Selective Reading Through Analog Science Fiction & Fact, 1976

Exploring old magazines can be a lot of fun. I selected one short story, novelette or novella from each issue of Analog from 1976

January 1976 
Herbie Brennan – Angel
January 1976 saw the start of a 4-part serialisation in Analog of Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune. An obvious choice to read in each issue perhaps, but I have already read the novel, and the idea here was to read a less well-known complete story in each issue. So, to kick things off I selected Herbie Brennan’s short story, Angel. This was a passable story only but benefited from being crisply written and engaging. The messages that a religious cult leader obtain from Venus, from a certain Jesus Christ, are not what they seem. A prolific (and successful) Irish author, Herbie Brennan writes well, but this is not a classic.

February 1976
Greg Bear – A Martian Ricorso
I chose the Greg Bear short story in this issue, though it was a tough choice, as there was actually an Asimov published the same month. A ‘ricorso’ is a recurrence, I believe, and this is a story of a recurring natural event on Mars that threatens a human mission there. It’s quite nicely done – the interactions between the characters was quite good, and I liked the idea well enough, but this is perhaps not among his finest work. His Martians were kinda cool.

March 1976
Keith Laumer – Field Test
A ‘Bolo’ story, making it one of Laumer’s stories about advanced giant tanks, making it early military SF. I quite liked it as it sped along well and maintained interest, with Laumer using a method of jumping around between numerous points of view, including that of the self-aware Bolo Mk XX. I didn’t quite understand why there was such a dilemma whether to use the Mark XX tank, when presumably they still had previous models available that would have done the job.

April 1976
Hayford Peirce – Rebounder
This story is one in a series of tales about Chap Foey Rider, an Anglo-Chinese factor to the Galactic Federation, and an anagram of the author’s name. Beautifully written, this is witty and urbane. Hayford Peirce was very popular at one time, but while he published numerous novels between the late 1980’s and mid-2000’s I don’t know much about him and hadn’t previously read anything by him. I guess that’s why these sorts of random reading exercises are personally worthwhile.

May 1976 
Gordon Eklund – The Prince in Metropolis 
This was a fairly good story (middling, perhaps). It tells how an amputee was aided to become a popular and significant (though flawed) politician through technology.  Told through flashbacks at the end of the man’s life, I thought it was quite well structured. Eklund is another author I’m not hugely familiar with, but he won the Nebula for Best Novelette for his 1974 short story If the Stars Are Gods (co-written with Gregory Benford). He may be most famous for writing some of the better known, early, Star Trek novels.

June 1976
Christopher Anvil – Brains Isn’t Everything 
A prolific SF author from the late 1950’s through to about 1990, Anvil will be well known to many I suspect, though I’ll admit I’ve only read a few short stories by him. This was an amusing story, well told, and I enjoyed it.  I guess it followed a well-worn SF trope by the end, but it was nicely set up.  Strange, friendly and tentacular aliens offer the people of each major nation on Earth pills for one great advantage, be it perfect health, or better brain power.  But is it an alien trick and what is their motivation?    

July 1976
Joe Haldeman – Tricentennial 
This was awarded the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1977. This is a cracking short story, with more than a whiff of Tau Zero, about it. It’s more sombre and serious than some of the stories I’ve read in this 1976 exploration and provided both genuine a sense of wonder (so rare) and had a greater ‘weight’ to it than many stories. The end is terrific, and you don’t really see it developing as it does.  

August 1976
Bud Sparhawk – The Tomkins Battery Case 
In August, Analog started serialising another famous novel, Shadrach in the Furnace by Silverberg, but again I gave the well-known serial a swerve and selected this short story by Bud Sparhawk.  Unfortunately, this is a very light bit of fluff really.  Outside of the Silverberg, I’m not sure this issue had much of quality to offer though.  It is a humorous piece, where a character is addicted, but not to drugs… it  read as though it was from another era – it’s all rather 1950’s.

September 1976
Arsen Darnay – Aspic’s Mystery
I liked this story – I struggled to find a story that looked very appealing in this issue, not having heard of the authors (and not being inspired by the cover story), but this was a decent and serious tale, describing how the monitoring and capture of radioactive waste following a holocaust war is carried out by a religious sect. The monks have been brainwashed into following tenets that manage waste disposal and management for centuries.  They have lost understanding of why they do what they do, and what radioactivity means, but we see what happened through our understanding of old press clippings on monk archivist finds.  Its all quite neat and well done – a solid story.

October 1976
Joan D. Vinge – Media Man 
For the astute and/or gender-conscious among you, you may notice that this was the first occasion I read a story by a woman in this reading exploration. I wanted to include work by women in my reading before this time, but until September there were zero stories by women in Analog in 1976! In September, there was a story by Vonda McIntyre, which I thought I’d give a go, but it was not at all to my taste, so I switched and read the Darsany, discussed above.  This then is the first female offering I read.  It is excellent, and was nominated for the Hugo award for Best Novella (its quite long).  It tells a great story of the rescue of someone from a cold planet in a far solar system and high intrigue, and murder, thereafter – and it’s set in a nice backdrop (the Heaven system, which Vinge used as the location of some of her other stories). Vinge writes well, in an uncluttered direct style I like (the polar opposite of McIntyre) and I’ll look out for more Heaven stories in future. 
November 1976
Spider Robinson – By Any Other Name 
This was the Hugo Award winner for Best Novella in 1977. It’s a good story, with (I felt) quite a few parallels with Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids – i.e. the conflation of both a human disaster leading to huge loss of life, couple with a new threat. In this case the human disaster is based on changes to our sense of smell, and the new threat comes not from triffids but from spirit creatures called Muskies. Set in this dystopian future, largely in a now-empty New York city, it’s a very satisfying tale, with a twist at the end, and good crisp pacing. I didn’t entirely approve of some of the ‘science’ in it as it wasn’t all that believable, but if you withhold your disbelief, it’s quite a powerful piece.  The title is I expect a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet says, What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.  

December 1976
P.J. Plauger – The Con Artist 
Fascinating tale, and with writing that reminds me of Cordwainer Smith (the protagonist shrugged Italian, then later on shrugs British; and “Lightning was playing down near December cap… Marianne must be doing the weather this month”; little inventive details that derail and expand the sense of difference to our normal). P.J. Plauger seems an interesting figure – he had considerable success with his previous story in the same series (Child of All Ages was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards in 1976), he won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1975 and he has a PhD in nuclear physics. This short story is great – concerning immortals visiting Earth and threatening the human hearth. Recommended.