Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review: “Championship B’tok” by Edward M. Lerner

Review: “Championship B’tok by Edward M. Lerner (Analog, Sept 2014) SPRP

This is a Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy nominee.

After the end of this (I have learned to check for this first) Analog sez, "The earliest hints of an Intervener conspiracy emerged in “The Matthews Conundrum,” in the November 2013 issue. Expanded and novelized, earlier crises of the InterstellarNet era (several first seen in Analog) are available as InterstellarNet: Origins and InterstellarNet: New Order."

Gah! Again! It's not a novelette or novella, it's part of a longer story that takes place in various other publications. I'm not going to vote a piece as Hugo-worthy if you can't grok the damn thing by sitting down and reading it.

The setting is what I've called ever since reading Doon (the National Lampoon parody of Herbert's Dune) "They play a dangerous game!" This is the type of thriller, like Dune, where various spies, augmented people, aliens, AIs, et freakin' al intrigue the living shit out of some McGuffin. In this case, there's also a real game involved because "B'tok" is a multi-dimensional game played by the aliens (and picked up by the local humans) which entails both players only able to see part of the layout of the game, and as many diversions and interruptions as possible. I'd be a lousy player of B'tok because I didn't really follow the all twists and turns of the story so I'm an obvious candidate for B'tok championship runner-up due to being misled and sleight-of-handed by the sheer complications of the dangerous moves.

It's far too complicated to sum up, so straight to the discussion. This is definitely SF, what with it being set in space and on moons and having aliens and suchlike. The story moves briskly along and if it had a beginning and an end it could have been a contender. There are actual human women in it who behave like human women and live, conspire and die in a believable fashion. I know that sounds like damning with faint praise, but it is pretty rare in SF.

On the down side, although aliens and humans have access to Helium-3, Deuterium and antimatter, and we get a mensh of accelerating at "two gees", I'm not sure how people get to the further parts of the Solar System as quickly as they do. I think the orbital mechanics are a bit cheated-on in order to have a fast story.

There's also a first chapter that concerns the accident investigations of someone called Lyle, which is a great name and I thoroughly approve. But at the end of the chapter Lyle feels something, presumably a blaster, against his back and someone says, "Do not move!" In the remaining 20 pages, Lyle is never mentioned again. Neither is his ship, his ship's AI, or the disabled ship he's investigating. What happened to Lyle? Why was what he was doing important? (He did play chess with his AI, so he was foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is good.)

The writing bears hints of haste.

"Even offloading much of the load to her implant" 
"Hunters evolved from pack-hunting carnivores" 
"What unusual had been received?" 
"three diners, deep in high-pitched, guttural conversation"

This remark isn't directed at Mr. Lerner, but rather at the sum of the stories I've read so far. Stories in Analog are exactly the same as they were decades ago. The one development is that writers now write trilogies, hexalogies and general set-in-the-universe-of-$novel_name stories in the form of novelettes, whereas previously they had limited that to the endless series of novels some of them produce. I've always preferred a new story myself, though I recognize readers sometimes like more of the same.


G. Nordley said...

Thanks for taking the time to read an Analog story. I would like to point out that two gravities of continuous acceleration (about 20 meters per second squared) is really quite a lot. It would get you from Earth to Saturn, for instance, in about 6.3 days. This acceleration is many times the strength of the Sun's gravity at Earth's distance, so the path of such vehicles would be only slightly curved. About all you'd need orbital mechanics for is to point at where Saturn will be 6.3 days or so from departure!

Lyle Hopwood said...

One good thing about the internet is that someone who knows what they're talking about will always drop by. Thanks for the info! That is indeed quick.
Not all trips could have been that fast, though. The one mentioned was Lyle's ship which he thought of as the fastest around, and it was a hardship for him. I bet the tossed-salad eating lady wasn't traveling on ships spending days at 2G, turning over and decelerating at the same rate for another few days!


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