Marty Halpern presents us with an anthology of science fiction short stories predicated on (what else?) alien first contact. I was looking for an anth...moreMarty Halpern presents us with an anthology of science fiction short stories predicated on (what else?) alien first contact. I was looking for an anthology like this. In my desperation for such a thing, I decided to start a rumor that John Joseph Adams (currently my favorite anthologist) was going to create such an anthology. And to this, JJA replied that Halpern had already done this. So I immediately rushed out and bought it.
Overall? I liked it very much; many stories I loved, and a few I could do without. That said, composite rating of all short stories: an even 3.5.
Individual story reviews:
"The Thought War" by Paul McAuley : Doesn't align well with my idea of what a "first contact" story is, but it fits with a modified view of that trope within the genre. It has a few moments, and the style works pretty well. ★★★½☆
"How to Talk to Girls at Parties" by Neil Gaiman : Another one that doesn't align with my idea of a "first contact" story, but is a great story just the same. Though Gaiman gives us what is more like an extended metaphor for our relationships with the opposite sex  than with an alternate species. Quaint and sentimental and not overly cloying. ★★★★☆
"Face Value" by Karen Joy Fowler : This is more like what I was looking for in a first contact story, albeit another one that uses inter-sex and/or romantic friction as the anvil for the theme's hammer blows. That said: this is a wonderfully crafted tale. ★★★★★
"The Road Not Taken" by Harry Turtledove : A quirky take on the first contact theme; I enjoyed some of the inversions, not to mention the way he explored the non-linear nature of technological development (as alluded to in the title).  Turtledove's style isn't my favorite though, even if I otherwise enjoyed the story. ★★★☆☆
"The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything" by George Alec Effinger : Feels like another inversion of what I think of as a first contact story--like the preceding short story, only more from the human point of view, and without an alien race that's into conquering.  Good sense of humor in there, but always with the "one generation to interstellarism"... ★★★☆☆
"I Am the Doorway" by Stephen King : No surprise -- this one is more of a horror story in scifi clothing. There are some elements to work with here but mostly you've got the entertaining fright factor. Typical King. ★★★½☆
"Recycling Strategies for the Inner City" by Pat Murphy : Really enjoyed this, all the way through. Neat take on the subject, especially the bit about comparing cars to horses. ★★★★☆
"The 43 Antarean Dynasties" by Mike Resnick : Equal parts humorous and sad. Though not (strictly speaking) a first contact story, it does have some elements that fulfill (or at least stand in for) that role. Quaint little allegory about conquest and racial tension. ★★★★☆
"The Gold Bug" by Orson Scott Card : Effectively an "Ender" story. (Of course?) Not one that I particularly enjoyed; tedious and too wrapped up in its own mythology. By the time any introspection happens around being but one of multiple species in the universe... well: that gets lost in the noise. ★☆☆☆☆
"Kin" by Bruce McAllister : First read this in Dozois' 24th. I find this one so difficult to relate to; it feels forces. It also doesn't really seem internally consistent with respect to the ethics in its own little morality play. It has some interesting ideas, but doesn't hold up beyond some surface-level speculation. ★★☆☆☆
"Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song" by Ernest Hogan : Quirky and a bit enigmatic, but that's what you need when you're talking about art--and esp. when you're talking about art as the only viable lens through which to view an alien mind. Hogan strikes the right notes here for what is (and isn't) said, for how it's said, and for giving us such a frustratingly perfect narrator. ★★★★★
"Angel" by Pat Cadigan : I first encountered this story... oh, about ten years ago, and it was over ten years old at the time. It doesn't focus on the "first contact" aspect, but the themes are there: the focus on the alienness of the alien, and the alienness of ourselves. When McAllister wrote "Kin", I imagined that he had something like this in mind as inspiration. But this one is pitch-perfect. ★★★★★
"The First Contact with the Gorgonids" by Ursula K. Le Guin : Le Guin is amazing, and there is something special (and comic) about the first contact story embedded here. You'll feel like it's the send-up for some baffling sci-fi slapstick comedy, but there's something more going on in there with the gender politics. ★★★★☆
"Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl's" by Adam-Troy Castro : In my mind, I went between a two- and a four-star rating several times. Where are the aliens? Where is the first contact bit? Why does it feel so rambling? But there's also this:
Occasionally I glanced at the big blue cradle of civilization hanging in the sky, remembered for the fiftieth or sixtieth or one hundredth time that none of this had any right to be happening, and reminded myself for the fiftieth or sixtieth or one hundredth time that the only sane response was to continue carrying the tune.
And that made it worth it, for sure. ★★★☆☆
"A Midwinter's Tale" by Michael Swanwick : Like the story that precedes it in the collection, there is an element of stylistic fancy here. Foreign, second-hand narration embedded in and interrupted by other, unreliable (and possibly fabricated) narration. Aspects of it remind me of China Míeville's Embassytown, but stronger notes of cannibalism. ★★★★☆
"Texture of Other Ways" by Mark W. Tiedemann : That there is a first contact situation, and that we have no basis for establishing communication with the alien species: this I understand. That we hastily engineer not-quite telepaths to bridge that communication gap: this I understand. That our species does this because (the story suggests) our species is impatient: this I understand. That those alien species also seem impatient enough to permit that to happen that way? I do not understand. (Also: parts of the story, especially the end, seem unnecessarily oblique?) ★★½☆☆
"To Go Boldly" by Cory Doctorow : Back and forth on this story, back and forth. That a species or civilization might be so advanced that it doesn't even recognize what you're doing as anything but a game? Clever; cute, even. And there was something endearing about the hammy lampooning style here. But also something sort of... smug?  ★★½☆☆
"If Nudity Offends You" by Elizabeth Moon : The approach was good, the narrator was just about pitch-perfect; but I couldn't help but wonder about their motivation, and given the colloquial narrative style, I couldn't help but wonder: if she forgot about it all together, why tell the story like she's telling it from her front-porch? ★★★☆☆
"Laws of Survival" by Nancy Kress : If this isn't one of Kress' best, please point me to better so that I might exalt. It's a little long, but the first contact element is played well, and in such a way that it informs her deeper themes (and not fitting those themes to the first contact element). ★★★★★
"What You Are About To See" by Jack Skillingstead : The alcoholism bit felt a bit heavy-handed; and the bit with the alien was played more for the "weird" factor (an excuse to do some time-slipping) than it was for the first contact element. I guess it came together in the end, but I found myself more frustrated than not. ★★☆☆☆
"Amanda and the Alien" by Robert Silverberg : Pruriently amusing at times and but so that makes you feel a little creepy?  In the same vein as "If Nudity Offends You"--sort of. In the same vein as "How to Talk to Girls at Parties"--sort of. ★★☆☆☆
"Exo-Skeleton Town" by Jeffrey Ford : A slight whiff of Naked Lunch? and/or a taste of Gun With Occasional Music? Surreal and twisted up and though the aliens are not all that alien, there is a great story in here. ★★★★☆
"Lambing Season" by Molly Gloss : Some lovely writing, but somewhere the story gets lost in the poetics. (And I couldn't even ding it for falling back hard on one of the obviously-inevitable slain-lamb metaphors which, though we had a slain lamb, never quite tied in with the story in a meaningful way.) ★★☆☆☆
"Swarm" by Bruce Sterling : Not strictly "first contact", but "first contact with them". Reminds me in many ways of Blindsight by Peter Watts,  particularly with respect to its twisty little ending. And this is my favorite kind of first contact story--where some seemingly innocuous species turns out to be unimaginably older and more mature than some arrogant human species, and one that has written off "intelligence" as a cancer. (Only some small-ish points off here for aspects of the style.) ★★★★☆
"MAXO Signals" by Charles Stross : Pitch perfect in every way. The right length, just the right twist, and just the right little joke to stab at you contra to "Swarm" (which you just finished reading). ★★★★★
"Last Contact" by Stephen Baxter : As the title suggests, almost an anti-first contact story. But's understated, and has the perfect tone on which to end the anthology. ★★★★★
 I'm being a little too heteronormative there. The story would go after the same point if Vic and Enn were gay. So in that way, it's more about entering the foreign country of sexual maturity than it is entering the foreign country of "girls". The key points remain the same though: let's confront what it means to grow into our sexuality, and let's use aliens on Earth as the backing trope.
 That said, at one point when reading this my thought was: "Did he just finish playing Civilization? or Alpha Centauri? or something?" (And then I noticed it was first published in 1985 so... probably not.)
 So... an inverted version of the previous inversion?
 I swear I don't say this about every Doctorow piece. I really don't. I really did like this story so much better than (say...) "When SysAdmins Ruled the Earth"; but...
 Who writes teenaged girls like this? Maybe I just don't understand the Bay Area?
 Though in all fairness, "Swarm" predates by Blindsight by 24 years.
If I rate the anthology as a whole using my usual "as the average of the contributions" system, then Brave New Worlds gets a composite rating of 4.030...moreIf I rate the anthology as a whole using my usual "as the average of the contributions" system, then Brave New Worlds gets a composite rating of 4.0303. But I loved what Adams did here, and it may have de-throned Wastelands to become my new favorite anthology.
Individual stories rated as follows:
"The Lottery", Shirley Jackson - one of the classic dystopian fiction stories; and the narrative's success is due (in large part) to how prosaic and unassuming it is--not "pastoral", but written like someone from a pastoral setting. And if you got hit with it (for the first time) at a young age like I did, I'm sure you can agree that it's a phenomenon. ★★★★★
"Red Card", S.L. Gilbow - Adams (the editor) took special care in ordering these stories, and he definitely wants you to read this one immediately after reading "The Lottery". Gilbow gives us a sort of inverse of Shirley Jackson's classic; and though his prose isn't as gifted, it's a little bit chilling to consider, especially if you read it back-to-back with Jackson's. ★★★☆☆ by itself but ★★★★☆ as an accompaniment to "The Lottery".
"Ten With A Flag", Joseph Paul Haines - Holy shit. You think to yourself: "I hate it when an author uses 'Johnnie' for an adult characters name"; and you think: "Maybe that ending is just a little bit telegraphed"; but you think: "Damn but that is the ultimate question." ★★★★☆ on style but ★★★★★ on substance.
"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas", Ursula K. Le Guin - A little pretentious, a little style-heavy; but also brilliant in a way that doesn't take a lot of churning to get. ★★★★★
"Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment" by M. Rickert - Reading it, one almost immediately concludes: "It's like Handmaid's Tale light!" Right down to the oblique nod with the "classmate" character's name (Jenna Offeren? Offred?). But the message is mostly clear (if a bit muddled by the clumsy adolescent voice) and the story fits right into the collection. Plus Rickert is (generally speaking) a gifted writer. ★★★☆☆ by itself but ★★★★☆ in the anthology's collection.
"The Funeral" by Kate Wilhelm - Another one that stands in good company with The Handmaid's Tale; an all-around amazing short. ★★★★★
"O Happy Day!" by Geoff Ryman - A little bit of everything, thematically. And written in a marvelously stark style; pitch perfect. Also: almost certainly inspired by the phrase "feminazi" (and taking it to its logical extreme, what with the trains and the mass murders). ★★★★★
"Pervert" by Charles Coleman Finlay - I feel like I keep handing out 5-star ratings to these individual stories but... well, these deserve it. This one was another pitch perfect slant on a dystopia rooted in sexuality; it was well-placed after "O Happy Day!" and seemed almost like its kinder/gentler-yet-somehow-more-sinister cousin. ★★★★★
"From Homogenous to Honey" by Neil Gaiman and Bryan Talbot - A comic strip style take on the homogenous de-queered dystopia. A little blunt, and lacking some of the artistry I'd otherwise expect. ★★☆☆☆
"Billennium" by J.G. Ballard - Felt like a typical Ballard backdrop to me; the paranoia, the claustrophobia, the outside closing in... An abrupt break from the themes of the past three stories and onward into a metropletic apoplexy. Again: typical Ballard. ★★★★☆
"Amaryllis" by Carrie Vaughn - First caught this one online in Lightspeed magazine; loved it then; loved it more on the second reading. The re-jiggered senses of family and community; there is a lush and twisted tapestry in this tale. ★★★★★
"Pop Squad" by Paolo Bacigalupi - He has come a long way since "The People of Sand and Slag"; a long way indeed. If The Windup Girl was great, then this was stellar. The whole premise of outlawing children in the face of a population swollen through longevity drugs? Chilling. I would love to see this expanded to novel length. ★★★★★
"Auspicious Eggs" by James Morrow - I'll admit a certain special soft spot for folks that take on the fundamentalist agenda; and Morrow's vision is chilling and well-placed within the anthology (as it's a pretty potent foil to "Pop Squad"). His combination of the "Doctrine of Affirmative Fertility" along with that global warming/rising sea levels stuff? Frightening. That bit at the very end threw me tough. ★★★½☆
"Peter Skilling" by Alex Irvine — The lead-in note suggests that this one (like the preceding story) takes certain fundamentalist views to their logical conclusion in a political context; so I was waiting for that and... it didn't really come. Irvine's take on the re-awakened man is an interesting one (albeit: why resurrect a man just to prosecute and execute him?); but I didn't really get terribly strong overtones of religiosity; but totalitarianism? Yes. ★★★☆☆
"The Pedestrian" by Ray Bradbury — Not a phenomenal bit of prose, but definitely tight. And perfectly placed in the collection for maximum punch. (And I've got a soft spot for this particular theme.) ★★★☆☆
"The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away" by Cory Doctorow — A little bit Neal Stephenson's Anathem, a little bit William Gibson's Idoru. And though it's a bit long (as Doctorow short stories seem to be), it lacks some of the tedium that would make me otherwise reluctant to read it. Another story oh-so-perfectly nestled into this collect. ★★★★☆
"The Pearl Diver" by Caitlín R. Kiernan — A perfect complement to Doctorow's take on the same kind of hyper-surveillance from the preceding story. But this one... What style. ★★★★★
"Dead Space for the Unexpected" by Geoff Ryman — Says so right in the editorial intro: it's like Office Space, but a thousand times more sinister. That final paragraph seems like it could have been cut though. ★★★½☆
"'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" by Harlan Ellison® — Yet again: such a fitting complement to the preceding story. Takes the same focus on time and scheduling and punctuality but gives it a more fanciful, stylistic spin. (And even though this is probably to the best Ellison I've ever read, there's something about Ellison that rubs me the wrong way.) ★★★☆☆
"Is This Your Day to Join the Revolution?" by Genevieve Valentine — Resonates pretty close to Finlay's "Pervert" (vide supra). But seemed less cutting; rather than be specifically about sexual politics, it's about suppression in a more general sense. (Also: not another "Johnny"!) ★★★☆☆
"Independence Day" by Sarah Langan — This is the story "Is This Your Day to Join the Revolution?" could have been. This one gets gritty and personal — what with the race and identity politics, and the suppression/oppression experiments, and the government mandates, etc. And man-oh-man is there something ever so sympathetic and identifiable about Trina. ★★★★☆
"The Lunatics" by Kim Stanley Robinson — An interesting break from its (mostly? entirely?) Earth-bound kin in this anthology. Parts of it drag a little but it's otherwise solid, and suitably bleak. ★★★★☆
"Sacrament" by Matt Williamson — A bit heavy-handed? A bit told-not-shown? But intriguing inasmuch as his choice of perspective (i.e., the torturer's) lends a different lens, a different voice compared to most other offerings in the collection. ★★★½☆
"Minority Report" by Philip K. Dick — One of the most frightening of Dick's fragile realities; what makes "Minority Report" such a strong dystopian story is how you wrestle with the whole notion of pre-crime, and how it so clearly demonstrates how we rush into policy decisions with new technologies before we really understand them. ★★★★½
"Just Do It" by Heather Lindsley — Cute; mildly subversive. One of those "it follows logically" type natural extensions from modern behavioral targeting and other "personalized marketing". An interesting what-if; though the twist was a bit predictable for corporate espionage fiction. ★★★½☆
"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. — Ensuring equality for all... via handicaps. Classic Vonnegut theme and style. "And so it goes." ★★★★☆
"Caught in the Organ Draft" by Robert Silverberg — Pitch perfect dystopian fiction; has everything you would want/need for a story like this. The ambiguous morality, the questionable "for a better world" agenda with all of the requisite "yeah and/but except in this cirumstance..."; the narrator that ultimately allows those same "yeah and/but except" circumstances to undermine his own idealism. ★★★★★
"Geriatric Ward" by Orson Scott Card — It's not an all together bad story; but as far as dystopian stories go it was... a bit weak. I wasn't terribly intrigued by the questions raised, and as someone raising a child, I find the idea of nine year-old parents baffling. ★★☆☆☆
"Arties Aren't Stupid" by Jeremiah Tolbert — Strong the whole way around; interesting questions, and an interesting world with a lot of depth. Something about it reminded my of Marc Laidlaw's "400 Boys"--what with the underground culture and the easy slang and the factionalism. There are some little details that make aspects seem disjointed, and I felt like I could have used a bit more fleshing out of some of the characters, but overall this one came out strong. ★★★★☆
"Jordan's Waterhammer" by Joe Mastroianni — Interesting scene-setting, what with the sexless clones and the regimented industrialism of it all. I always get a little sad though with how quick authors are to take themes having to do with empathy and love and mesh those into some thinly veiled messianic aspect (complete with nee gospels). Despite that (and despite some odd... typos?), it was a good take. ★★★☆☆
"Of a Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs" by Adam-Troy Castro — By now in the anthology, you should have developed a connoisseur's palate for dystopian fiction; and this should do nicely. More "fantasy" than "science fiction", and it definitely leans to the hyperbolically stylistic. But the "big important question" is there (re is the ultimately comfortable life worth it if every tenth day you'll be tortured nearly to death?), and it is chilling in the right ways. ★★★★½
"Resistance" by Tobias Bucknell — I loved this story; the style and the pacing, the nod to cyberpunk classic Neuromancer. In a way, this story is very much cyberpunk itself — the examination of isolation and disenfranchisement. But here is a disenfranchisement born of the idea that democratic governance could be predictive, calculated, summed-and-averaged from voter beliefs as inferred from behaviors. But it needed to be a novella (or longer). ★★★★☆
"Civilization" by Vylar Kaftan — You could look at those introductory notes and reflect on your own experience as a kid in the 1980s and say: "A Choose Your Own Adventure? that's not creative at all." And of course, you'd be wrong. Kaftan perfectly (and creatively) sums up the whole thesis of the collection with this one. Pure gold. A+ ★★★★★(less)
The "dust jacket description" of this anthology pretty much sums it up... It collects a few different modern takes on the classic science fiction trope: What does it take; what does it mean for a civilization to be interstellar and/or pan-galactic?
My take of Federations, it gets a composite rating of 3.9130 (individual stories below)
• "Mazer in Prison" (Orson Scott Card): ★★★ » About what you'd expect from Card. So it doesn't disappoint but it doesn't exactly thrill, either. • "Carthago Delenda Est" (Genevieve Valentine): ★★★★ • "Life Suspension" (L. E. Modesitt, Jr.): ★★½ • "Terra-Exulta" (S.L. Gilbow): ★★★ » Reminds me a bit of that Stephen King piece that opens Wastelands. The letter-writing format is a tough one to write in and I appreciate the effort here. And I don't dislike this piece but it seems... too short? or just that its hand is tipped too early and that kind of blows the ending a bit? • "Aftermaths" (Lois McMaster Bujold): ★★★★ • "Someone is Stealing the Great Throne Rooms of the Galaxy" (Harry Turtledove): ★★ » Not terribly intriguing, and a little puerile/juvenile. To me... I can see why it was included (for the variety and for the perspective it brings) but it just doesn't do it. Not for me. • "Prisons" (Kevin J. Anderson & Doug Beason): ★★½ » So much potential, and almost good; but why did I wind up feeling like it needed to be more subversive? (E.g., so many heteronormative relationships!—if the prison revolt leader had been lovers with another man, well now maybe that might have been a little more intriguing.) • "Different Day" (K. Tempest Bradford): ★★★★★ • "Twilight of the Gods" (John C. Wright): ★★★★ » The Tolkien-esque language can be a little off-putting at first but it really starts to make sense after you get about a third of the way in. • "Warship" (George R. R. Martin and George Guthridge): ★★★★★ » I can't imagine why it took so long for Martin to shop this piece—unless Guthridge really brought that much to it. The execution is very spot-on. • "Swanwatch" (Yoon Ha Lee): ★★★★ » I want to like this more. It's beautiful but a bit oblique—and that's fine but somehow it doesn't jump to where it needs to be. • "Spirey and the Queen" (Alastair Reynolds): ★★★★★ » Awesome. Did you like Watts' Blindsight? Did you like Sterling's "Swarm"? A little bit like that. (Only robots.) • "Pardon Our Conquest" (Alan Dean Foster): ★★★½ • "Symbiont" (Robert Silverberg): ★★★★½ » Highly disurbing; more so than I thought it would be. (Just read this one; skip the introduction.) • "The Ship Who Returned" (Anne McCaffrey): ★★★★ • "My She" (Mary Rosenblum): ★★★★½ » Brilliant. Nicely subversive and almost perfect. • "The Shoulders of Giants" (Robert J. Sawyer): ★★½ • "The Culture Archivist" (Jeremiah Tolbert): ★★★★★ » This one is funny in the way that "Someone is Stealing..." (vida supra) could/should have been. • "The Other Side of Jordan" (Allen Steele): ★★★★½ » Serves a little bit as a reminder that one of the things you're going for (when you're going for sci-fi) is the "deep milieu". This has got it. And I love it for it. • "Like They Always Been Free" (Georgina Li): ★★★★ » Very dense; worthwhile. • "Eskhara" (Trent Hergenrader): ★★★★★ » The allegory bits are obvious but rather than detract, they make it all very worth while. • "The One with the Interstellar Group Consciousnesses" (James Alan Gardner): ★★★★ » Cute, and a bit novel, but kind of like an artisan soda: not really bad for you but not really necessary but damn tasty but kind of a cloying aftertaste? * "Golubash, or Wine-War-Blood-Elegy" (Catherynne M. Valente): ★★★★½ » A little on the oblique side but the framing for the story is absolutely killer.(less)
Arranged chronologically from 1955 through 2001, Dozois' anthology Worldmakers: SF Adventures in Terraforming, is a tightly-themed collection of scien...moreArranged chronologically from 1955 through 2001, Dozois' anthology Worldmakers: SF Adventures in Terraforming, is a tightly-themed collection of science fiction shorts. It's a good overview of the terraforming subject's treatment within the genre but the anthology seems to lack any stand-out stories — there are no great masterpieces in here. Which is not to say that it's not an enjoyable collection. I mostly picked it up for research purposes (re terraforming and first contact[†:]) but found it to be a good bed-side item. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this collection is that, because it is arranged chronologically, you get a sense of how views of terraforming have evolved within the genre over time — what are the in vogue technologies? how central is terraforming to the story? what sorts of politics are involved?
As for the computed average of my ratings on the individual stories themselves (out to four decimal places), Worldmakers scores: 3.2250
Includes: • "The Big Rain" by Poul Anderson (1954): ★★½
• "Before Eden" by Arthur C. Clarke (1961): ★★★ » A bit dry and stilted but the twist at the makes up for it.
• "Hunter, Come Home" by Richard McKenna (1963): ★★★★ » Reminded me a lot of the fungus/mindworms stuff from Sid Meier's "Alpha Centauri" — and that made it extra endearing.
• "The Keys to December" by Roger Zelazny (1966): ★★½
• "Retrograde Summer" by John Varley (1974): ★★
• "Shall We Take A Little Walk?" by Gregory Benford (1981): ★★
• "The Catharine Wheel" by Ian McDonald (1984): ★★★½ » Felt like "typical McDonald" (gels with my image of his work as reflected best in River of Gods) but felt like it was working more with cyborgian tropes than strict terraforming.
• "Sunken Gardens" by Bruce Sterling (1984): ★★★★½ » Brilliant. But I love Sterling's work. And the Shaper/Mechanist stuff is always great.
• "Out of Copyright" by Charles Sheffield (1989): ★★★½ » The terraforming bit seemed pretty tangential. Also, when did Sheffield start channelling Cory Doctorow?
• "A Place With Shade" by Robert Reed (1995): ★★★ » Most interesting is the way that Reed casts terraforming in a light that makes it look like the engineer's rigor has given way to the dilettante's art.
• "Dawn Venus" by G. David Nordley (1995): ★★★
• "For White Hill" by Joe Haldeman (1995): ★★★★★ » Stunning. Well-crafted and taut.
• "The Road to Reality" by Phillip C. Jennings (1996): ★★½ » Another where the terraforming tropes were off on the side. Speculating about whether to leave a fossil record when building a planet? Cool. Veering off headlong into a cyberworld prison? Huh?
• "Ecopoesis" by Geoffrey A. Landis (1997): ★★★★ » One of the more interesting stories in the whole collection — and I say that even though parts can be a bit hard to follow (esp. w/r/t/ keeping track of characters) and also despite how the romantic bit felt tacked on.
• "People Came From Earth" by Stephen Baxter (1999): ★★★★
• "Fossils" by William H. Keith, Jr. (1999): ★★½
• "A Martian Romance" by Kim Stanley Robinson (1999): ★★★½ » A good story re pacing etc. (and a good ending) but the lead-in was... a little weak? Perhaps this one reads better if you're familiar with the back-story from Robinson's previous stories set in this milieu.
• "Dream of Venus" by Pamela Sargent (2000): ★★ » Could have been much stronger if there was more of a focus on Miriam. (Or: "I didn't much care for this narrator.") The premise works (and makes a good accompaniment to "Ecopoesis") but something about it doesn't carry.
• "At Tide's Turning" by Laura J. Mixon (2001): ★★★★★ » Great. The terraforming bits fall to the wayside a bit but the rest of the story is so strong (strong enough to make this one the best in the collection?) that it stands well despite falling slightly off the theme. Also: Mixon offers us an well-realized milieu with a great vocabulary.
--- † = Though there's barely any first-contact subject matter in here at all.(less)
What is there to say about a Dozois collection? Good stories, good way to discover new authors (and publishers...). It's your usual mixed bag of good...moreWhat is there to say about a Dozois collection? Good stories, good way to discover new authors (and publishers...). It's your usual mixed bag of good and great stories, running the gamut to taste. Individual ratings and notes:
Includes: (1) "Inappropriate Behaviour" by Pat Murphy: ★★★★
(2) "Start the Clock" by Benjamin Rosenbaum: ★★★★
(3) "The Third Party" by David Moles: ★★★ ➟ ½ extra star for concept.
(4) "The Voluntary State" by Christopher Rowe: ★★★ ➟ I think I liked where this was going? (found it a little oblique at times)
(5) "Shiva in Shadow" by Nancy Kress: ★★★★ ➟ ½ extra star for concept; plus I love Kress' work.
(6) "The People of Sand and Slag" by Paolo Bacigalupi: ★★★ ➟ (see also: Wastelands)
(7) "The Clapping Hands of God" by Michael F. Flynn: × ➟ abandoned
(8) "Tourism" by M. John Harrison: ★★★★ ➟ I'm a sucker for this style (but having a little trouble unpacking it)
(9) "Scout's Honor" by Terry Bisson: ★★★ ➟ ½ extra star for self-parodizing
(10) "Men are Trouble" by James Patrick Kelly: ★★★★★ ➟ JPK is great; Chandler-esque scifi also great
(11) "Mother Aegypt" by Kage Baker: ★★★ ➟ liked the premise but seemed to drag
(12) "Synthetic Serendipity" by Vernor Vinge: ★★ ➟ ½ an extra point for style; excerpt from Rainbow's End? (didn't seem complete; seemed like there was just enough to grab on to but not enough to ride to the finish)
(13) "Skin Deep" by Mary Rosenblum: ★★★ ➟ interesting twist on the classic Pygmalion tale; +½ extra point for concept
(14) "Delhi" by Vandana Singh: ★★★★★ ➟ interesting and original
(15) "The Tribes of Bela" by Albert E. Crowley: ★★★★ ➟ -½ point? (good tale, interesting perspective and presentation... a bit long?; also: did Dozois go nuts w/ the hard-boiled scifi murder mysteries this year or what?)
(16) "Sitka" by William Sanders: ★★★★★ ➟ bitchin'! (quantum alt. history)
(17) "Leviathan Wept" by Daniel Abraham: ★★★★
(18) "The Defenders" by Colin P. Davies: ★★★
(19) "Mayflower Ⅱ" by Stephen Baxter: ★★★ ➟ ½ extra point for concept and harder science; not a bad space opera but (for me) was missing... something
(20) "Riding the White Bull" by Caitlin R. Kiernan: ★★★★★ ➟ great 1st contact story; evocative of William Gibson if he ran more w/ the tropes in "Hinterlands" and less with those of "Johnny Mnemonic", but kept the hard-boiled prose and turned the volume up a bit (but Kiernan brings a good feminine sensibility here, too)
(21) "Falling Star" by Brendan DuBois: ★★★
(22) "The Dragons of Summer Gulch" by Robert Reed: × ➟ abandoned
(23) "The Ocean of the Blind" by James L. Cambias: ★★★
(24) "The Garden: A Hwarhath Science Fictional Romance" by Eleanor Arnason: × ➟ abandoned (had to get it back to the library before I finished)
(25) "Footvote" by Peter F. Hamilton: × ➟ did not read (DNR)
(26) "Sisyphus and the Stranger" by Paul Di Filippo: × ➟ DNR
(27) "Ten Sigmas" by Paul Melko: × ➟ DNR
(28) "Investments" by Walter Jon Williams: × ➟ DNR
Average rating:3.6190 (rounded up to 4 for this review).(less)
Eclipse 1 is a good-not-great anthology of speculative (née "science") fiction and fantasy (rather: "new weird") short stories edited by Jonathan Stra...moreEclipse 1 is a good-not-great anthology of speculative (née "science") fiction and fantasy (rather: "new weird") short stories edited by Jonathan Strahan. My "good-not-great" may be stemming from my disappointment that there was more "new weird"/fantasy than there was science fiction[†:] but there were still quite a few "big wins" in the pile that is this paperback binding.
As for the computed average of my ratings on the individual stories themselves (out to four decimal places), Eclipse 1 scores: 3.3000
Includes: • "Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse" by Andy Duncan: ★★★½ ➟ Cute, weird.
• "Bad Luck, Trouble, Death, and Vampire Sex" by Garth Nix: ★★
• "The Last and Only or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French" by Peter S. Beagle: ★★★
• "The Lost Boy: A Reporter At Large" by Maureen F. McHugh: ★★★★★ ➟ Probably double visceral if you've ever lived in the Baltimore/DC area but outstanding regardless of your geographic history.
• "The Drowned Life" by Jeffrey Ford: ★★
• "Toother" by Terry Dowling: ★★★½ ➟ I couldn't put my finger on why I wasn't bowled over by this one. I wanted to like it a lot more but something about it left me wanting a bit...
• "Up the Fire Road" by Eileen Gunn: ★★½ ➟ *groan*sigh*snort* (reversed)
• "In the Forest of the Queen" by Gwyneth Jones: ★★
• "Quartermaster Returns" by Ysabeau S. Wilce: ★★★★ ➟ A playful tone and artfully written, toys with the right conventions, too.
• "Electric Rains" by Kathleen Ann Goonan: ★★★★½ ➟ As with "The Lost Boy..." (v.s.), this one probably hits harder for folks with a little DC time under their belt but hits all the high notes even without that.[††:]
• "She-Creatures" by Margo Lanagan: ★★ ➟ The prurient overtones didn't exactly make up for the brogue veneer and otherwise bewildering plot.
• "The Transformation of Targ" by Paul Brandon and Jack Dann: ★★★ ➟ Maybe ★★★★ and in my heart of hearts a sympathetic ★★★★★ — this was an extremely fun story.
• "Mrs. Zeno's Paradox" by Ellen Klages: ★★★★ ➟ The fact that the story is so short (about 3 pages? 4?) was like its own double-entendre. And any light-hearted story that can work in "ångström" should get bonus points.
• "The Lustration" by Bruce Sterling: ★★★½ ➟ I think it's good? Though maybe a bit too oblique?
• "Larissa Miusov" by Lucius Shepard: ★★★★★ ➟ Far and away the best story in this collection. If your library has this anthology then you owe it to yourself to at least read this one.
--- † = Call it a personal preference.
†† = Also, for the private few reading this that have also read a certain manuscript of mine, I'd like to share that I had a big (and vocal) "WTF?" the night I was reading this in bed. I felt a little dirty and cheated — but how can someone rip you off when they've never heard of you? or read your work? (Besides, it was different enough to not be "the same".)(less)
As with many "Year's Best" type anthologies, it's difficult to evaluate the collection as a whole. Unlike a themed collection (e.g., Wastelands: Stor...moreAs with many "Year's Best" type anthologies, it's difficult to evaluate the collection as a whole. Unlike a themed collection (e.g., Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse), you can't easily ask how each story is helping to advance or otherwise round-out the speculation or evaluation of that given theme. But that's OK; that's not why we pick up and read a collection like this. And it's a hazard we're willing -- nay: happy -- to take on.
That said, the rating for the collection here is a computed average of my ratings on the individual stories themselves. Out to four decimal places, the 24th Annual Collection scores: 3.3929
And now the individual ratings (with comments where I have them) based on the 5-star GoodReads scale:
(1) Cory Doctorow - "I, Row-Boat": ★★★
(2) Robert Charles Wilson - "Julian: A Christmas Story" ★★★ - Not sure how this one sits with me; a re-read might better inform whether it's holding up Christianity orvs. some ethical secularism but... Tough to say on the first hit. Also: steampunkish and yet not; definitely a post-Peak Oil tale and I wonder to myself if it wasn't short-listed for inclusion in Wastelands or not...
(3) Michael Swanwick - "Tin Marsh": ★★
(4) Ian McDonald - "The Djinn's Wife": ★★★★ - If you're too intimidated by River of Gods then this will almost serve as a substitute.
(5) Benjamin Rosenbaum - "The House Beyond Your Sky": ★★★ - Attempts depth but comes off as a bit opaque. A compact, dense story though and probably worth a re-read sometime.
(6) Kage Baker - "Where The Golden Apples Grow": ★★★ - Interesting and twisted take on the "Prince and the Pauper" fairy tale (though with two paupers). I wanted to like it a lot more but I found the story a bit predictable and maybe just a little pedantic. But I'm curious to see more by this gifted writer.
(7) Bruce McAllister - "Kin": ★★ - Couldn't relate; felt forced. Also: where's "the greater good" in exceptions?
(9) Jay Lake & Ruth Nestvold - "The Big Ice": ★★★ - Action for action; great for what it is.
(10) Gregory Benford - "Bow Shock": ★★★
(11) Justin Stanchfield - "In the River": ★★★★★ - This is a good one to rub up against Blindsight for comparison.
(12) Walter Jon Williams - "Incarnation Day": ★★★★ - Nice use of voice and tone; also: it's like a post-human Pinocchio!
(13) Greg Van Eekhout - "Far as You Can Go": ★★★★
(14) Robert Reed - "Good Mountain": ★★★ - Had trouble getting into this one; too far afield?
(15) David D. Levine - "I Hold My Father's Paws": ★★★
(16) Paul J. McAuley - "Dead Men Walking": ★★
(17) Mary Rosenblum - "Home Movies": ★★★ - A la PKD, but not enough D.
(18) Daryl Gregory - "Damascus": ★★★ - I liked this better as that X-Files episode. (You know the one I'm talking about? the one from Season Two?) Also: I don't get the title. (Seems such a shame, had so much potential...)
(19) Jack Skillingstead - "Life on the Preservation": ★★ - I wanted to like it but it seemed like a bit of a warm-up...
(20) Paolo Bacigalupi - "Yellow Card Man": ★★★★ - Heavy and cynical and intense and sometimes a little hard to follow. Worth a re-read to pull it all together.
(21) Greg Egan - "Riding the Crocodile": ★★★
(22) Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette - "The Ile of Dogges": ★★ - Trying to hard to be exactly what it is?
This is a good/borderline-great collection of sci-fi shorts compiled and edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan. It has a great introduction th...moreThis is a good/borderline-great collection of sci-fi shorts compiled and edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan. It has a great introduction that proffers a decent definition of the term "space opera", from its inception, through its disparaging adolescence, and now into its renaissance[†]. It has a great cast of authors but... And I feel bad saying this but: I really don't think that it's a collection of "best werk" from all of these authors. Most of the stories are at least good (★★★ on the Goodreads scale) but there are quite a few that are just OK (think ★★). That said, I also felt myself wondering: are we really talking about "space operas" here...?
When I think of a "space opera", I'm thinking of Star Wars and Dune, I'm thinking of galaxy-spanning civilizations and huge fleets of space cruisers captained by messianic psychopaths. I don't think of effete playhouse founders on Mars. (Didn't we talk about that in the introduction?) But then again, there are quite a few stories in here that make up for it.
ANYWAY: Given my tradition of rating collections/anthologies as a computed average of my ratings on the individual stories themselves (out to four decimal places), The New Space Opera scores: 3.1944
Includes: (1) "Saving Tiamaat" by Gwyneth Jones: ★★★★ ➟ First thought was ★★★ but the more I digested this one, the more I liked it. Solid and with a palpable cynicism that was pretty damn appropriate in context.
(2) "Verthandi's Ring" by Ian McDonald: ★★★★
(3) "Hatch" by Robert Reed: ★★
(4) "Winning Peace" by Paul J. McAuley: ★★
(5) "Glory" by Greg Egan: ★★
(6) "Maelstrom" by Kage Baker: ★★ ➟ Didn't really seem to fit the theme (vide supra) — what with the planetary/stellar civilization at play vs. the interplanetary/galactic civilization expected.
(7) "Blessed by an Angel" by Peter F. Hamilton: ★★★ ➟ Anytime a word like "angel" or "devil" is invoked, the author needs to work extra hard to keep from slipping into cliche.
(8) "Who's Afraid of Wolf 359?" by Ken Macleod: ★★★ ➟ Almost ★★★★; it's a brilliant idea that is well (but not perfectly) executed but could stand to be a little clearer. I.e., it needs at least two reads.
(9) "The Valley of Gardens" by Tony Daniel: ★★★★ ➟ Brilliant, almost perfect.
(10) "Dividing the Sustain" by James Patrick Kelly: ★★★★ ➟ A bit prurient and/but clever in a way that makes it all so very worth it.
(11) "Minla's Flowers" by Alastair Reynolds: ★★★★ ➟ A bit over the top, a bit heavy-handed, but overall well-executed. Using a narrator that's not above a bit of petty eye-for-an-eye revenge makes up for it.
(12) "Splinters of Glass" by Mary Rosenblum: ★★
(13) "Remembrance" by Stephen Baxter: ★★★★
(14) "The Emperor and the Maula" by Robert Silverberg: ★★★★★ ➟ Fatality. Flawless victory. I "got it" within the first couple of pages but Silverberg carried it so perfectly.
(15) "The Worm Turns" by Gregory Benford: ★★★
(16) "Send Them Flowers" by Walter Jon Williams: ★★★½ ➟ Weird. And very, very right. But the pace seemed a bit off.
(17) "Art of War" by Nancy Kress: ★★★ ➟ Interesting idea but Kress' male protagonists aren't terribly convincing.
(18) "Muse of Fire" by Dan Simmons: ★★★ ➟ Q.v., "the short version" of my review for Hyperion (since the remarks are more/less the same).
--- † = Though that word is taken from the title of wholly separate but similar anthology.
A tightly themed, well executed collection: Wastelands captures our apocalypse fears and fantasies equally well and sometimes even simultaneously.
Adam...moreA tightly themed, well executed collection: Wastelands captures our apocalypse fears and fantasies equally well and sometimes even simultaneously.
Adams wisely chooses Stephen King's "The End of the Whole Mess" as an opener and moves into all manner of exciting territory from there. Wastelands is the expected mix of strong (and some average) short stories; most of them have a high re-read score and there is an good mix of diverse ideas and themes that keep within the central focus.
THAT SAID: if you are considering this one, read the introduction before you make the purchase. This isn't about zombie plagues or alien invasions or black holes ripping through our space-time continuum. This is about somewhat more plausible apocalypses. Even when they're totally unexplained.
Most of these stories I enjoyed as much as I expected (e.g., "Speech Sounds") and some less so (e.g., "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth") and some more so (e.g., "Salvage"). I won't enumerate the themes you expect in an apocalypse-themed collection; they're all here and they're all in full force. I will remark on the following, however:
* I was a bit amused by how many of these shorts featured nomads; ** and more so by how often those nomads were of the carny folk variety. * The stories seem to be pretty "current" in their bio-engineered plagues and their genetic fall-out and their post-Peak Oil crises and 9/11-kneejerks; the last star in my review would have been earned by but one thorough and explicit treatment of WW3-ish nuclear winter. * Remember: you brought this on yourself.
Rated Individually: • "The End of the Whole Mess" (Stephen King) ★★★★★ • "Salvage" (Orson Scott Card) ★★★ • "The People of Sand and Slag" (Paolo Bacigalupi) ★★★ • "Bread and Bombs" (M. Rickert) ★★★ • "How We Got In Town and Out Again" (Jonathan Lethem) ★★★★ • "Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels" (George R. R. Martin) ★★★★ • "Waiting for the Zephyr" (Tobias S. Buckell) ★★★ • "Never Despair" (Jack McDevitt) ★★★★ • "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" (Cory Doctorow) ★★★ • "The Last of the O-Forms" (James Van Pelt) ★★★ • "Still Life with Apocalypse" (Richard Kadrey) ★★★★ • "Artie's Angels" (Catherine Wells) ★★★★ • "Judgment Passed" (Jerry Oltion) ★★★ • "Mute" (Gene Wolfe) ★★★★½ • "Inertia" (Nancy Kress) ★★★ • "And the Deep Blue Sea" (Elizabeth Bear) ★★★ • "Speech Sounds" (Octavia Butler) ★★★★ • "Killers" (Carol Emshwiller) ★★★★ • "Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus" (Neal Barrett Jr.) ★★★ • "The End of the World as We Know It" (Dale Bailey) ★★★★★ • "A Song Before Sunset" (David Grigg) ★★★ • "Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers" (John Langan) ★★★★(less)
A dense volume packed full of a nice variety of scifi and fantasy from some well-known authors (and a few I'd never heard of). It just happened to be...moreA dense volume packed full of a nice variety of scifi and fantasy from some well-known authors (and a few I'd never heard of). It just happened to be on the shelf at the beach house we rented for our '07 vacation. So when I finished A Dirty Job and Oryx and Crake and Cat's Eye, this one was there to fill in.
Includes: * "The Wedding Album" by David Marusek - ★★★★ * "10^16 to 1" by James Patrick Kelly - ★★★★★ * "Winemaster" by Robert Reed * "Galactic North" by Alastair Reynolds - ★★★★ * "Dapple: A Hwarhath Historical Romance" by Eleanor Arnason * "People Came From Earth" by Stephen Baxter - ★★★★ * "Green Tea" by Richard Wadholm * "The Dragon of Pripyat" by Karl Schroeder - ★★★★★ * "Written in Blood" by Chris Lawson - ★★★★★ * "Hatching the Phoenix" by Frederik Pohl * "Suicide Coast" by M. John Harrison * "Hunting Mother" by Sage Walker * "Mount Olympus" by Ben Bova - ★★★ * "Border Guards" by Greg Egan * "Scherzo with Tyrannosaur" by Michael Swanwick - ★★★★★ * "A Hero of the Empire" by Robert Silverberg * "How We Lost the Moon, A True Story by Frank W. Allen" by Paul J. McAuley - ★★★★ * "Phallicide" by Charles Sheffield - ★★★ * "Daddy's World" by Walter Jon Williams * "A Martian Romance" by Kim Stanley Robinson * "The Sky-Green Blues" by Tanith Lee * "Exchange Rate" by Hal Clement * "Everywhere" by Geoff Ryman * "Hothouse Flowers" by Mike Resnick * "Evermore" by Sean Williams * "OF Scorned Women and Causal Loops" by Robert Grossbach * "Son Observe the Time" by Kage Baker
(disclaimer: dropping in ratings for the stories that I remember actually reading...)(less)
Came across this while knee-deep in Wing Commander gaming. Some obvious cues borrowed across. (Militant sapient felids much?) When I cracked the cover...moreCame across this while knee-deep in Wing Commander gaming. Some obvious cues borrowed across. (Militant sapient felids much?) When I cracked the cover, I expected volume one of a trilogy or some other enumerated series of novels. Instead I found a bunch of short stories bound together. At the time I remember being disappointed but upon further consideration, this seems to have been a wise choice. The stories are each quick-moving and easy to digest. It's a good book to keep at the bedside for when you're between novels. That said, because these tales are disparate shorts, there is no time for each character to develop. I suppose the point is to give the reader exposure to the Kzin (fair enough) but I found myself a couple times wondering why we should care much about the Kzin.
A battered copy lives in my nightstand at all times. Between novels, I always come back to this, flipping through the pages until a word catches my ey...moreA battered copy lives in my nightstand at all times. Between novels, I always come back to this, flipping through the pages until a word catches my eye. Such a diversity of talent, mixed together quite well here.
Rated Individually: • "The Gernsback Continuum" (William Gibson) ★★★★★ • "Snake-Eyes" (Tom Maddox) ★★★★ • "Rock On" (Pat Cadigan) ★★★★ • "Tales of Houdini" (Rudy Rucker) ★★★★★ • "400 Boys" (Marc Laidlaw) ★★★★★ • "Solstice" (James Patrick Kelly) ★★★★ • "Petra" (Greg Bear) ★★★★★ • "Till Human Voices Wake Us" (Lewis Shiner) ★★★★ • "Freezone" (John Shirley) ★★★ • "Stone Lives" (Paul Di Filippo) ★★★★ • "Red Star, Winter Orbit" (Bruce Sterling & William Gibson) ★★★★ • "Mozart in Mirrorshades" (Bruce Sterling & Lewis Shiner) ★★★★(less)
A couple of gems in here though it's not nearly as stellar as Me Talk Pretty One Day. Still, I keep this one handy for those nights between novels.
In...moreA couple of gems in here though it's not nearly as stellar as Me Talk Pretty One Day. Still, I keep this one handy for those nights between novels.
In a way, I would describe this as Sedaris' most cynical work. Example: the take-home message of the short story that shares the collection's title. We find out something about ourselves when we bear all, eh? But we'll just as soon retreat to the comfort of our coverings. And those that don't be damned; you don't want to associate yourself with those shameless folks anyway.(less)