. I appreciate your comments.

Actually though, I'm not sure they _are_ human assumptions (I have actually, tried non-western patterns as well). I wonder if there are data that transform to asthetically pleasing forms (music, graphic art) independent of translation paradigm. But of course, this may be outside the valid constraints of short-story critique.

And once again, thank you for your time and consideration--perhaps one of my next Analog stories will appeal to you.


Feb 5, 01:20 by Thomas Reeves
Your review of the December Asimov mildly confused me. For me it seemed pretty clear that "Red Hands, Black Hands" was alternate history, not the story of a futuristic colony. Also that both "Red Hands, Black Hands" and "A Reunion" took place on Earth. The idea they don't never really occured to me while reading them, but in retrospect I could see that "A Reunion" might be set on a colony world. The idea of humans re-establishing contact with a primitive Earth kind of appealed to me more as I grew up on things like "Pebble in the Sky."

Also I'm not saying you were wrong on either. If anything I wonder if you picked up on something I missed.
Feb 5, 09:18 by Bluejack
Thanks for the comments, Camden. I love talking about stories!

"Red Hands, Black Hands" is probably alternate history, projected into a space-faring future; but it could equally be a far future that anticipates the restoration of an Emperor in a globally dominant China. Either way, it has to be considered a distant future due to the fact that the action takes place on a world other than Earth. Consider this passage, early in the story:

"The skin around his eyes and mouth was pale in comparison to his sun-darkened cheeks and forehead, suggestive of someone who had spent some considerable time outside the confines of the Tianfei Valley, out on the high plains of the red planet's surface, where the air was thin and unsatisfying, and where breather-masks and goggles were still a necessity. The council of Deliberative Officials had released a report late the previous year, which stated that the planet Hua Hsing was within four generations of producing sufficient levels of oxygen and nitrogen that breathers would no longer be necessary even at the planet's highest peaks..."

So, Hua Hsing is a planet; possibly Mars, but probably something interstellar. (Mars' highest peaks would NEVER be breathable). Also, consider the background of Madam Jade:

"She had immigrated from Earth under something of a cloud, the rumors said, though she would never admit to the reasons."

As for whether it is alternate history or not, we would have to know more about Chris Roberson's world-building: non-Chinese cultures are mentioned: British, The Mexica, the Hindu. The mention of Mexica without any mention of the US suggest an alternate history in which the dominant nation or people in the Americas are the Mexica -- perhaps a native peoples in a history without Europe's colonization of the continents, or maybe just a different route post-invasion. However, one could also imagine a future in which the Chinese have obliterated the United States and the only remaining power on the content is Mexico.

As for "A Reunion," I think it's pretty clear that it's a colony. Sparse population, pristine planet, people having lots of babies, strange animals, no signs of ruins from prior civilizations, the fragility of their infrastructure. Most telling however, the core around which all the action takes is the "landing site" -- this is the place at which the machines first wake up, indicating the return of civilizatin. The references to "landing site" are used in historical references, so it's not just the landing site of the return of humanity -- it's always been called the landing site. In fact, the whole story felt quite a bit like Steele's Coyote series, despite the differences in politics and Gate technology.

It will be interesting to see if there are more stories in the "Reunion" world on the way. This felt like the defining moment in someone who is to become a pivotal character in the future of the colony; although whether hero or villain remains delightfully ambiguous.

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