Richard A. Lovett and Mark Niemann-Ross have a great novellette, “New Wineskins,” in the October issue of Analog: Science Fiction and Fact (don’t ask me why the October issue is out already). It’s near-future science fiction, which I tend to like. I like to imagine what might happen in 10 years or so, since I have a chance of seeing how that works out. (SPOILER ALERT: I quote from the ending toward the end of this post).
There are many things to like about “New Wineskins.” It’s smoothly written. The main character is a reporter, and, as a reporter myself, I can attest that the description of a reporter’s life is extremely convincing. The authors set up a good mystery, and they give satisfying hints. For example, one hint is that something at a winery is amiss because there aren’t many laborers around. This is what I consider a “fair-play” hint: I had the power to notice it (though I didn’t), and I have no problem believing that the main character would notice it and draw meaningful conclusions from it.
I think the thing that stayed with me the most, however, is the hint at romance. The story does this just the right amount. There is sexual tension between two characters, but the writers keep it subtle:
“Damn,” Valerie said. “No wonder nobody knows what they’re doing in there at night. You can’t even get close to that place.”
B.J. shot her an odd glance. “What do you mean, ‘can’t?’ Last I noticed we’ve each got two good legs.” Valerie was sure he was about to comment on hers, but surprisingly he didn’t. Maybe he wasn’t quite the geek she thought.
I like romances in stories, though I tend not to like stories that are entirely romances. As these characters end up risking their lives together, the writers build this sexual tension into something very meaningful, and it becomes the source of much of the power of the ending. I’m going to go ahead and quote the last paragraph, but please don’t read it if you’re worried about a spoiler:
She kept hoping he’d ask her to dinner, but days and then weeks passed and it never happened. When she wrote the story, she gave him top billing. When he asked why, she turned away. It had been a long time since she’d allowed herself to cry.
What I like here is that the authors never suggest that there is true love between B.J. and Valerie. They’re getting all of their mileage out of attraction that grows as the characters find themselves dealing with extreme situations. In the end, it’s lost possibility that Valerie is mourning, and that’s worth mourning.