Having reviewed the other three Year’s Best volumes published in 2010 I now turn my attention to the latest Dozois volume. I’ve read the majority of the stories in the volume, either through their original appearance, or their appearance in of the other Year’s Bests. A smaller number of stories are those which I have just a few read for the first time in this volume, and who have been reviewed individually on Best SF recently. For the record, those stories are the ones below which are not indented.
Robert Charles Wilson. Ultriusque Cosmi.
Originally in : The New Space Opera 2.1
When it first appared I was impressed :
Carlotta, once human, a long, long time ago, is revisiting her earlier self – the young girl is in a trailer, living out a mean life on an Earth with bear hours left.
There is an urgency in Carlotta’s visit, as she recalls the nocturnal visit from a ghostly figure which urged her earlier self to leave the trailer, and to take the opportunity to join the rapture that will be offered later.
It’s a plot device that gives an added layer to the story, as we hear of the long, long journey that Carlotta has undertaken/will undertake, but with the young Carlotta not waking before her drug-addict mother’s latest, violent, partner finds his cash stash raided by her.
Carlotta’s journey is one to the end of the universe, and beyond, as the nature of those who will destroy Earth, and their reasons for doing so, are unveiled with a twist at the end of story, matching the twist in the urging to flee that the young Carlotta receives.
It’s a powerful and human story from someone at the top of their form.
Steven Gould. A Story, With Beans.
Originally in Analog, May 2009.
Rich Horton opened his annual collection with Gould’s story, and I commented thus :
“As regular readers will know, the shrift that I have been giving Analog has been very short of late. Horton’s initial foray into the Year’s Best anthology was criticised by myself, and some others (sources, sources! I hear you cry) for having too many stories from the magazine. He did reduce the number of stories from Analog (I’m not suggesting that was a direct response to any criticsm at all!) in subsequent volumes, but chooses to open with one this year.
When reading that issue of the magazine I summarized the story : ‘A short look at blinkered faith’.
Which isn’t a whole lot of use to neither man nor beast, although I do go for short summations when there isn’t a whole lot more to be said of a story. Although I did note for that issue, there was a lot of emotion in the issue for Analog readers, mostly used to lots of science in their stories, and not a lot of emotion. Let us just say, it wouldn’t be the story I’d lead out with in a Year’s Best volume. But Horton’s got his name on the cover, and I haven’t.”
With Dozois and Horton both selecting the story, I am quite willing to concede that I may well have done the story a dis-service. Perhaps due to my giving short shrift to Analog at that time. Or perhaps the religious angle was more engaging in a society where there is a lot of blinkered faith, as opposed to the secular society we have on this side of the pond ;-)
Karl Bunker. Under the Shouting Sky.
Originally in : Cosmos, August/September 2009 – and still online.
It’s a short story – read it by following the link above.
A short but effective piece set on the Saturnian moon of Enceladus. It’s a two-hander – the scientist who pushed hard for the trip to the moon once alien wreckage was spotted on it, and a technician. There’s not much of a relationship between the two – the scientist gets the tech’s name wrong, and sees him as someone there just to earn a paycheck. But when they make an event bigger discovery, its the tech who makes the sacrifice for the greater good, revealing depth and a humility.
John Kessel. Events Preceding the Helvetican Renaissance.
Originally in : The New Space Opera 2.
In a standout collection in 2009, I wrote
“Tight drama, as we follow a young monk was has carried out an audacious raid to steal some priceless items from an oppressive regime, and who has to return to his home planet to use them as a means of ensuring the freedom of his people.
The action is given an interesting background, with humanity restored, after failing, by gods, and these gods are ever-present and able to offer advice to their believers. Others have less belief in these gods. And there is a final twist in that, having found his way back to his monastery, there has been a change of plan..”
Maureen F. McHugh. Useless Things.
Originally in : Eclipse Three.
When it appeared the other year I wrote:
“A detailed look at the impact of near-future climate and economic downturn on the individual. New Mexico is suffering drought, the economy is weak, and for those who cannot afford to move to where the water and the employment is, ekeing out a living is increasingly a challenge. A woman is managing to get by in her small property, growing some food and selling the lifelike dolls she sculpts on eBay. There’s still the basic infrastructure – internet, mobile phones, law and order – so, rather than being a totally fucked-up Mad Max future, it’s a scarily real one, a death by a thousand cuts. Itinerant workers pass by, heading north.
There’s something strange going on with one of her customers, who has ordered for the third time in as many years the same lifelike doll based on a baby picture they have supplied. And when her house is burgled, it’s time for reviewing the situation – leading to buying a handgun, and (bizarrely) turning a hand to sculpting dildoes. There’s a subtle interplay of relationships, a contrast between the haves and havenots, and the choices people have to make in this new world order.”
Bruce Sterling. Black Swan.
Originally in : Interzone #221.
When it appeared I noted :
“Classy story from Sterling which blends contemporary politics with hi-tech (zero point energy MEMS chips seeing as how you ask) and quantum Earths, in a slightly out of the usual setting : an Italian restaurant.
An Italian tech journalist is meeting with one of his regular sources, a shadowy figure, who this time provides some extremely mind-bogglingly out there tech specs on him. This is clearly out of the usual realm of tech espionage, and indeed is from an entirely different realm. The journalist finds out about the other Earths, and the other Italy’s, and the other versions of himself. President Sarkozy and Carla Bruni are key players in both this world, and the one that he follows the journalist to.
Possibly frustratingly for editor Andy Cox, who has been featuring newer writers for the most part, this story from a very well-established writer is likely to be the one that gets Interzone into the Year’s Bests anthologies. ”
Paul McAuley. Crimes and Glory.
Originally in : Subterranean, and stile online.
I read this in Horton’s anthology and noted :
Excellent hard SF from McAuley, in a narrative that gradually reveals more as it progresses. It’s set in his ‘Jackaroo’ series, where aliens have contacted us, and humanity is using their tech, and tech from elder species to expand our horizons.
Some potentially very, very risky alien tech is discovered, and there’s a chase to hunt down the people with it, and to work out just who is behind it. The detective in it is determined to bring the miscreants to justice, but whose justice?
Alexander Irvine. Seventh Fall.
Originally in : Subterranean, and still online.
This appeared in a special Alexander Irvine issue of Subterranean 18 months ago – click the link above to read it.
I do like a good post-apocalyptic story, and this is a good post-apocalyptic story. It tells the story of Varner, and old man spending his life seeking out any old books left after the Seventh Fall. We find out why there aren’t many books left, and why owning them can be injurious to your health, and we find out about his path to becoming a travelling story-teller as he reflects on his youth, when the Seventh Fall contributed to the end of his childhood. There’s some good imagery in the book, and the characters who Varner reflects on during his journey are skillfully sketched. The beauty of the story is in the intelligent way Irvine uses Varner’s additional quest to find a full version of Hamlet, and his childhood acting in Shakespearean plays. It’s an effective story, and this soppy old sod was quite affected by the ending.
Dominic Green. Butterfly Bomb.
Originally in : Interzone #223.
When this appeared in the magazine, clearly I wasn’t hugely won over :
A special issue, with three Green stories, and an interview. The first was written to introduce the Proprietor’s Universe, which a further story in the issue is set in.
The good news is that if you like Alastair Reynolds’ its the kind of story you would expect to life – a big galaxy with ancient aliens with powers beyond our ken, lots of hi-tech and drama.
Unfortunately, Green isn’t quite in Reynolds’ league, and the story doesn’t really work.
There are a number of stylistic niggles, and inappropriate references, such as mentions of slide rules, and aerosol deodorants sitting awkwardly in a far future.
The premise is somewhat difficult to accept – why would the elderly human tasked by minding a very, very dangerous shapeshifting monster, build her a communication device that would enable her to get off the planet the pair of them inhabit?
There’s an offputting quick reference to female genital mutilation – not that I’m against addressing complex issues of cultural and societal differences, but if you’re going to do so, do it at greater length and with greater subtlety.
And having chased down and tracked the escapee, the minder ends up setting her up to travel away in a spaceship, to wreak further horrors. And why does the POV suddenly shift to the shapeshifter in the final paragraph?
Vandana Singh. Infinities.
Originally in : The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet
Also chosen by Hartwell/Cramer, when I noted :
another classy story from Singh. She portrays several worlds quite alien to me – the world of India, the world of religion, the world of mathematics : and, indeed, a multiverse of worlds accessible by a combination of these world. A man obsessed with mathematics, or more accurately, the mathematics of infinity, is …spoiler… finally given a chance to glimpse what lies beyond our ken, and an understanding that the reason that is is beyond our ken, is that is simply too great for such humble creatures as us to being to grasp.
What could be a worthy, but dull story is avoided by creating, as Singh has done before, believable characters with human frailties in a sadly believable environment devasted by the impact of those frailties.
John Barnes. Things Undone.
Originally in Jim Baen’s Universe, and online at webscriptions.net.
This excellent story is online, as per above, so read it before you go any further! Seriously, read it!
One of the most satisfying stories I’ve read for some time. It’s complex, and requires full attention, which is good. It’s clever, and doesn’t spell things out for the reader, and there are plenty of references to interesting facets to the political and society background(s) of the story that are left to the reader to ponder, rather than being laboriously spelt out in the narrative.
And what a narrative(s). The opening sentence sets out a challenge to the reader – it’s set out in ‘Year of Grace 2014’, but what does that mean. You don’t find out for some time, as the story drip-feeds background information through the dialogue. Simon Rastigevat is the main protagonist, doing contract work with a colleague, Horejsi. They’re of a different status in society, and so the feelings they have for each other have to be kept very, very hidden. He’s a mathematic genius/obsessive-cum autistic character, seeing the world and relationships and events through numbers and ratios.
The central conceit is that time travel to the past is possible, but that the universe is clever enough to iron out any actions that are carried out, so that the implications do not echo down through the ages. No butterfly wings in this universe.
We find out just why the society they live is in different from ours – a single unifying mathematical and physical premise discovered centuries ago, leading to a globe-spanning British, Catholic empire. And the crux of the story is that they need to find the person from the past who has been used as ‘ballast’ to balance the equation that allows someone to travel to the past.
But rather than a ‘can they find the person and save their reality’, the drama is much more subtle. The find the person they need to find, but then there is a complex ethical decision to be made. What if the changes that are beginning to be felt in their time, are for the greater good? What if the world they live in is one which they are better off not to have?
The story progresses as the changes have effect, and Rastigavet and Horejsi feel the past they know slipping from their memory. This is done cleverly, such as through them losing the detail of a children’s nursery rhyme used to commemorate the mathematical geniuses who led to their society (and who are being assassinated by the time traveller). There’s some dense mathematical jargon, but not too much, and after the ethical and philosophical issues, there are impactful changes to personal relationships.
One of the rare stories that I finish feeling emotionally and intellectually enervated, and know that I will read again, and am just simply pleased to have read it.
Jay Lake. On the Human Plan.
Originally in Lone Star Stories – and still online here (bloody stupid photograph to illustrate the story if you ask me!).
Originally in Horton’s take on the best of the year, whence I noted:
I’d listened to this as a podcast (on Escape Pod prior to reading the story in this volume. So you’ve got the opportunity to read it, or listen to it before you read my words – and Lake’s words are far better than my words!
It’s a short story, packing a subtle punch. Setting in the dying days of our Sun, with humans increasingly moving away from ‘the human plan’, Dog the Digger relates a visit from a traveller from afar, seeking to find the doorway to death. In relating the story of that visit to the reader, Dog the Digger details a lot about the current state of humanity, and … how we have to some extent cheated death, albeit with a very high price to be paid. It’s a story that benefits from careful reading, there’s a lot of thought gone into its writing, with some clever imagery and thoughtful turns of phrase.
Peter Watts. The Island.
Originally in : The New Space Opera 2.
When I read this in 2009 I noted:
Some ultra-hard sf, ultra-far future, as with the previous story by Wilson. However, Watts’ is slightly less successful in taking on the challenge of presenting the story from a female protagonist, not quite getting an emotional depth of character.
Earth is long-dead, but humanity lives on, albeit in the service of those less than but more than human, constantly expanding the sphere of galactic conquest by building wormholes. Having created a wormhole, the humans have to flee to avoid being caught up by those hard on their heels.
As in the Wilson story, the humans achieve longevity by spreading their lives across centuries by living in short bursts – both authors using the term ‘saccade’. Whilst Wilson’s protagonist is uploaded (but is able to retain and sustain emotional needs), Watts’ protagonist has physical needs which she is able to satisfy both by herself (having her ‘jill off’ comes across very strongly as a female character written by a male) and with her son.
The son is only partly such, a creation of ‘the chimp’, the AI which controls the construction ship. There’s an interesting troilistic relationship here, with the chimp directly linked to the son, who has been created in order to spy on his mother.
The drama is set up when the system in which the latest wormhole to be built has a very, very anomolous entity. So anomolous that it is beyond the AI’s coding to incorporate into its decision making, and the mother has to find ways to persuade it not to start a destructive build near a colossal, biological, sentient creature – less an Island but more a Dyson Sphere.
Lavie Tidhar. The Integrity of the Chain.
Originally in : Fantasy, July 2009.
Shorter story, giving Tidhar’s usual non-westerncentric angle, this time on a young taxi driver from Lao, and his dreams of escaping his rural life, the moon, recently colonised by the Chinese, being his beacon. A strange robed fare (nb it’s ‘fare’ not ‘fair’!) and a trip to an eldery man with similar dreams and a home-made spaceship, put his dreams into perspective, in a neat little story.
Mary Rosenblum. Lion Walk.
Originally in : Asimovs Science Fiction, January 2009.
I wasn’t overwhelmed by the story in its original magazine appearance :
Science thriller set in an African game reserve where the second body in a few weeks is found – or rather, the remains of a second body, the lions, vultures and pack dogs having been at the unfortunate victims. A game warden has to choose how public to go with these deaths. It is clear to her that the victims were left in the open plains to be killed, and has suspicions as to why, but in going public she will be putting herself at risk.
Jo Walton. Escape to Other Worlds with Science Fiction.
Originally on : Tor.com (and still online.
Take 10 or 15 minutes out of your life to read the story (unless you’re feeling in a pretty low mood and don’t want to be taken down further!).
America in the 1960s, or, rather, a 1960s, where the USA didn’t join the war, the New Deal failed, and the Great Depression lingers on, and a whole heap of societal ills remain, and are indeed magnified. There are a couple of short peices of narrative from those in the soup kitchen queue, and longer focus on a young woman struggling to make ends meet as a waitress, and these are put in context with newspaper headlines, showing the sad state of affairs in America, in a world with Hitler still in power, Japan still a world force and a threat, and America fighting Britain.
The newspaper headlines include short references to new stories by famous authors, the final reference being to Alice Davey, which will test the reader’s knowledge of sf (or their ability to use google…)
Rand B. Lee. Three Leaves of Aloe.
Originally in : Fantasy & Science Fiction, August/September 2009.
Not a story that prompted me to enthuse :
On the sub-continent, a mother finds that she has to resolve a problem caused by her daughter’s misbehaviour at school. Is she willing to counternance the use of technology to monitor and guide her daughter, or will this be too intrusive?
Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette. Mongoose.
Originally in : Lovecraft Unbound.
Also chosen by Strahan, in whose take on the year’s best I read it :
I enjoyed Monette/Bear’s ‘Boojum’ which appeared in both the Dozois and Hartwell anthologies last year, noting that it was ‘a cracking story, and a setting which could do with further exploration’. That story appeared in a piratically-themed anthology, and this in a Lovecraft anthology.
A space station has a nasty infestation – creatures from another dimension sneaking into ours, oozing tentacally things. Izrael Irizarry has the contract to clean out the space station, but what should be fairly routine is clearly far more complicated due to the extent of the infestation, and the implications of that : the risk that even nastier creatures may be seeking their way on the station. Irizarry has Mongoose with him, itself a strange creature from another dimension, more than a pet.
There’s a climactic confrontation with a breeding alien, and there is politics and backstory to flesh out the action in a story that lives up to its predecessor.
Albert E. Cowdrey. Paradiso Lost.
Originally in : Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 2009.
Again, not a story that I would have picked out :
Further adventures of Colonel Kohn who previously appeared in ‘Tribes of Bela’ and ‘Murder in the Flying Vatican’, the former of which was well-received by many. I noted of the latter that it had ‘just a feel of 1997 or 1987′ about it, and this is very much in the same vein, with a very traditional space adventure murder mystery setting, with some 1950s style characterisations.
Nicola Griffith. It Takes Two.
Originally in : Eclipse Three.
When it appeared, I noted :
A young salesperson trying to make the move from sales to VP in a dotnet media company grits their teeth when visiting a lapdancing club as part of entertaining to support the bidding for a huge software contract. However, suddenly being transfixed with lust, and perhaps the other l word, with one of the dancers, throws the salesperson into a spin. And just what help has an ex-colleague provided to help clinch the deal? It’s a different perspective (go on, guess) and the sudden impact of obsession and lust and love is well handled, as is the concluding consideration of what attraction is based on.
Geoff Ryman. Blocked.
Originally in : Fantasy & Science Fiction, October/November 2009.
When it appeared in its orginal magazine guise, I was impressed :
Ryman memorably took us further East than SF/fantasy normally gets, in his excellent ‘Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)’, and this follows suit.
Humanity has ceased reaching for the stars, a theme addresses regularly in SF in recent years, often in the alternate history mode. Here he takes a close look on its impact on society at large, and a small family. A mother, abandoned by her husband, had fled with her children, and the new head of the family is somewhat bemused to find himself in that role. He struggles with the relationships, and the motivations of his wife and her children – is she just interested in him as a route to safety from the purported dual threat of cometsrike and alien attack.
No longer reaching outward, humanity is closing in on itself, and is seeking refuge deep underground. The hermetic nature of a future, entombed but with a virtual reality, work for him and his family. Surprisingly, the semi-autistic/catatonic child who has struggled with life above ground, finds the new life one that suits her. And he has to struggle to find an accommodation with his new accommodation. Excellent.
James Van Pelt. Solace.
Originally in : Analog, June 2009.
In noted in the summary of the issue in which it appeared that Van Pelt’s story was the one in the issue most in tune with me :
Two frontiers persons, separated by several centuries, but linked by an artefact which one left behind, the other to pick up.
The earlier character is holed up in snowy American frontierland, desperately trying to keep him alive through a horribly protracted snow-storm. His crisis comes when he gets wet and has to somehow dry out and warm up before freezing to death (echoes of a classic Jack London story).
Surviving, he leaves a candleholder with a quotation from his bible in it for someone to find, in the hope that it may bring them solace. And true enough, a hardy would-be colonist on a journey of a couple of thousand years to a distant planet, has it as her keepsake from Earth. She is clearly cut off from that which she has left behind, being woken up from hypersleep once every quarter century. There is a lot of untested tech (in terms of not having been tested for 2000 years!), and similarly there are issues with both the human body and the human psyche.
She finds solace through intimate relations with a fellow passenger, but has to come to terms with losing even that. Can she use her scientific expertise to do something that will last the centuries and offer a memento of Earth?
Nancy Kress. Act One.
Originally in : Asimovs, March 2009.
Interestingly, this was a Nancy Kress story which didn’t really work for me at all, a very rare occurrence :
More of an Analog story than an Asimovs. Genetic modification is the topic, and in order to explore it Kress puts a person of restricted growth (referred to as, and by the character himself, as a dwarf), alongside an ageing movie star, researching a film about children with Arlen’s Syndrome, which makes children ‘sensitive, cooperative, grateful, and aware’ (hardly children!).
The dwarf has issues with his estranged son, due to genetic decisions made pre-utero, and the climax features the modern version of pitchfork and burnign brand wielding villagers.
There’s a lot of genetic research background thrown in for good measure (‘Achondroplasia dwarfism is the result of a single nucleotide substitution in the gene FDFR3 at codon 380 on chromosome 4.’)
I’d have guessed this an Analog story written by one of their regular scientist writers with a middle initial, and Kress would have been a long way down the list (it’s a long way from Kress’s Beggars in Spain!)
John C. Wright. Twilight of the Gods.
Originally in : Federations
Clearly in tune with Dozois on this one!
An excellent story in it’s own right, and intriguing in the light of the few other stories by Wright that I’ve reviewed.
As Dozois’ states in the intro, it’s a clever piece of hard sf/epic fantasy – not a combination that you see that often! The central conceit is that a generation-battleship has been badly damaged in combat centuries after launch, the computer systems are down, and the crew, without access to the computer, have in effect degenerated from the genmod, nanobot supported gods that they in effect were previously. What has developed is in effect a heroic fantasy setting, with kings, knights and others in a semi-feudal state based on the various levels of the ship.
The ship is still under attack, and the erstwhile leader, Acting Captain Weston II is faced with challenges – both from the one ring that can control the computer, to others who have designs on the ring.
It’s all told in a semi-lyrical, Tolkienesque manner, redolent of both his ‘One Bright Star to Guide Them’ (F&SF April/May 2009 – link), and the much earlier, but similarly mannered ‘Guest Law’, collected by Hartwell/Cramer in Year’s Best SF #3, way back in 1998.
Ted Kosmatka and Michael Poore. Blood Dauber.
Originally in : Asimovs, October/November 2009.
When it first appeared I was impressed:
Bell works at the zoo, lives with his wife in a trailer, trying to make sense of the animals nominally in his charge and their behaviour, and the behaviour of his fellow workers, and his wife’s behaviour, and his own behaviour.
Whilst he has pretty much come to an understanding with the animals in the zoo, everything else is another matter, and when he gets embroiled with one of his female colleagues, and someone working a community service order, who has a whole heap of issues himself, it gets even more complicated.
His attempts to understand these various behaviours and responses to stimuli and changes to the environment is thrown into relief by a very, very strange insect that he comes across, and which has a very rapid response to its environment.
Its a well-observed story full of complicated, three-diminensional characters.
Damien Broderick. This Wind Blowing, and This Tide.
Originally in : Asimovs, April/May 2009.
When it appeared in its original magazine format I wrote:
Broderick starts with a Kipling quote, and goes on to provide an SF story just that bit different. The setting – an alien spaceship covered in flowers, held in stasis on Titan. It has been found through dreams that have been plaguing the protagonist, an overweight clairvoyant. He is battling with some inner demons, following the death of his son in psace service, and the disdain of the crew on the mission which is trying to explore the ship. There’s a further layer added, in his belief that dinosaurs had achieved a much higher level of intelligence. And when he has a vision that the pilot in stasis is of that ilk, he falls even lower in the estimation of his colleagues. However…
Adam Roberts. Hair.
Originally in : When It Changed.
An intriguing story, one that you read and want to think about, and then re-read. I’ve yet to do the final stage of this process! The story is clearly in the milieu of his forthcoming novel ‘By Light Alone’ (amazon.com | amazon.co.uk).
There are several treats in this story. First up is the narrator, a complicated character in himself, the story is related through his idiosyncratic eyes and worldview. Secondly is the lot of tech in the story. Thirdly is a great central conceit – genmod that allows individuals to live simply through absorbing natural light through their hair (provided it is grown long enough). There is the friend of the narrator who has invented the genmod and loosed it upon the world, his motivations and ego. And finally, the impact on the world itself as, in effect, poverty through lack of food is no more.
Robert Reed. Before My Last Breath.
Originally in : Asimovs, October/November 2010.
When it first appared I enjoyed it :
I have to take issue with editor Sheila Williams with her introduction to the story, which for me detracts from the strong to a greater degree than I would like. Regular readers of Asimovs and F&SF will know that Reed is capable of drawing on any number of events in ‘real life’ to make a strong SF story.
This is a perfect case in question. Williams lets us into the inspiration : reading about the finding of graves of early Viking settlers in Greenland, where the more recent graves, in contrast to the older ones, show how those who had travelled far to Greenland became progressively in reduced circumstances, both societally and physically, as the depredations of the environment gradually took their toll.
Having read this introduction, my mind was immediately set rolling on this story, wanting to know more, and imagining the heroic efforts to travel to a far land, the struggles to establish a foothold, and how the generations ahead struggled to maintain what had been created before.
With this in mind, it wasn’t as easy as it should have been to engage with Reed’s story of the finding of a huge alien graveyard, and how those excavating the graveyard realise the newer graves at the top of the dig are a shadow of those buried earlier.
Reed takes the story forward through episodes glimpsed through different characters, which works well, and wraps it up with a sad vision of the culture behind those in the graves.
An excellent story, but any Year’s Best anthologists – please don’t give the game away in the intro!
Paul Cornell. One of Our Bastards Is Missing.
Originally in : The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Three.
When it first appared :
does have more than a feel of a Dr. Who episode (Cornell writes Dr. Who novels amongst other things). Indeed, the story could easily be turned into an episode. In an alternate Earth, Victorian England-ish, a young Princess and her betrothed are hosting a ball when an Austrian guest close to her suddenly disappears into thin air. This isn’t as unusual as it might be, as the control of such things is fairly commonplace, although the palace security should have stopped it happening. It turns out in fact that there has been a double-bluff as not only has the Austrian disappeared into a local time anomaly, but he has taken the Princess with him, and put a doppelganger in her place. Palace security has to get the Princess back.
It’s an intriguing society created by Cornell, the second story in that setting, the first having been in Anders ‘Fast Forward #2′ : so if you enjoyed ‘Catherine Drew’ in that volume, you will enjoy this one.
Chris Roberson. Edison’s Frankenstein.
Originally in : Postscripts 20/21.
Also picked up by Hartwell/Cramer in which I noted:
A frustrating story, but only in the sense that you’re frustrated at wanting more. It’s ponders the effect of the finding of another source of energy at the same time as Edison and Tesla’s work on electricity, one that made their experimentation with electricity redundant and put them into the category of eccentrics, rather than visionaries who would create the world we live in.
Roberson puts some subtle characterisations and touches to his story, where many would have left a fairly blank or cod-steampunky background. He sets the story in Chicago around the time of a World’s Fair, with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World drawing business away from the other attractions. The protagonist is Algerian, with a layer of racism added to the story, and reference to the American South. The story, as such, revolves around the finding of a naked man, unaware of who or where he is, at the same time as Edison meeting a grisly end at his carnival sideshow. The only bum note for me, which can be a failing of Alternate History, is in having the protagonist ponder what the world would be like if the world was powered by electricity, which rather breaks the conceit that the reader is engaged in whilst reading the story.
Ian Creasey. Erosion.
Originally in : Asimovs, October/November 2009.
When it appeared I wrote:
A bizarre juxtaposition for me – moving from a far future story to one set in Scarborough on the North East coast of England, which has two deeply embedded memories for me : a family holiday in 1976, and an (ahem) week’s holiday with my then girlfriend of a couple of months, who is now my wife of over 25 years.
The themes of the story are strong ones – a man who has chosen to leave behind his old life to seek out a new life away from Earth, having to leave behind his lover, having to leave behind some degree of humanity as he is transformed for his new environment. And you wouldn’t believe you could feel emotion for a wooden bench, but the memorial bench sitting near a church overlooking the sea contains a mini-upload of the person whom it commemorates, and she is waiting for the sea to reclaim the coast, and for her to be reunited with her drown-dead husband.
Ian McDonald. Vishnu at the Cat Circus.
Originally in : Cyberabad Days
I don’t read many novels, but I did read ‘River of Gods’, having been hugely impressed with the short story ‘Little Goddess’ that appeared in Asimovs in June 2005. The collection ‘Cyberabad Days’ brought together a number of stories in this sequence which subsequently appeared, and most of which I’ve reviewed on Best SF. This is an original story from that collection, and neatly puts a seal on this story sequence, whilst potentially opening up a whole new ball game.
The protagonist is a ‘brahmin’, a young child with a huge amount of in-utero genetic modification. We listen to him in his older age, as he relates how his parents were brought together, the events that led to his mother deciding that her second son must have all the advantages possible (and the reaction of the first son). As with all the stories, it is rich in its description of the setting, and also the characters that populate it. There’s a lot to like in the story, and the final few pages ramp up the ante as the young man sees that he is in fact far from the future of humanity.
If you have a long holiday and want some reading, you couldn’t do much better than getting a hold of the novel ‘River of Gods’ (amazon.com | amazon.co.uk) and the collection ‘Cyberabad Days’ (amazon.com | amazon.co.uk)
The usual mammoth collection, with plenty of bang for your buck. Interesting to see the number of stories chosen from magazines gradually dwindling.