I've gotten a bit behind on reviewing the SF magazines, haven't I? Time to play catch-up, then...
The May 2008 Analog had quite a few stories of interest. Darrell Schweitzer's two-page Probability Zero entry "The Dinosaurs of Eden" ponders what really would have happened if dinosaurs and human beings coexisted at the dawn of creation, and Eric James Stone's "The Ashes of His Fathers" follows a member of a theocratic colony world on a pilgrimage back to Earth. But my favorite story in the issue was David Bartell's "Test Signals," a mystery involving bioengineering and posthuman mutants. One character in the story is a genetic engineer who is trying to recreate a preternaturally-powerful strain of marijuana:
"Think about it. Man's been growing and smoking herb almost since fire was harnessed. So herb evolved along with the human brain, in symbiosis. As man became more conscious, he needed herb less, so Mary Jane became relatively barren. And we became less spiritual... Today's herb is weak, giving only a bit of euphoria. But Sinsemilla, now, she would restore man's full consciousness, a direct link to the original spirit breathed into the Garden of Eden."
That's just a supporting character, but later on there's some technological prayer and some talk of ancient prophets. A great story overall.
The standout story in the June 2008 Asimov's is Ian R. MacLeod's novella "The Hob Carpet," an odd story set in a far-future about a society dependent on a slave class of cloned "hobs." Much of the story involves this society's civic religion and priest caste.
The lead story in the June Analog is "Brittney's Labyrinth" by Richard A. Lovett. It's a sequel to his "Sands of Titan," which I reviewed here last year-- it involves an AI program named Brittney who gives hope to a stranded astronaut by reading him Bible stories (among other things). Brittney's the main character this time around, and though there's less explicitly religious content it does raise some interesting questions about the nature of consciousness, and even a brief hint that the AI may believe in God.
The July Asimov's is chock full of great stories. First up there's "Lester Young and the Jupiter's Moons' Blues" by Gord Sellar, in which aliens take jazz musicians into space, giving them drug treatments that enable them to enter multiple timelines and play several solos at once. It's got a nice atmosphere, and the fact that many of the musicians are Muslim is an interesting touch. The story's conflict arises from one musician's growing realization that the alien's treatments may leave the players literally soulless. Also in this issue is "Vinegar Peace, or, the Wrong-Way Used-Adult Orphanage," a truly heartbreaking story by Michael Bishop. Bishop's son Jamie died in the Virginia Tech shootings last year, and this story-- about a "wrong-way orphanage" for parents whose children are killed in a near-future war-- is clearly a cathartic exercise. The eponymous "vinegar peace" is the wrong-way orphanage chapel's Eucharist:
"Take, eat; take, drink: the flesh and blood of your offspring in remembrance of a joy you no longer possess; in honor of a sacrifice too terrible to share."
To say it's a sad story is an understatement, but it's also haunting and, hopefully, healing. The issue closes with a more lighthearted tale: Brian Stableford's "The Philosopher's Stone," an alternate history story about John Dee. It's an enjoyable enough story, though some knowledge of Dee's life and thought would probably make it more so.
Analog's July/August double issue has two stories and a fact article that are of interest here. Bond Elam's "A Plethora of Truth" is, to my mind, not really SF-- it's a not-terribly-sophisticated satire of televangelism that could have been written in the early '80s, which is when it seems to take place, given the fact that it's about televangelism at all. (Couldn't it at least have been web-evangelism?) It's the story of two feuding preachers who turn to the divine to settle their dispute. A bit higher on the sophistication scale are Carl Frederick's story "The Exoanthropic Principle" and its accompanying fact article "The Challenge of the Anthropic Universe." The story describes the discovery of messages from a bigger universe than our own, and the folks who discover the signals have a brief debate about their possible religious meaning. The article explores the apparent fine-tuning of our universe to support life, a topic well-explained by Robert J. Sawyer's novel Calculating God (which I discuss here). Frederick offers three scientific explanations, and a fourth, quickly-dismissed theological one. Frederick's story shows he's capable of conceiving a bigger universe than this one, but his article makes it clear that he can't help but misdefine God as a guy with a beard (and perhaps a slide rule). He asks us to question our definition of the universe, but doesn't take into account other definitions of God that would mesh quite well with any of the other explanations he lays out. If you're not going to seriously discuss the concept of God, why bring it up at all?
Check back in a day or two for reviews of the current issues of both Asimov's and Analog!