Sunday, October 28, 2018

Birthday Review: Stories of Richard A. Lovett

Richard A. Lovett is one of Analog's most regular contributors (of non-fiction as well as fiction), and one of its best. Today is his 65th birthday, and so here is a compilations of many of my Locus reviews of his stories.

(Locus, March 2003)

More interesting in the March issue of Analog is Richard A. Lovett's "Equalization", which addresses an elaborate version of the idea at the heart of Kurt Vonnegut's classic "Harrison Bergeron". In Lovett's story, people choose a career in early adolescence, and from that point forward they are transferred to new bodies each year. The idea is to balance skilled minds with less-skilled bodies, so that competition within a field is roughly equal. The story itself concerns a long-distance runner who realizes that he has been, presumably by mistake, transferred to his own original body, giving him a huge advantage. The idea here is quite interesting, but the story itself doesn't quite work, and the full ramifications of the central idea don't really hold together.

(Locus, September 2003)

The September Analog's strongest story is Richard Lovett's "Tiny Berries", which postulates even worse spam than now -- to the point of intercepting cars and extorting sales. The hero and a couple of friends come up with a solution (probably not workable but interesting) -- wrapped around a sweet but not really convincing love story.

(Locus, January 2004)

Richard A. Lovett's "Weapons of Mass Distraction" (Analog, January-February) extrapolates Patriot Act-like anti-terrorist measures to extremes, making a point about the real consequences -- and one beneficiary -- of such invasions of privacy.

(Locus, June 2005)

Richard Lovett and Mark Niemann-Ross in "NetPuppets" (Analog, June 2005) posit a Sims-like online game. A group of co-workers discover the game and create a couple of characters. The game adds detail to the characters, sometimes making subtle changes. The players try to alter their characters' lives, but unlike with Sims their actions are constrained to fairly plausible real-life actions -- for example, they cannot make a character win the lottery, but they can push her towards a better job. But they might also push their characters in negative ways -- or in criminal ways. But so what? It's only a game, right? The twist is predictable but well-handled, and the moral point, expressed through several characters, is sharply put.

(Locus, November 2005)

I also liked Richard A. Lovett’s "911-Backup", which as with many of Lovett’s stories deals intelligently with the problem areas of future tech, in ideal Analog fashion. In this case the tech is brain capacity enhancement via computer implant, and the problem is "What happens if the computer crashes, and you have offloaded too much capacity away from your brain onto the computer?"

(Locus, February 2007)

Richard A. Lovett’s "The Unrung Bells of the Marie Celeste" (Analog, January-February), is an interesting look at an idea I’ve seen once or twice before: FTL that works fine for unmanned missions but that fails whenever a human is the pilot. (For example, the fairly obscure Poul Anderson story "Mustn’t Touch".) Lovett’s reason why it doesn’t work is clever and also leads to an interesting personal story about his main character, a man chosen for a test flight because he is suicidal.

(Locus, October 2009)

Abyss and Apex for the third quarter includes a Richard A. Lovett story, "Carpe MaƱana", that, as often with Lovett, thoroughly explores the social implications of a technological innovation -- his work in this vein reminds me of H. L. Gold’s Galaxy more than about any contemporary writer I can recall. The innovation explored here is the stasis box -- a fairly old SF idea, a box in which no time passes. It’s first used for food preservation -- no need for refrigeration if you can just pop in the fresh food and use it when needed. But Lovett, in a series of short pieces, shows its use by humans -- a daughter trying to escape contact with her parents, a man with Seasonal Affective Disorder skipping winter, prisoners warehoused until their cases are decided, etc. It’s thoughtful and often scary.

(Locus, July 2011)

I mentioned Jack and the Beanstalk stories last month and look! This month Analog has one. in the July-August 2011 issue. It’s called "Jak and the Beanstalk", by Richard A. Lovett, and I don’t think it will surprise anyone to learn that the Beanstalk of the title is a space elevator. Jak spends his life planning to climb the Beanstalk, a rather mad enterprise, and the first part of the story is devoted to showing how one might do that ... which to be honest isn’t terribly compelling as narrative. But the story gets rather better when war breaks out while Jak is on his way up -- making his position on the Beanstalk arguably better than anyone’s on Earth. And when he gets to the geosynchronous part of the Beanstalk and finds the maintenance crew attempting to survive, his priorities change -- in a way he finally really grows up, and ends up heading elsewhere. Lovett is probably Analog’s best current regular writer -- a writer who fits snugly within the Analog format yet does thought-provoking and interesting and continually different work within it.

(Locus, August 2012)

At the July/August Analog the cover story is "Nightfall on the Peak of Eternal Light", by Richard Lovett and William Gleason, a Moon colonization story. It focuses on a man trying to immigrate to the Moon, as part of a witness protection program. The problem is, it's hard to earn your ticket to stay ... not to mention, it turns out to be easy enough to be found even if you do stay. The ideas about why and how the Moon might be colonized are interesting, and the central plot is enjoyable enough, though the story is probably a bit too long.

(Locus, February 2015)

Analog's big Double Issue for January-February features "Defender of Worms", a novella from Richard Lovett, the latest in a long series of stories about an AI named Brittney. Freed by her first owner, who lives in the outer Solar System, she is back on Earth and acting as a sort of governess for a rebellious rich girl named Memphis. But Brittney is being hunted by another AI, which she calls the Others, and Memphis wants to escape her mother's influence, so the two have lit out for the desolate American West, off the grid. But the enemy has resources, and Memphis has a lot of learning to do, besides Brittney needing to learn to live with Memphis. This is good, entertaining SF, with plenty of action and some nice (if not terribly new) ideas behind it.

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