Descartes’s Stepchildren by Robert Scherrer

This was a very Analog-esque story. Scientists discover something incredible but the consequences are more messy and complicated. Here we delve into a test for human consciousness.

John and his research partner have developed a special MRI scan that can detect where the consciousness lies in the brain. The twist is that their tests show that about 20% of human test subjects are not really conscious. This discovery hits Johns partner hard, because according to the test his wife’s brain shows no activity in the consciousness-center. She is a what is named a Blank in the story. John wants to publish their results anyway and the world changes drastically when their findings become public knowledge.

A test becomes widely available and many people start to test themselves, their kids, future employees and so on. The Blanks quickly become second-rate citizens unable to get a job or stay in a relationship. Many kids ends up as orphanages because their parents don’t want them. John gets rich for his patents on the tests, but he has increasingly moral qualms about the whole thing.

This story has a lot to unpack. There are plenty of philosophical and existential questions to ponder with the concept of human consciousness. I like the general premise of this story, but the consequences to the greater society are only dealt with in broad headlines since the primary focus is on John. Also, I found that their test was a little too easily accepted as scientific fact. Of course these simplifications are needed for the story to work, but I wasn’t totally convinced of what happened. My reading experience might have been hampered a bit by reading “The Algorithms for Love” the same day. It has a completely different approach to dealing with humans free will, but managed to create a more personal depth to it, whereas this story had a broader and distanced perspective.


Read in Analog January/February 2013
Rating: 3

The Impossibles by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Rusch is usually a reliable author of good entertaining stories and this court-drama is no exception. It is part of her Retrieval Artist stories, but I only realized that afterwards and the story is perfectly fine on its own.

The story follows a lawyer trying to do her best in an interspecies court system where humans have to accept being prosecuted by alien law. This has created a very stressful system for the lawyers, where the best case scenario usually is just a reduced sentence, even though the crime is something small like stepping on a flower or simply touching a specific alien.

As what is often a main ingredient in these types court room dramas, a special case comes along that needs some creative thinking and the use of loopholes in some old laws. That aspect of the story is fine, but the highlight for me was the whole background setting, where we get small drops of details about how this whole ordeal is one big diplomatic trade between Earth and various aliens in order to get access to the galactic trade network. Rich people can of course buy their way out of trouble, but regular people just have to accept being judged cruelly by alien laws they have little way of avoiding. In addition, the main character is a likeable type that really tries to good within the system. All in all a fairly straight forward story that mostly goes where you expect it to, but it was an enjoyable and entertaining read.


Read in Analog December 2011
Rating: 3+

Ray of Light by Brad R. Torgersen

Aliens have turned down the light from the sun causing a global iceage and humans have fled into underground habitats where there is still some heat from the Earths core. A few decades later, some teenagers want to see the sun and the sky – even though they have only heard about in stories from their parents. They set out to make it happen by taking some submarines further than anyone has ever done.

This plot unfolds between the present where a father is searching for his daughter and uncovering what she and her friends are up to, and some flashback scenes from when the girl was younger in which she and we as readers gets some more background on the events that led to this.

This story is quite similar to “A Pail of Air”. Similar premise and same theme about humans finding almost poetic hope in a terrible situation. In places Torgersens tend to be a bit on the sentimental side, but I was still somewhat moved by the story and how it portrays the need for hope and optimism in desperate situations.


Read in Analog December 2011
Rating: 3+

Music to Me by Richard A. Lovett

This story is part of a series of stories with recurring characters, but I think it stands quite well on its own. In a future where spaceships have an AI personality, after a long journey to the outer parts of the solar system a ships AI, named Brittney, have become more self aware than is usual for these AIs. Going back to Earth Brittney must adapt to “survive” so it can keep its memories and unique personality. Brittney gets sort of refurbished into a personal AI for a human host. They start working together for shared and individual goals.

There are so many AI stories in the last couple of years that I become tired of them quickly, but this story tells me that better and more interesting AI stories were written several years ago. Lovett creates the right balance between a relatable and interesting AI character – without it is too much like a human. Very much recommended.


Read in Analog January/February 2014
Rating: 4