With my ‘to be read’ pile of books made up of some very substantial volumes in ‘trade paperback’ and ‘Dozoisamungus’ sizes, this DAW Books anthology is a good old-fashioned paperbook size. It’s themed around the Fermi Paradox – where is everyone FFS – and has some big named authors.
Alex Irvine. The Word He Was Looking For Was Hello.
Short piece to start the Fermi Paradox themed collection, as we look inside one man’s mind, courtesy of his psychiatrist, at the relationship between intergalactic and interpersonal loneliness.
Michael Arsenault. Residue.
Two lovers tear themselves away from the TV to lie on the grass looking up at the stars. Through the conversation, and the story is entirely the dialogue of that conversation, we hear the young man’s thoughts on a couple of solutions to the Fermi Paradox. The concluding one of which is quite a cute one (SPOILER : post WWII, Earth spends a couple of hundred years fighting of alien invasion. We finally succeed in defeating them by dint of inventing time travel, going back to 1949 and setting up a deep space armada to repel aliens arriving in our solar system. Through doing this, the future is changed, and thus everyone in 1949 forgets about invaders in space. But not entirely, and the leaking out of memories is the reason behind the glut of 1950s sf/horror movies featuring alien menace!)
Yves Maynard. Good News from Antares.
A struggling ’scientifiction’ author bemoans the loss of his genre, following the finding of the solution to the Fermi Paradox : there aren’t in fact zillions of other galaxies, solar systems and planets out there, it’s mostly in effect an optical illusion. However, one of his own fictional creations appears, with a solution for him. Does he want life, the universe and everything?
Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn. Report from the Field.
Golden Age sf tropes being trodden, as aliens who are protecting earth from the rest of the universe are about to welcome us to the galactic fold, but upon closer investigation find some of our behaviours particulary worrying, report their concerns.
Jay Lake. Permanent Fatal Errors.
A tight drama from Lake in his ‘Sunspin’ setting. It’s actually online on co-editor Marty Halpern’s blog here so head over there to read it.
The previous stories of Lake’s I’ve read in this sequence impressed me for their gritty, realistic take on far-future SF. Not one of the cleancut futures as often seen on TV, but grimy, and sweaty, and populated with people with a range of faults, failings and personality traits, not carboard characters. In this story the protagonist, Maduabachi St. Macaria is a Howard -a human who has embraced technical and genetic modification for longevity and improved performance. However, he is a flawed character, cowed by the captain, a more lowly ranked and insignificant crew member than a Howard should be. But when push comes to shove, when the High Noon moment arrives, he decides to stand up for what is right, at the greatest possible risk.
Paul Di Filippo. Galaxy of Mirrors.
Professor Fayard Avouris is on a career break necessitated by a depression caused by his realisation of the futility of the human race in an universe in which no other races exist. He is therefore doubly pleased when suddenly – quite literally, suddenly – the existence of another race is proven. Furthermore, he is able to identify why another species should suddenly appear, and he is whisked away to the planet where he forecasts another appearance to take place, in the company of the beautiful federal agent Ina Glinka Narozhylenko.
It’s drily written by Di Filippo, and my only concern is that the author is perhaps succumbing to middle age – in his early days Avouris would have had at the very least a pair of beautiful twins to accompany him, not just a solo companion.
Sheila Finch. Where Two or Three.
Classical music becomes the link through which is established a relationship between an elderly ex-spaceman in a residential home and a 17-year old doing community service. It turns out, however, that the music is an important link across a much bigger gulf. Nicely observed.
David Langford. Graffiti in the Library of Babel.
I was pleased to see David Langford in the volume – he doesn’t write much, but what he does write is invariably worth reading, as is the case here. He posits an interesting means by which intelligent life could choose to get in touch with us – especially interesting due to his hearing impairment – as the means is by embedding slightly obtuse messages within the texts of classical literature. It’s a clever conceit, and Langford doesn’t rest on that, upping the ante as the messages are decoded and the implications dawn on humanity.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The Dark Man.
The Spanish Steps in Rome are the location for an intriguing story – every ten years there has been a short appearance on those steps of a dark shape. Little is known about it, few know about it, but theories amongst them are varied. A researcher observes the event, and is shaken by the exposure to something clearly out of time and out of phase.
Ray Vukcevich. One Big Monkey.
Clever, quirky short from Vukcevich. He looks at humanity turning inwards, self-obsessed, blurring identities. The narrative follows this, with the perspective blending and changing, and becoming something that is more in tune with what those ‘out there’ are willing to engage with.
Pat Cadigan. The Taste of Night.
A young woman living on the streets is struggling with an sensory overload – is it synesthesia, or a sixth sense? As her symptoms become much worse and she is hospitalised she realises there is a reason out there for what is happening in her head.
Matthew Hughes. Timmy, Come Home.
Brodie is disturbed about the voices in his head, and we follow, with wry humour, his progression through the hands of a variety of specialists, until he starts to gain some insight into his condition with a hypnotist. There may be a repressed memory from childhood at the root of things. Or there may be something else at work..
Ian Watson. A Waterfall of Lights.
A scientific researcher at Oxford University realises that the aliens are already amongst, but we haven’t been able to see it. Through the lens of an avant-garde artistic performance, their presence, and our awareness is revealed..
Felicity Shoulders and Lesley What. Rare Earth.
Callum is a teen with plenty enough going on his life without worrying about aliens arriving on Earth – he’s got his grandma to worry about, and his mom, with whom he moved in to his grandma’s with. There is school, girls, and other stuff, but all these things become interlinked, with grandma holding the keys, or the rare minerals, which point to the reason for the (re)appearance of the aliens.
James Morrow. The Vampires of Paradox.
Morrow closes out the Fermi Paradox volume by addressing the issue of paradox head-on. In an amusing tale (the humour perhaps of the type to put some off) he creates a very eccentric academic who specialises in paradoxes, and who is called in when contact is made through creatures from another dimension who are attracted to our dimension through their love of paradoxes. The academic is called in to resolve the situation, and it’s another sfnal paradox that saves us.
There are some good stories in here – Irvine, Lake, Langford and Vukcevich are my picks – but no real standouts.