My life in outer space

Anthology

Adventures in The Far Future – Donald A Wollheim (Ed) (1954)

acedoubleadventures

‘Excitement beyond tomorrow’s horizons!

Spanning the next million years, this thrilling science-fiction anthology breaks through today’s horizons to explore the wonders of far time and endless space. In five specially selected novelettes, five leading fantasy writers take you through startling adventures on worlds undreamed of.

Trouble-shoot the interstellar airways with Lester Del Rey. Explore a city-sized starship with Chad Oliver. Fight against a galaxy-wide conspiracy with Murray Leinster. Visit the world of 1,000,000 A.D. with Martin Pearson. Sit in on a world’s last day with Poul Anderson.

ADVENTURE IN THE FAR FUTURE is a new science-fiction collection prepared especially for ACE BOOKS by Donald A. Wollheim.

The Wind Between the Worlds
If they could not seal the break in the cosmic life lines, a dozen worlds would die quickly — and ours among them!

Stardust
Though there was bitter mutiny among the crew of that star-travelling Columbus, none guessed that time itself was the chief culprit.

Overdrive
Did that lost space liner hold the only key to the terrible marauders of half a galaxy?

The Millionth Year
It took a traveler from the forgotten past to read the message of the phantoms in the sky.

The Chapter Ends
They drew a line down the middle of the universe — and the Earth was on the wrong side of the boundary!’

Blurb from the 1954 D-73 Ace Double Paperback edition

The Wind Between the Worlds – Lester Del Rey (Galaxy Science Fiction, 1951)

A matter transmitter portal becomes jammed open and is transmitting Earth’s atmosphere to another world. Scientists race to solve the problem before the Earth is doomed. Fairly lightweight hokum but enjoyable enough.

Stardust – Chad Oliver (Astounding 1953)

An interstellar ship discovers a lost generation ship and have to find a way to set them back on course without revealing their existence and jeopardising their morale or depriving them of their chance to reach their destination on their own. Flawed, but interesting. Generation ships were a big thing in the fifties. The concept seems to have run out of steam of late.

Overdrive – Murray Leinster (Startling Stories 1952)

A passenger ship’s insterstellar drive cuts out leaving the ship stranded. Luckily an insterstellar secret agent of sorts is on board and suspects a sinister plot. Leinster’s mostly very readable, and doesn’t disappoint here, although one suspects that this was planned as a longer piece, or part of an ongoing sequence.

The Millionth Year – Martin Pearson (Science Fiction Stories 1943)

Possibly put in as a page-filler, this rather lacklustre tale from 11 years previously sees a man transported a million years into the future and then is returned in spirit to watch human history over the intervening period.

The Chapter Ends – Poul Anderson (Dynamic Science Fiction 1953)

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the best contribution comes from Poul Anderson. Humanity have spread out to the stars and have come to an agreement with a race who occupy gas giants that they will occupy separate areas of the galactic region. This means that Earth, which only has a small remnant of Humanity, will need to be evacuated, One man, however, has decided to remain and live out his life alone. Poignant and character driven.

Advertisements

The Angels of Life and Death – Eric Brown (2010)

The Angels of Life and Death

Ten stories from Eric Brown, of varying quality, set in various parts of the world or universe.
There are recurring themes of Death (or perhaps mortality) and identity. There a couple of stories which are a little weak, although on the whole they are fascinating little gems, featuring well-rounded characters, and not all of them Anglo-American Anglo Saxon folk either, which makes a pleasant change.
A very easy and enjoyable read.

Venus Macabre (Aboriginal Science Fiction, Winter 1998)

A tale of two men obsessed with death. One is a conceptual artist who is equipped with a device which records his mind. He perpetually destroys himself as a performance before spending seven days in the impervious device while his body is being regrown. The other, who attends his final performance, is a TV host who employs empaths to track suicides. Their final days and their actual suicides are filmed and shown on a popular prime time show.
This tale cleverly unravels the history of the two protagonists and what else they have in common.

The Frankenberg Process (Interzone, #171 September 2001)

A fascinating story with a very retro feel to it. The Frankenberg Process splits top level executives of a vast Corporation into two separate but identical individuals, keeping one on Earth and teleporting the other to work on a distant alien world, never to return.
It’s a tale of corporate greed and control, but also examines the human effects of such a process.

Skyball (The Edge, Vol. 2, #5, August-September 1997)

In a near future Far East, a form of quidditch is played, with teams zooming about in powered harnesses. A telepath, who used to be employed to scout out talent by seeing their potential in their minds, is now employed seeking out criminals. He is at an important Skyball final as a tip has been received that someone will attempt to kill one of the players.
While there, he discovers a crippled girl who has the mind of a brilliant Skyball strategist, and conceives the idea of temporarily transferring her mind into that of a fading star player. .

Bengal Blues (The Angels of Life and Death 2010)

A weak but atmospheric story about a telepathic detective on the trail of a man who has married a prostitute. The ending is a little rushed and awkward for me. It seems as if it should be part of a larger work.

The Nilakantha Scream (Interzone, #48 June 1991)

Telepaths again feature in this odd tale of an interstellar contact crew returning from a world where they were deeply traumatised and have been emitting a daily psychic scream on their way back home. This is however, more about the central figure and her relationship to her boss and to one of the crew returning from space.

The Thallian Intervention (The Edge, Vol. 2, #2, February-March 1996)

One of the weaker tales in ‘Angels of Life and Death’ is an attempt at an early Twentieth Century style, where Mr Meredith, a passenger on a liner to Singapore meets an alien visitor from the future.
The Earth is doomed, but the aliens plan to effectively copy the Earth, transport it to their own time period, and hopefully save Humanity from destroying itself.
It ultimately looks at the same themes as ‘The Frankenburg Process’ but not to any great degree.

The Tapestry of Time (Fantasy Adventures 12 – 2006)

An archaeologist is struggling to come to terms with an anomalous corpse from the 11th Century that has turned up. Not long after an old colleague invites him to have a tour of his project, which appears to be a working time-travel process.
Without giving too much away there is not enough of a mystery, and the piece could have been longer with a little more plot.

The Frozen Woman (Interzone, #190 July-August 2003)

A gardener for a large private estate is discovered frozen, as if in stasis, in Sainsburys. A year later he recovers, apparently none the worse for his experience. However, he will only speak with one specific reporter, a woman about whom he seems to know and care a great deal, although she has never met him.
Brown’s aliens and evolved humans (as are described here and in the stories in Angels of Life and Death) seem in the main to be benevolent, which is interesting and a little refreshing.

Crystals (New Moon #2, January 1992)

An alien ship crashed just off an island on Britain’s coast. It has been thoroughly examined by most of the world’s specialists and the alien bodies removed.
When the story begins the ship has become merely a scenic view for the islanders. The narrator moved to the island following an acrimonious divorce. His estranged daughter is due to arrive for a visit and her mother has not told her that the man she calls father is not her father.
As she arrives, the island is beset by a storm and the next day alien crystals are found on the beach, crystals that can one record one’s thoughts and experiences.
It is not a bad story but would benefit with some extra length and more conflict.

Angels of Life and Death ( Spectrum SF, #5 February 2001)

Just after Ben, an artist, discovers he has terminal cancer, aliens arrive, announcing their intention to take Earth’s mortally sick for a trip around the Universe. Ben volunteers and is introduced to Tallibeth, his guide, a humanoid being who appears to be composed of light.
The Tallani, as the aliens are known, take Ben to various worlds across the Universe and ultimately tell him that they can, if he wishes, cure him.
As with some of his other stories there is an exploration of what it means to have quality of life.


The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 15 – Gardner R. Dozois (Ed.) (2002)

The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 15

New Light on the Drake Equation – Ian R MacLeod (SCI FICTION May 2001)
More Adventures on Other Planets – Michael Cassutt (SCI FICTION Jan 2001)
On K2 with Kanakaredes – Dan Simmons (Red Shift (ROC) AC Sarrantonio Ed.)
When This World is All On Fire – William Sanders (Asimov’s SF Oct/Nov 2001)
Computer Virus – Nancy Kress (Asimov’s SF April 2001)
Have Not Have – Geoff Ryman (Magazine of F&SF April 2001)
Lobsters – Charles Stross (Asimov’s SF June 2001)
The Dog said Bow-Wow – Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s SF Oct/Nov 2001)
The Chief Designer – Andy Duncan (Asimov’s SF June 2001)
Neutrino Drag – Paul Di Fillipo (SCI FICTION 22/8/2001)
Glacial – Alastair Reynolds (Spectrum SF 5)
The Days Between – Allen Steele (Asimov’s SF March 2001)
One Horse Town – Howard Waldrop/Leigh Kennedy (SCI FICTION 4/3/2001)
Moby Quilt – Eleanor Arnason (Asimov’s SF May 2001)
Raven Dream – Robert Reed (Magazine of F&SF December 2001)
Undone – James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s SF June 2001)
The Real Thing – Carolyn Ives Gilman (Magazine of F&SF July 2001)
Interview: On Any Given Day – Maureen F McHugh (Starlight 3 (Tor))
Isabel of The Fall – Ian R MacLeod (Interzone July 2001)
Into Greenwood – Jim Grimsley (Asimov’s SF September 2001)
Know How, Can Do – Michael Blumlein (Magazine of F&SF December 2001)
Russian Vine – Simon Ings (SCI FICTION June 6 2001)
The Two Dicks – Paul McAuley (Magazine of F&SF August 2001)
May Be Some Time – Brenda W Clough (Analog Science Fiction & Fact April 2001)
Marcher – Chris Beckett (Interzone October 2001)
The Human Front – Ken MacLeod (chapbook – The Human Front – PS Publishing)

New Light on The Drake Equation – Ian R MacLeod

An atmospheric and poignant tale, set in France, in which a lifelong SETI researcher looks back on his life of fruitless searching for signs of extraterrestrial life from a future where genetic bodily restyling is all the rage. His memories are interrupted by the arrival of an old girlfriend, a woman who may be the alien he has been searching for all his life.
Beautifully written and evocative.

More Adventures on Other Planets – Michael Cassutt

A modern interplanetary romance (literally) featuring two older members of a Scientific Institute who operate waldos on the surface of Europa who are searching for signs of life beneath the frozen surface. It’s extremely well-written and amusing without having that annoying American habit of over-emphasising the humour.

On K2 with Kanakaredes – Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons never disappoints and here he is on top form, and on top of the world in a tale of a climbing crew who are ordered by the US government to accept one of the alien insectoid Listeners (as they are known) on a climbing expedition up K2. The characterisation is excellent, and despite the brevity of the tale we accept the idea of a large insect bonding with a pack of professional mountain climbers. Simmons provides one of his usual metaphysical clichés in the concept of the Listeners having come to Earth to teach us how to Listen to the song of the world.
Very memorable.

When This World is All On Fire – William Sanders

A global warming themed tale set in the American Midwest where white people are beginning to encroach on what remains of Native American land now that the sea level has risen, leaving much of North America under water.
Sanders employs the dry and desperate environment as a backdrop to a tale of a Native American security man and his obsession with the young white girl he hears singing one day when her family park on Indian land illegally.
Like all the stories so far it has a sad and poignant element to it, but is nevertheless an energetic and well-painted story. You can almost smell the smoke and the baking land.

Computer Virus – Nancy Kress

I seem to remember at least two TV movies of the Eighties or earlier which featured a computer going rogue and holding people hostage in some building or other. One featured Kate Jackson of Charlie’s Angels, but was otherwise unmemorable.
Thankfully Nancy has used this concept far more cleverly in a fast-paced story where an escaped AI invades a computer-controlled house into which a female scientist has retreated since her geneticist husband was murdered by eco-terrorists.
The AI wants to hold her and her children hostage unless it is allowed to talk to the Press, something its creators do not want it to do.
It is up to her to use her wits to defeat the AI, since her young son has contracted a mutated virus, and his temperature is steadily rising.
It says much about the media, about government, and a climate in which we seem to be more afraid of each other than posited foreign terrorists.

Have Not Have – Geoff Ryman

Ryman’s work is very much character-driven, but there is always an interesting backdrop, an exotic setting against which the drama can be shown to best effect. Here we are, it is supposed, in China, where a young woman makes a living by adapting the fashions she sees on screen and in magazines to make dresses for the peasants of her village. The stark poverty of the villagers is contrasted by the advent of technology and a development of the internet which will allow everyone to have TV ‘in their heads’.
It’s a startling, evocative and original tale, in which individual characters are carved intricately like small jade sculptures

Lobsters – Charles Stross

A bewildering and disorienting romp through a future world of predatory ads, AIs, and world where the minds of lobsters are uploaded into a digital environment, their minds employed as processing slaves. Quite brilliant, but very difficult to describe. It’s easier to read the story for yourself.

The Dog said Bow-Wow – Michael Swanwick

As usual Swanwick has created a bizarre and exotic world in which to set his tale, which features a genetically engineered dog of the far future who joined forces with a human man and hatches a scheme to steal the jewels of a member of the aristocracy.
In this future, the Queen (an almost immortal creature with multiple brains set deep into her vast body) lives in a Buckingham Palace which surrounded by a labyrinth.
Vivid, surreal, amusing and memorable.

The Chief Designer – Andy Duncan

An emotional and poignant view of ‘the chief designer’ of the USSR space programme, rescued form a Russian concentration camp to become the main force behind Russia’s bid to conquer space.

Neutrino Drag – Paul Di Fillipo

Very stylish fast and amusing SF from Di Fillipo who tells the story of how an alien got involved in drag racing with an American gang. When the human hero accidentally ‘bonds’ with the alien’s specially-cloned girlfriend, he is challenged to a ‘chicken’ race into the corona of our sun.
Di Fillipo evokes a sense of place and his vision of contemporary gang culture in the US is, if a little romantic, vivid and realistic.

Glacial – Alastair Reynolds

One of the best stories in this collection features Clavain, the renegade conjoiner from Reynolds’ ‘Redemption Ark’. Here, the action is set long before that of the novel, at a time when the conjoiners have set off to find a habitable world to start a colony. Felka, the mind-damaged conjoiner and Galiana, the leader of the group along with Clavain land on the frozen planet Diadem, only to find a dead Earth colony has already preceded them. One man has frozen himself deliberately in the hope of being revived.
Like the later story ‘Moby Quilt’ in this volume, a vital part of the plot is a gestalt of seemingly low-level intelligence creatures (in this case, worms) which seem to be acting as an information processing device; i.e. a self-aware organism composed of thousands of smaller creatures.
Fascinating reading, and suggesting that Reynolds may be planning other Clavain stories to fill in the gaps between this and ‘Redemption Ark’

The Days Between – Allen Steele

An interstellar ship, whose passengers are all cryogenically frozen for the long-haul light-years-long trip suddenly awakens one of its passengers only a few months into the mission.
The AI controlling the functions of the ship refuses to re-freeze him – for complex reasons having to do with a sub-plot involving conspiracies and mutiny – and we follow his descent into madness as he realises that he will die years before the ship reaches its destination, and his slow return to reason.

One Horse Town – Howard Waldrop/Leigh Kennedy

Far too similar to Howard Waldrop’s novel ‘Them Bones’ for this to be an original story, it tells of three different time-periods intersecting; The siege of Troy; Homer’s adolescence, and a modern day archaeological team. Visions and impressions of the periods overlap and bleed through, affecting the action and the destiny of those involved.

Moby Quilt – Eleanor Arnason

Another of the best stories in this volume is a peculiar tale of love which sees Lydia Duluth, a future PR guru and location-scout visiting a waterworld. Also visiting is the alien K’r’x with whom she is put into mental contact via a pair of AIs. While investigating the mystery of the vast circular mats which float on the oceans, she begins to fall in love with the vast squidlike creature. As with ‘Glacial’ this also deals with the subject of gestalt or multi-symbiotic organisms working together as one organism.

Raven Dream – Robert Reed

An odd piece featuring Native Americans who live in a seemingly secret part of our world – to them our world is known as the spirit world – and the coming of age of Raven, a young man who slowly begins to learn who and what he is and how his world relates to the world outside.
Reed has used Native American characters before but not to such concentrated effect. What works in this story is that we are looking from a perspective of the belief of Raven, which gives us doubts as to what is real and not real – and indeed how we actually define the word ‘real’.

Undone – James Patrick Kelly

A marvellous densely-packed modern space opera in which a feisty heroine of the resistance – standing up for her right to be an individual – escapes into the future but is pursued by a mine travelling six minutes behind her. Any attempt to travel backwards in time beyond that point will wipe her mind and reprogramme her memories. Cleverly, the story ends up going in a most unexpected direction.

The Real Thing – Carolyn Ives Gilman

Another story which features a Native American lead character in the form of Sage Akwesasne, who volunteers to be dismantled and projected – via a slingshot black hole process which is not that important to the plot – fifty years into the future.
She arrives in a world where she is literally a commodity since the courts have ruled that she is not the original Sage, but a copy, and the legal property of a megacorporation in a world where hype and spin are the be-all and end-all of business.
Obviously it’s a commentary on the direction in which our media-obsessed society is moving, and a very clever one, managing to be both funny and dismayingly accurate if we dare to hold a mirror to our own society now.

Interview: On Any Given Day – Maureen F McHugh

Transcript of a fictional TV programme in which a teenager infected with a retrovirus mutated from a longevity treatment is interviewed. Not only interesting structurally, but showing a strong command of voice and character, since through the testimony of one girl McHugh brings to life those about her, described in a ‘Talking Heads’ style confessional.

Isabel of The Fall – Ian R MacLeod

In a far and complex future, Isabel tends the mirrors which redirect light to various parts of her community, part of a society in which social roles and responsibilities are rigidly controlled. When Isabel fails to correct a mirror misalignment, part of her community experiences an unheard-of twilight, which leads to a friend ship with another woman, a dancer at the cathedral. It’s a tragedy of consequence, of the terrible events which lead from the simple error of the mirror misalignment. Powerful and haunting.

Into Greenwood – Jim Grimsley

Grimsley’s story is a clever examination of the concept of relative freedom. The hero is a revolutionary, attempting to promote independence on worlds controlled by the efficient and mysterious Prin. After years of silence she is invited to visit her brother, a man who has been genetically altered to become a symbiont; a vegetable creature living in symbiosis with an intelligent tree.
One of the better stories in the collection it examines issues surrounding slavery and freedom while at the same time creating a vivid and realistic world.

Know How, Can Do – Michael Blumlein

Michael Blumlein showed in his novel ‘The Movement of Mountains’ that he has a deep interest in scientific and medical ethics and shows this again to good effect in a disturbing love story where the narrator is a cloned human brain linked to the nervous system of a roundworm. As his psyche grows and learns he slowly falls in love with the female scientist who created him.

Russian Vine – Simon Ings

Aliens infect humanity with a virus which renders them illiterate and therefore incapable of developing complex societies and science and thereby destroying themselves. The aliens think of themselves as gardeners, conserving the races of the galaxy. Against this backdrop one of the aliens forms a relationship with an Earth woman. Very well-written, from an odd point of view; i.e. that of one of the alien earthdwellers.

The Two Dicks – Paul McAuley

A clever tribute to Philip K Dick, set at the time of Dick’s famous exegesis in 1974, but in an altered timeline in which Richard Nixon remains in power, having somehow derailed the careers of influential creative figures. Dick himself has been dissuaded from writing science fiction, although pirate copies of his one SF novel ‘The Man in The High Castle’ are much in demand. Elvis Presley appears at one point, asking Dick to sign his last mainstream novel ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’ (the title of the novel within ‘The Man in The High Castle’) while mentioning obliquely that they have something in common. They both have dead twins. Elvis in this timeline runs an ice-cream business.
Beautifully written, very much in Dick’s style.

May Be Some Time – Brenda W Clough

Famous explorer Titus Oates is snatched at the point of death from his own timeline and taken to a New York of 2045, only to discover that his rescue was just an experiment employing technology provided from a First Contact message sent from Tau Ceti.
Highly readable and enjoyable.

Marcher – Chris Beckett

A topical tale involving an immigration officer who is called in to examine cases of ‘shifters’, disaffected people who take ‘seeds’ which have the effect of switching them between alternate worlds.

The Human Front – Ken MacLeod

MacLeod examines his usual themes of Scotland, Communism and grey aliens in an unusual novella originally published as a chapbook. The son of a Scottish doctor remembers his father treating the occupant of a crashed ‘bomber’ during the war, and had always considered the pilot to be a child.
Later we realise this is not the world we know, and that the Americans have been using alien anti-gravity technology in military technology.
It’s dense and complex, but very much character-driven and manages to explore themes of politics, communism and propaganda against a backdrop of alternate worlds and civil war.


Year’s Best SF 6 – David G Hartwell (Ed.) (2000)

Year's Best SF 6

Contents

The Reef – Paul J McAuley (Skylife Ed Benford/Zebrowski 2000)
Reality Check – David Brin (Nature, Vol 404 2000)
The Millennium Express – Robert Silverberg (Playboy, Jan 2000)
Patient Zero – Tananarive Due (F & SF 2000)
The Oort Crowd – Ken MacLeod (Nature, Vol 406 2000)
The Thing About Benny – M Shayne Bell (Vanishing Acts, Tor 2000 Ed Ellen Datlow)
The Last Supper – Brian Stableford (Science Fiction Age, Mar 2000)
Tuberculosis Bacteria Join UN – Joan Slonczewski (Nature, Vol 405 2000)
Our Mortal Span – Howard Waldrop (Black Heart, Ivory Bones, Avon Books/Eos, Ed Ellen Datlow and Terri Wilding)
Different Kinds of Darkness – David Langford (F & SF, Jan 2000)
New Ice Age, or Just Cold Feet? – Norman Spinrad (Nature, Vol 405 2000)
The Devotee – Stephen Dedman (Eidolon #29/30 2000)
The Marriage of Sky & Sea – Chris Beckett (Interzone Mar 2000)
In The Days of the Comet – John M Ford (Nature, Vol 405 2000)
The Birthday of the World – Ursula K LeGuin (F& SF, Jun 2000)
Oracle – Greg Egan (F& SF, Jul 2000)
To Cuddle Amy – Nancy Kress (Asimov’s, Aug 2000)
Steppenpferd – Brian W Aldiss (F&SF, Feb 2000)
Sheena 5 – Stephen Baxter (Analog, May 2000)
The Fire Eggs – Darrell Schweitzer (Interzone, Mar 2000)
The New Horla – Robert Sheckley (F&SF July 2000)
Madame Bovary, C’est Moi – Dan Simmons (Nature, Vol 407 2000)
Grandma’s Jumpman – Robert Reed (Century, Spring 2000)
Bordeaux Mixture – Charles Dexter Ward (Nature, Vol 404 2000)
The Dryad’s Wedding – Robert Charles Wilson (Star Colonies, 2000)
Built Upon The Sands of Time – Michael Flynn (Analog July/Aug 2000)
Seventy-Two Letters – Ted Chiang (Vanishing Acts, Tor 2000 Ed Ellen Datlow)

Annual collections have evolved like dinosaurs from the slim volumes of the 60s and 70s into the paperback versions of Tyrannosaurs, vying for attention with their garish colour schemes (Sadly, the text for the cover of this issue completely obscures the artwork, looks like it’s been thrown together hurriedly in a copy of Adobe Illustrator and doesn’t do the volume itself any justice at all).
This series, ably edited by David G Hartwell, goes head to head with the Gardner Dozois series and a whole subspecies of other annual compilations which somehow survive to re-emerge next year, so good luck to them.
This volume purports to be the best SF of 2000. I say purports to be since the publishing history is a little strange, giving a first paperback publication date of June 2000, when some of the stories included were not published until July/August 2000. Looking at the publication dates of the stories included we notice that, yes, it seems that possibly all of the work included comes from a time before August 2000, which is unfortunate if your excellent SF story was published in, say, November 2000.
Odd.
However, it is nevertheless an excellent collection and Hartwell, whatever publishing constraints he is bound by, has to be congratulated on selecting not only brilliant pieces of work, but those which complement and enhance each other. McLeod and Slonczewski, for instance, both deal with the theme of intelligent bacteria, and there are other examples of synchronicity throughout the collection.

The Reef – Paul J McAuley

One of my favourites in this collection, which tells of an expedition to find the result of a lost experiment in genetically engineered zero-gravity organisms.

Reality Check – David Brin

This is the first of several examples of the short pieces that were published in Nature throughout 2000 to celebrate the Millennium. David Brin takes a very Dickian turn with this piece which suggests that there is embedded code within the text which can wake certain people up to face a truer reality.

The Millenium Express – Robert Silverberg

On the eve of the Third Millenium, an investigator is tracking four men: Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway and Vjong Cleversmith. His aim is to find out why they are planning to blow up (or implode, since the matter is still under discussion) The Louvre, and to stop them. But can he, and more importantly, should he?

Patient Zero – Tananarive Due

A good, if a little schmaltzy, tale of a young boy who was one of the first to contract a lethal virus, and one of the only people to survive. He is kept within an isolation unit and we see the world through his eyes, via the doctors and helpers who come into contact with him, as the virus destroys society.
Well-written, and from an unusual perspective.

The Oort Crowd – Ken MacLeod

This is a prequel of sorts to MacLeod’s ‘Dark Light’ books, and is one of two tales here dealing with the concept of intelligent bacteria.

The Thing About Benny – M Shayne Bell

An unusual tale, set in the aftermath of climate change, or at least an ecological disaster, where a savante of sorts – who is also an obsessive Abba Fan – hunts through office blocks in search of rare plants which unwitting workers may have been keeping in a plant pot. His aim is to discover a new species and name it after Agnetha.
Very original and readable.

The Last Supper – Brian Stableford

A celebration of genetically-modified food in this gloriously politically incorrect story set in the restaurant of a renowned chef whose dishes are all genetically modified, and some ingredients are not what one might call strictly legal.
Elegant, satirical and memorable

Tuberculosis Bacteria Join UN – Joan Slonczewski

Another millennium tale from ‘Nature’, this time told as a news report in which a civilisation of bacteria join the UN.

Our Mortal Span – Howard Waldrop

I have a problem with Waldrop. As a writer he is good, descriptive, poetic, emotive, and pushes all the right buttons, but there is always something I don’t quite get.
This a tale set in a near future Fairy Tale Theme Park where a mechanised troll goes on the rampage, accusing the other characters of not being true to the original scripts, or so it seemed to me. It might be a little more complicated than that.

Different Kinds of Darkness – David Langford

This is what I would term a ‘real’ SF story, the sort of thing one used to get in SF monthly. It’s full of meat and character and fascinating concepts, such as pictures designed to drive the viewer insane and schools where the pupils have their perceptions altered.

New Ice Age, or Just Cold Feet? – Norman Spinrad

A short satirical tale from Spinrad in which a future Earth is struggling to reverse the effects of Global Cooling

The Devotee – Stephen Dedman

An interesting noir-esque tale featuring a hard-boiled private eye and covering issues such as amputee fetishes, porn and cloning. Despite what some people may find to be distasteful subject matter, this is an excellent tale, stylishly written and conveying a sense of verisimilitude to a complex near future society

The Marriage of Sky & Sea – Chris Beckett

A clever story which exploits our current obsession with media celebrities, one of whom is the hero – if that is the right word – of this short gem. He is an author, travelling the galaxy in a sentient ship, each time landing on a primitive world and writing about his experiences with the natives, despite the fact he is well aware of what the effect of his intrusion – along with his advanced technology – has on the cultures he visits.
On this occasion, however, he may have underestimated both the natives and his own feelings.

In The Days of the Comet – John M Ford

And yet another tale featuring the microcellular, or smaller, particles of the universe, in this case, infectious proteins or prions, which have been seeded in comets. Extraordinarily well-written for such a short piece.

The Birthday of the World – Ursula K LeGuin

A beautiful and poetic work from Le Guin, who never fails to marry the base human and the exotic into a powerful piece of work. Here, a race which has, as the basis of its culture, hereditary gods who foresee the future, is thrown into turmoil by the failure of the system and the power of ambition and greed working within the family.
It’s a haunting and mysterious piece, but one which seems firmly grounded in its own reality.

Oracle – Greg Egan

Although not made that clear in the text, Egan here fictionalises a rivalry in the late Nineteen Forties between two characters based on Alan Turing and CS Lewis, and sets up a battle of essentially, science versus religion.
‘Turing’, trapped by the police into admitting a gay relationship, is blackmailed into working for an unscrupulous government scientist, but is rescued by a mysterious woman who turns out to be an AI, one of the descendants of his research.
Following a series of brilliant scientific developments on ‘Turing’s part, ‘Lewis’ believes ‘Turing’ to be in league with The Devil, and sets out to expose and discredit him.

To Cuddle Amy – Nancy Kress

Another tale that features children, which seems to be a popular subject in this volume, although this is a short and quite chilling tale, examining what morality we may eventually ascribe to producing children if it becomes a simple matter of ordering another one if the first one doesn’t work out.

Steppenpferd – Brian W Aldiss

In a strangely parallel story to Alistair Reynolds’ ‘Century Rain’ Aldiss takes us to a strange system where copies of the earth are trapped inside Dyson Spheres. On one of these worlds, in a pre-industrial Scandinavia, a priest is tormented between his faith and the reality he sees around him, doubting whether his fellow priests are real, or merely the transient bodies of the shape-changing asymmetrical aliens who have created these worlds.

Sheena 5 – Stephen Baxter

Baxter examines the ethics and possible consequences of genetic experimentation in this tale in which a tailored squid is sent out to the asteroids to set up a mining operation. The squid however, was pregnant and gives birth en-route to other equally intelligent offspring.
An alternate history of Sheena can also be found as part of Baxter’s 1999 novel, ‘Time – Manifold 1’ where the pregnant squid is diverted to Cruithne, Earth’s other ‘moon’ and the destiny of her children changed.

The Fire Eggs – Darrell Schweitzer

An odd and borderline surreal tale of luminescent eggs which appear all over the world, hovering slightly above the ground. Impervious to any form of force, and seemingly inert, they are eventually relegated to the status of inexplicable curiosities by most of the population. There are a few however, who claim that they can hear the eggs singing.

The New Horla – Robert Sheckley

A reworking of the classic tale ‘The Horla’ by Guy Du Maupassant.
I’ve never really ‘got’ Sheckley, and this fairly recent piece of his didn’t help me to get him any further.

Madame Bovary, C’est Moi – Dan Simmons

It is discovered that works of literature generate their own universes in which, more often than not, the central figures do not realise that they are the central figures. This is probably the best of the ‘Nature’ stories, conveying a tremendous amount in its brief number of words.

Grandma’s Jumpman – Robert Reed

Reed as a writer is very much at home in America’s rural backwaters, and before he began his recent style of vast post-vanvogtian space opera with planet-sized ships and immortal post-humans, his work was more redolent of Clifford Simak, as here, where a young boy visiting his aunt’s farm discovers the true nature of her relationship with the alien farmhand.
As with much of Reed’s work, there is a bittersweet undertone to the piece, where idyllic surroundings are the background to a coming of age and a loss of innocence.

Bordeaux Mixture – Charles Dexter Ward

The subject of GM crops (and other foods) seems to have inspired many writers, here, Charles Dexter Ward foresees vegetation which emits pheromones to make one want to grow and eat it.

The Dryad’s Wedding – Robert Charles Wilson

On a colony world a woman has an accident and lies in a river with half her brain missing before she is found, When she is awoken after a regeneration procedure she finds the empathic flora and fauna around her trying to make contact, and has unaccountable memories of Brussels, which she has never visited.
Apparently a prequel to a Wilson novel, this is a deep and complex, highly detailed piece of work, rich with scientific ideas and the atmosphere of an alien planet.

Built Upon The Sands of Time – Michael Flynn

A very literary and Irish piece set in a bar in which scientists and others discuss matters of scientific import over a Guinness or two, and in the course of things hear a tale of alternate worlds and altered history.

Seventy-Two Letters – Ted Chiang

This is a strange novella set in an alternate Victorian world where golems can be brought to life by placing a sequence of seventy-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet under their tongue.
Also, it is discovered, each individual male sperm, when examined, contains a complete foetus. How these two scientific discoveries relate to each other is at the core of this tale of weird science, murder, espionage and the very future of the human race.


Off Center – Damon Knight (1965)

Off Center

‘The room was quiet; the man in front of the mirror was the only living thing there, and he was too horrified to utter a sound. In the mirror, five faces stared back at him: one young and ruddy, which was his own, and four that did not belong in that place at all, for they were wrinkled, malevolent, small as crabapples and blue as smoke. So begins Damon Knight’s ‘Be My Guest’, a story of the human race possessed by things that were – well, not exactly demons . . . but not exactly not demons, either. It’s just one of the unpredictably imaginative tales in this fascinating collection by a modern master of science fiction.’

Blurb from the M-113 1965 Ace Doubles paperback edition

Damon Knight is best known as an editor, critic and anthologist. As a novelist he never really made an impact, but it has to be said that his short stories were some of the finest in the genre. Here, there is one excellent piece while the others are of variable quality.

What Rough Beast
The Second-Class Citizen
Be My Guest
God’s Nose
Catch That Martian

What Rough Beast (Off Center, 1965)

‘What Rough Beast’ is the first person narrative of a young Eastern-European immigrant in New York. His talent is that he can alter realities, choosing an alternate timeline in which circumstances are more favourable.
Knight uses a convincing pattern of speech to tell the story of a character who is not only the victim of a fair amount of bullying and racism, but also exploitation. His reaction to this ultimately sets in motion an inevitable sequence of events which leads to tragedy.
It’s a wonderful gem of a story. Quite marvellous.

The Second-Class Citizen (If, November 1963)

A fairly short tale of a man who is teaching dolphins to live in the human world, but when nuclear armageddon strikes, the tables are turned.

Be My Guest (Fantastic Universe – Sep 1958)

The longest piece in ‘Off Center’ is a hybrid SF/Fantasy creation in which a young scientist is unwittingly given a mixture which changes his perception and allows him to see and hear the four disembodied souls possessing his body. It’s original and unusual.

God’s Nose (Rogue, March 1964)

An odd surrealist piece exploring the concept of the size of God’s nose.

Catch That Martian (Galaxy, March 1952)

A humorous but well-written piece about a cop’s relentless quest to track down a Martian who is spiriting humans into a dimension where they can still be seen here as transparent phantoms.


The Very Slow Time Machine – Ian Watson (1979)

The Very Slow Time Machine

‘The Very Slow Time Machine arrives on Earth in 1985. Its sole inhabitant is old and mad. Soon it becomes apparent that for him, time is going slowly backward. With every day, he is getting younger and saner. The world, and its whole concept of time, science and philosophy, must wait for him to speak. But while the world waits, it changes…’

Blurb from the 1981 Granada paperback edition

There aren’t many authors who master the art of short story writing, but Watson is definitely in there with the greats. I remember reading a couple of these stories in their original publications and it is to Watson’s credit that the memory of the essence of the tales still remains. Watson is also one of the most inventive and creative writers around and a more diverse collection of ideas and subject matter from one author will be a tough order.
He is also particularly prolific, and has several collections of short stories available. They are all highly recommended.
Ian Watson exhibits a prolificacy and breadth and depth in theme, subject and setting in his short stories, something unusual in SF writers since their short forms on the whole tend to fall within certain parameters.
Furthermore, each story is exquisitely constructed, its brevity belying the wealth of concepts employed.
The title piece for instance examines not only issues of causality and paradox, but also looks at religion’s relationship with the media.
The stories here are a selection from the Nineteen Seventies, covering a period of about five years.

The Very Slow Time Machine (Anticipations – Christopher Priest (Ed) 1978)
Thy Blood Like Milk (New Worlds Quarterly 1973)
Sitting on a Starwood Stool (Science Fiction Monthly 1974)
Agoraphobia AD 2000 (Andromeda 2 – Peter Weston (Ed) 1977)
Programmed Love Story (Transatlantic Review 1974)
The Girl Who Was Art (Ambit 1976)
Our Loves So Truly Meridional (Science Fiction Monthly 1974)
Immune Dreams (Pulsar 1 – George Hay (Ed) 1978)
My Soul Swims in a Goldfish Bowl (Magazine of F&SF 1978)
The Roentgen Refugees (New Writings in SF #30 – Bulmer (Ed) 1978)
A Time Span to Conjure With (Andromeda 3 – Peter Weston (Ed) 1978)
On Cooking The First Hero in Spring (Science Fiction Monthly 1975)
Event Horizon (Faster Than Light; an original anthology about interstellar travel – Jack Dann and George Zebrowski (Eds) 1976)

The Very Slow Time Machine

A beautifully crafted piece where the themes are paradox and causality. A capsule appears from nowhere in 1985 containing a mad and incoherent old man whose life appears to be running backwards. The capsule appears to have been sent back in time from the near future and is impregnable, but the highly efficient recycling system inside the allows its occupant to sustain himself. As he grows younger and saner he begins to deliver a message.
Over the years the time-traveller begins to assume a Messianic status with the general public.
Ironically it would appear that the media storm around the capsule and its passenger has ensured that we build such a ship and send it back in time and has also ensured that that the occupant – who has grown up somewhere outside the capsule knowing of his destiny – will be compelled to come to the launch site, believing that he is destined to be God.

Thy Blood Like Milk

An ecological tale in which gangs roam the highways searching for sunspots; moments when the sun breaks through a permanent cloud layer caused by pollution and global warming. One of the leaders of the gang, who has revived the Aztec cult of the sun god, is being punished for a death he caused on the road . Having his blood milked for hospital use is paying his penance. The story however focuses on his relationship with his nurse who happens to be the girlfriend of the man he killed.

Sitting on a Starwood Stool

Watson is adept in packing several extraordinary concepts into a deceptively short story. Every 1.23 years aliens appear at a certain point in space to trade a few small cuts of the rare Starwood for valuable products from Earth; a Botticelli or even a group of humans.
Starwood is the product of trees grown on an asteroid with an eccentric orbit about its sun, and absorbs the energies of trees. When turned into something such as a stool, it will leak its stored star energy into whomever it comes into contact with, rejuvenating or curing the subject.
A cancer victim hatches a plot to steal the stool form a Yakuza boss, but things do not go according to plan.

Agoraphobia AD 2000

Watson again demonstrates his fascination with Japanese culture in this surreal tale in which an astronaut is required to enter a virtual environment in order to commit hari kiri.

Programmed Love Story

A highly stylised Japanese tale of a businessman who is requested to abandon his bride as she is rather too complaint to be a corporate wife. When she becomes a hostess at the Queen Bee they meet again, but in her work she has been endowed with the persona of an aggressive and ruthless Imperial Consort, and it is this with which he falls in love,
Beautifully written and beautifully structured.

The Girl Who Was Art

A story which examines Art and Japanese culture in which a young girl undergoes muscle training in order to reproduce three-dimensionally the work of a twentieth century photographer in tableaux forms. But Art, it appears, is fickle and transient.

Our Loves So Truly Meridional

The world becomes divided into segments along the meridians by immense glass-like forcefield walls. Two people in separate segments attempt to reach the poles to find out what happens at the nexus of the barriers. It’s in the detail where Watson excels, envisioning societies where a globe of the world has been reduced to a single bowlike segment with a steel string connecting the poles.

Immune Dreams

A man who may or may not be suffering from cancer believes that dreams are the body’s way of correcting errant DNA, He elects to become part of an experiment in which the part of the brain which suppresses volitional control during sleep is turned off.

My Soul Swims in a Goldfish Bowl

A rather weak tale in which a man is convinced by his wife that the amoebic creature he has coughed up is his soul, and keeps it alive in a goldfish bowl

The Roentgen Refugees

Following the unexpected supernova of Sirius, the world is blasted by the resultant flux of Gamma radiation and only a fraction of the world’s population are saved, mainly in the Western World. Set in South Africa (and written during the time of apartheid) it’s a philosophical piece about third world issues, faith and racism on various levels. Like most of Watson’s short fiction it is brief, yet complex.

A Time Span to Conjure With

A scheduled inspection of a young colony world finds the colonists childless and oddly philosophical. It appears that an indigenous species (spoken of as ‘fairies’ due to their apparent transparency and elusiveness) exist in Time in a different sense to ourselves.
The aliens appear to be very alien, made more so by the fact that Watson keeps them at arm’s length. We see them briefly on the page, but realise through the narrative that they are always around.

On Cooking The First Hero in Spring

Three human anthropologists examine an alien tribe who show little signs of intelligence and seemingly have only one word in their vocabulary, although a Buddhist member of the team looks at them from a different perspective.
Initially it is thought that the creatures had built an aisle of statuary, depicting themselves or their ancestors, but it transpires that every ‘dawn’ one of their number is chosen to be baked alive in a shell of clay, and then put in position among the statues forming a strange highway to nowhere.

Event Horizon

Maybe the least accessible of the stories, this features a black hole which may or may not have a mind trapped with it, and some investigators, who achieve telepathic union by the use of drugs and tantric sex. It’s very much a tale of its time and seems – unlike the other pieces – oddly dated.


AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers – Ivor W Hartmann (Ed.) (2012)

AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers

I often wonder what became of Victor Sabah. Back in the 1970s, Elaine and Larry Elbert spent two years in Ghana teaching for the American Peace Corps at the curiously named Hohoe Secondary School. Due to a chronic shortage of books there they appealed (not to any church organisation who would doubtless have sent truckloads of Bibles) but to the Science Fiction Writers of America, who supplied copious reading matter for the students’ edification. As a result Victor Sabah was so inspired he wrote a story as part of a school exercise that ended up in Brian Aldiss’ and Harry Harrison’s seminal annual collection, ‘Best SF of The Year.’ The Elberts should be eternally cherished.
Since then any SF produced in Africa seems to have passed the West (or at least me) by. Judging by the work included in this volume that is a terrible shame, and Hartmann has to be applauded for bringing this African flavour to a wider world.
This is fascinating collection of – as may have become apparent – African SF. Despite the fact that the tales were presumably written in English (apologies to all if that is not the case) and are in the main heavily influenced by Western SF they have a freshness that is often missing from our homegrown genre.
There’s also a difference in structure and style in some cases, with some tales having a poetic edge and ending abruptly.
There are some themes you may expect, such as beaureacracy, governmental control, corruption, HIV and ecology, but all are treated in an original manner. There is also a good representation of female writers which can only be a good thing.
All in all it’s a quality volume with only a couple of stories coming over as either weak or cliched and possibly in need of a rewrite. There’s certainly some writers – such as Efe Okogu, Cristy Zinn, Clifton Gachagua and SA Partridge – who have an original voice and are well worth keeping an eye on.

‘Moom!’ Nnedi Okorafor
‘Home Affairs’ Sarah Lotz
‘The Sale’ Tendai Huchu
‘Five Sets of Hands’ Cristy Zinn
‘New Mzansi’ Ashley Jacobs
‘Azania’ Nick Wood
‘Notes from Gethsemane’ Tade Thompson
‘Planet X’ S.A. Partridge
‘The Gift of Touch’ Chinelo Onwualu
‘The Foreigner’ Uko Bendi Udo
‘Angel Song’ Dave de Burgh
‘The Rare Earth’ Biram Mboob
‘Terms & Conditions Apply’ Sally-Ann Murray
‘Heresy’ Mandisi Nkomo
‘Closing Time’ Liam Kruger
‘Masquerade Stories’ Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu
‘The Trial’ Joan De La Haye
‘Brandy City’ Mia Arderne
‘Ofe!’ Rafeeat Aliyu
‘Claws and Savages’ Martin Stokes
‘To Gaze at the Sun’ Clifton Gachagua
‘Proposition 23’ (Novelette) Efe Okogu

‘Moom’ – Nnedi Okorafor

A poetic prelude to a novel involving an intelligent swordfish and a possibly alien artefact. Eco issues involved.

‘Home Affairs’ – Sarah Lotz

A slightly satirical near future which looks at the potential results of self-service robots in customer facing government offices.

‘The Sale’ – Tendai Huchu

Similar in theme to Sarah Lotz ‘Home Affairs’ this again examines the corruption and bureaucracy that is seemingly rife in Africa.

‘Five Sets of Hands’ – Cristy Zinn

An excellent piece of work here looking at a slave culture where a community of humans, genetically adapted to survive the climate of Mars are digging for tech left over after a failed terraforming project. Beautifully written against a complex setting.

‘New Mzani’ – Ashley Jacobs

In a cyberpunk African future, a young man tries desperately to get his friend his annual HIV treatment that will extend his life another year.

‘Azania’ – Nick Wood

There’s some very poetic work in this anthology. This is no exception, set at the landing of a colony flight to a new world.

‘Notes from Gethsemane’ – Tade Thompson

This is a gritty near future piece which ends quite mysteriously and unexpectedly after a botched delivery by a youth gang.

‘Planet X’ – S.A. Partridge

Another short poetic piece which in reality is about mob mentality, paranoia and rumour… but touches on many other things and is very very good.

‘The Gift of Touch’ – Chinelo Onwualu

This story suffers from its brevity and would benefit from being a little longer. A merchant spacer accepts a commission to ferry a farming family to Ganymede, but has suspicions as to who they are and what they plan on Ganymede.

‘The Foreigner’ – Uko Bendi Udo

A nice little tale about a half-alien Nigerian and his quest for recognition.

‘Angel Song’ – Dave de Burgh

A military leader on a distant world leads a force against an invading army of souls transformed to glowing ‘angels’? Are they what they appear to be? It’s a clever piece that makes one think.

‘The Rare Earth’ – Biram Mboob

A Messiah from the Congo is gathering followers due to his ability to heal the sick and see the future. A very clever story, dealing with issues of political power and belief. There is a confusing ambiguity in the Messiah which perhaps his hostage sees through… or not.

‘Terms & Conditions Apply’ – Sally-Ann Murray

A cyberpunk tale of… to be honest, I’m not quite sure. I suspect it’s about treatment to make male/female interaction more efficient, but by the end of the story I couldn’t have cared less anyway. I suspect it’s far better story than I am suggesting and needs to be read at least twice but, sadly, I really didn’t want to.

‘Heresy’ – Mandisi Nkomo

Again, we see themes of political corruption and belief in a satirical tale where South Africa has invaded Russia and is in a space-race with China. A barrier has been found at the edge of the Solar System and God may be on the other side.

‘Closing Time’ – Liam Kruger

A well-written first person narrative, based on the unusual premise that alcohol can allow one to jump through time to one’s future body

‘Masquerade Stories’ – Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu

One of a couple of stories that deal with ancient extraterrestrial contact with Africans taking in themes of cultural identity and ecology.

‘The Trial’ – Joan De La Haye

De La Haye tackles the issue of political power and overpopulation in a short but powerful piece.

‘Brandy City’ – Mia Arderne

In a future Africa we look at the effects of climate change, virtual sex and alcohol.

‘Ofe!’ – Rafeeat Aliyu

A fascinating story involving a female detective and a group of people descended, it would appear, from aliens. Much is unexplained, but it works.

‘Claws and Savages’ – Martin Stokes

An allegorical tale of a gangster who makes his living from extracting drugs from the claws of vicious extraterrestrial beasties. Slightly retro stylistically with a dash of noir.

‘To Gaze at the Sun’ – Clifton Gachagua

A beautiful and surreal piece which manages to capture the emotions and the cutural problems of an old couple adopting a child designed to be a soldier in an unexplained war. It’s one of those rare stories that manages to say an awful lot in a very short number of pages.

‘Proposition 23’ (Novelette) – Efe Okogu

This marvellous novelette concludes the volume, taking on themes of terrorist / freedom fighter, the dispossessed and artificial intelligence. Excellent stuff told via a three voice narrative.


Axiomatic – Greg Egan (1995)

Axiomatic

This is an interesting collection of Egan’s published stories from the early Nineties, many of which examine the Dickian issue of what it means to be conscious and how we define ‘the personality’. Egan often looks at this question from intriguing and sometimes oblique angles.

The Infinite Assassin (1991)

Interzone 48 – June 1991

The protagonist is a man employed because his self tends to remain consistent across infinite realities in a worlds where a drug called S allows access to these parallel worlds. His job is to track down the few people who do not just dream their alternate lives but drag the rest of us in there with them.

The Hundred Light-Year Diary (1992)

Interzone 55 – January 1992

The conceit behind this story is that we have discovered a reverse universe running backwards and can receive ‘diaries’ from those who have already lived their lives identically to ours. Thus one can review one’s life in advance. However, the question is how much of the truth would be included?

Eugene (1990)

Interzone 36 – June 1990

A satirical tale of eugenics and designer baby making

The Caress (1990)

Asimov’s – Jan 1990

A detective in the near future investigating a homicide finds a chimera with the body of a leopard and the head of a woman and becomes embroiled in a strange world of bioengineering and art.

Blood Sisters (1991)

Interzone 44 – February 1991

A story of twin sisters who take different oaths in life, and one of whom becomes the victim of a genetic disease. the tale however, takes an unexpected direction.

Axiomatic (1990)

Interzone 41 – November 1991

Egan examines one of the possible outcomes of a society where one can purchase implants to change the foundations of one’s personality in order to remove deep seated feelings like grief, religious belief or inhibitions, or to implant them.

The Safe-Deposit Box (1990)

Asimov’s – September 1990

A rather complex tale of a man who wakes up every day in the same city but in a different body

Seeing (1995)

Axiomatic (1995)

A future boss of a movie studios awakens after an assassination experience to discover that he is viewing himself from a point near the ceiling.

A Kidnapping (1995)

Axiomatic (1995)

A wealthy man receives a videocall telling him that they ‘have his wife’ and demanding a ransom. Another examination of what it means – objectively in this case – for a personality to be copied.

Learning to Be Me (1990)

Interzone #37 – July 1990

The Ndoli Jewel – as featured in other Egan stories – is at the centre of this tale of a question of identity.

The Moat (1991)

Aurealis #3 – 1991

A future Australia in an overpopulated world where a lawyer working for displaced immigrants is disturbed by his fiancee’s tales of a rapist’s sperm samples having no discernible DNA. A clever story that manages to cover contemporary issues obliquely.

The Walk (1992)

Asimov’s – December 1992

A man is forced at gunpoint to inhale a neural implant that will alter his viewpoint and beliefs.

The Cutie (1989)

Interzone #29 – May 1989

A rather poignant story set in a world where one can buy a designer baby implanted with a suicide gene that kicks in at four years old.

Into Darkness (1992)

Asimov’s – January 1992

Reminiscent of Budrys’ ‘Rogue Moon’, this is an excerpt from the life of a specialised rescue worker, one who runs through the rando wormholes that have appeared to plague the world. One can run through them in one direction when they appear and hope that you can rescue people who have been trapped inside, as one can only go forward. If you try to turn back, you will die. You must carry on to the other end and hope to get out before the wormhole collapses.

Appropriate Love (1991)

Interzone #50 – August 1991

In a future healthcare insurance scenario, a wife has to have her husband’s comatose brain implanted into her body until his clone body has grown to the point where the brain can be replaced. What effect, however, will this have on their relationship?

The Moral Virologist (1990)

Pulphouse #8 – Summer 1990

Egan takes a swipe at the madness of US Right Wing Christianity in a tale of a Christian Virologist who has designed a virus that will kill anyone who has sex with more than one person.

Closer (1992)

Eidolon #9 – Winter 1992

Another story based in the world of the ‘Ndoli Jewel’ where a couple decide to try and see what it is like to be each other.

Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies (1992)

Interzone #61 – July 1992

A slightly Ian-Watson-esque story following an event in 2018 when everyone in the world became mentally susceptible to each other’s deepest beliefs. Consequently those who believed similar things joined together and ‘attractor’ wells formed, while those whose beliefs are fairly agnostic – such as the narrator – wander the world in the gaps between, pulled by the various tides of belief.


Year’s Best Science Fiction No 6 – Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss (Eds) (1973)

The Year's Best Science Fiction 6

In the Matter of the Assassin Merefirs – Ken W Purdy (Analog 1972)
As for Our Fatal Continuity… – Brian W Aldiss (New Worlds 3 1971)
The Old Folks – James E Gunn (Nova 2 1972)
From Sea to Shining Sea – Jonathan Ela (Sierra Club Bulletin 1972)
Weihnachtabend – Keith Roberts (New Worlds 4 1972)
The Years – Robert F Young (Galaxy 1972)
Darkness – Andre Carneiro – trans by Leo L Barrow (Nova 2 1972)
Cymbal Player – Lawrence Sail (Cornudo 1972)
Report from the Planet Proteus – Lawrence Sail (Cornudo 1972)
Columbus on St Domenica – John Cotton (Sceptre Press 1972)
After Death – Patricia Beer (New Statesman 1972)
Faex Delenda Est – Theodore R Cogswell (Cornudo 1972)
Words of Warning – Alex Hamilton (Flies on the Wall 1972)
Out, Wit! – Howard L Myers (Analog 1972)
An Imaginary Journey to the Moon – Victor Sabah (1972)
The Head and The Hand – Christopher Priest (New Worlds 3 1971)
Hero – Joe W Haldeman (Analog 1972)

Brian Aldiss’ afterword is, as always, a masterclass in the examination of the nature of SF. Here he is examining the possible consequences of the plethora of books about to be released which deal (in one way or another) with the history of SF. One of them (‘Billion Year Spree’) is his own. It was later expanded and revised as ‘Trillion Year Spree’
Perhaps mischievously, Aldiss moves on to briefly examine the history of SF and celebrate the new diversity of the genre which seems to be in direct conflict with what Harrison says in the preface. He is merely making the point, however, that these many and various SF histories of varying length and quality should all be welcomed since they open up the debate about what SF was, what it is and into what it may evolve. In the thirty-five years since this book was published the ‘SF is dead’ brigade have been proven wrong since SF continues to evolve and innovate and often produce brilliant work, if not masterpieces.
Theodore Sturgeon was right when he said ‘90% of everything is rubbish’ (or words to that effect) and ninety percent of SF has always been rubbish. It still is, but there is always that ten percent of pure quality cream and brilliance which floats to the top. To be fair, fifty percent of the ninety percent is usually fairly entertaining hokum and I have never had a problem with that.
Long live SF! Long live the cream! Long live the hokum!

The Assassin Merefirs – Ken W Purdy

It is shame that Purdy did not write more SF. His short stories are amazingly inventive, peopled with extraordinary characters that seem to leap fully-rounded from the pen. Here we have a dramatisation of a court case, from spme period in the future, although the bureaucracy and cronyism of the court environment does not seem to have advanced much.

As to Our Fatal Continuity – Brian Aldiss

Spookily prescient, this Aldiss piece is the introduction to a fictitious book about Art, concentrating on the work of an artist born in 1972. The titles of the artist’s work are last words of various public figures, as in the title of the piece.
It’s a very erudite study of the art world and predicts, to a certain extent, today’s conceptual art and installation work.

The Old Folks – James E Gunn

Another prescient tale – albeit somewhat in the style of The Twilight Zone – in which a young couple and their son visit the wife’s parents who have retired to a senior citizen’s community (come to think of it, the community could have been called The Twilight Zone).
While the grandparents are at a town meeting the young child is – apparently deliberately – run down by an elderly lady in her car who drives away.
The couple drive the child to the town hall, ostensibly to find a doctor – where they discover that the old people have an agenda, and a burning resentment against the young.
It reflects the growing politicisation of the over-sixties in America at the time, a movement which has grown in strength ever since although it is not clear if the movement’s policies include the hatred and disenfranchisement of one’s own children.

From Sea to Shining Sea – Jonathan Ela

Rather like Orson Welles’ ‘War of The Worlds’ this tongue-in-cheek proposal for a coast-to-coast US canal, utilising nuclear explosions as part of the construction and advocating the removal of some of the ‘less aesthetic’ parts of the Rocky Mountains was taken seriously by many readers and apparently one irate congressman. Is it SF? I suspect it is, and a very original and entertaining piece, redolent of the satirical SF of Sheckley and Vonnegut.

Weinachtabend – Keith Roberts

This is how one writes a short story. Roberts sets his in a Britain under Nazi rule (or ‘The Two Empires’ as it is now called). Martin is a trusted aide to the Minister and is invited to his country house for Christmas talking along a young Aryan lady with him. In his room he finds a book, a banned publication of Jewish/American propaganda and gets a call from an American reporter.
It’s a very clever story. The hero is continually running through his thoughts and doubts on the page as though reviewing ‘alternate actions’. This is a device often used on TV and film but is not often seen in literature. In this story it is also entirely appropriate since this is a view of an alternate history. The reader soon gets the idea of what is going on, but Roberts is careful not to flood the piece with historical information. The setting is important but is secondary to the story which is about motivation and manipulation. Just who is pulling the strings?

The Years – Robert F Young

Rather like the time-travel tale in SF4 this has dated badly. An old man manages to bribe his way into a time-travel machine and returns to see his dead wife as she was when he first met her. however the teenage version of his wife gets the wrong impression when she sees him staring at her and calls him a dirty old man. This sours his memories of her.

Darkness – Andre Carneiro

An example of Brazilian SF which is very good and very memorable, reminiscent of Wells’ tale of the man who visits the country of the blind. When an odd darkness falls across the world, flamesbecome cool and then non-existent, the sun disappears and the narrator is taken in by a group of blind people who have their own farm. Idiosyncratic, atmospheric and poetic.

Poetry:-

Cymbal Player – Lawrence Sail
Report from the Planet Proteus – Lawrence Sail
Columbus on St Domenica – John Cotton
After Death – Patricia Beer
Faex Delenda Est – Theodore R Cogswell

Words of Warning – Alex Hamilton

A well-written and humourous piece set in the world of academia where words are unaccountably escaping from books and running away.

Out, Wit! – Howard L Myers

A very cleverly written piece, composed in a series of letters between a scientist and the editor of a scientific journal. A promising young student, Jonathan Wallis, is the subject of the initial discourse. The paper he intends to present is entitled ‘Backward to Alchemy’, apparently detailing a method by which elements may be transmuted and leading the way to a cold fusion nuclear process. The student’s presentation, however, is seen as disrespectful which leads to an almost inevitable sequence of events. It’s a tale which takes a sideswipe at the scientific community itself, regularly criticised and indeed lampooned in fiction by various authors from Fred Hoyle to Stanislaw Lem to Connie Willis. The moral of the tale ultimately is that it’s the science that’s important, not the reputations of the individual scientists.

An Imaginary Journey to the Moon – Victor Sabah

I am often impressed by surprising and heartwarming events. The private passions and enthusiasms of ordinary people can sometimes have the most extraordinary consequences, as in the case of Elaine and Larry Elbert who spent two years in Ghana teaching for the American Peace Corps at the curiously named Hohoe Secondary School. Due to a chronic shortage of books there they appealed (not to any church organisation who would doubtless have sent truckloads of Bibles) but to the Science Fiction Writers of America, who supplied copious reading matter for the students’ edification. As a result Victor Sabah wrote this story as part of a school exercise. The passion that the Elberts (and the SFWA) instilled in him clearly shows through. One wishes that there were Elberts at every school.

The Head and The Hand – Christopher Priest

A Ballard-esque piece from Priest, who never fails to impress with work of depth and subtlety, often with disturbing undertones. This is the tale of an artist whose performances consist of amputation. Now an old man confined to a wheelchair, wheeled about by his old friend and collaborator, he is called upon to perform his final work. As is often with stories in this series, there is an odd prescience here which anticipates some of the more bizarre reality shows such as ‘Jackass’ or ‘Dirty Sanchez’ where acts of self-mutilation are encouraged and celebrated.
Central to this story however is the relationship between the artist, his minder and his wife.
Like Ballard, Priest produces work which has both a poetic element and has a haunting quality which keeps the story in one’s mind.

Hero – Joe W Haldeman

This story eventually became part of the classic novel ‘The Forever War’.


The Third Eye – Theodore R Cogswell (1968)

The Third Eye

Deconditioned Response (vt No Gun To The Victor) (Imagination: Oct 1955)
Mr Hoskins Heel (vt Mr Hoskins Blasting Rod, Fantastic Universe: Nov 1954)
The Cabbage Patch (Perspective Fll 1952)
Limiting Factor (Galaxy Apr 1954)
Disassembly Line (Beyond, July 1954)
A Spudget for Thwilbert (Fantastic Universe: April 1958)
Training Device (Imagination: Mar 1955)
Impact With the Devil (F&SF: Nov 1956)
Machine Record (with Walter Tevis) (SF Adventures: May 1961)
One to a Customer (Super SF, June 1958)
The Man Who Knew Grodnik (Science-Fantasy #53, 1962)
Lover Boy (Beyond, Mar 1954)
The Other Cheek (SF Adventures: May 1953)
Minimum Sentence (Galaxy: Aug 1953)
The Short Count (Avon SF&F Reader, Jan 1953)
Conventional Ending (Future: Oct 1954)

A collection of Cogswell’s shorts, mostly from the Nineteen Fifties. Cogswell’s work is a mixture of the satirical, the comical and the serious. It is mostly SF, although occasionally straying into the theological/supernatural.

‘Deconditioned Response’ (vt ‘No Gun To The Victor’)

An interesting piece in which children are conditioned to live a militaristic existence, and then made to forget it when (or if) they reach a certain age.

‘Mr Hoskin’s Heel’

A teacher is kidnapped by the mob and summons an elemental spirit to help him out of his jam.

‘The Cabbage Patch’ (1952)

One of the few serious tales in this book, Cogswell paints a vivid picture of a species like us, but very unlike us in their reproductive cycles.

‘Limiting Factor’ (1954)

A group of superior humans set off to found a superior human colony, but are given a stark lesson by an alien they meet en route.

‘Disassembly Line’ (1954)

A somewhat surreal tale of a bitter old lady who is admitted to a clinic where she is systematically disassembled and put together again in a series of ‘lessons’ until she sees the light and learns the error of her ways.

‘A Spudget for Thwilbert’ (1958)

Advertising is the theme of this piece which focuses on two men, trying to find a gimmick to sell their cereal.

‘Training Device’ (1955)

In a future war, soldiers are able to control other soldiers remotely. Odd, militaristic piece.

‘Impact With the Devil’ (1956)

A modern take on the Faustian pact with the Devil, which inevitably has a sting in the tail.

‘Machine Record’ (with Walter Tevis) (1961)

A minor satirical tale about a megalomaniac scientist who creates a machine that could potentially destroys the world and then gets bogged down in the red tape of actually what to do with it.

‘One to a Customer’ (1958)

Another variation on the ‘genie’ story in which an alien is selling unique artefacts, each of which has a different power.

‘The Man Who Knew Grodnik’ (1962)

A writer down on his luck and relying on the after dinner lecture circuit for income, gets caught up in a time field and emerges a hundred years in the future.

‘Lover Boy’ (1954)

Another Faustian tale in which the protagonist makes a deal with the devil, and which inevitably does not go to plan.

‘The Other Cheek’ (1953)

A hapless pilot helps thwart a plot to sabotage a peace summit between two warring powers.

‘Minimum Sentence’ (1953)

Criminals hitch a lift on what they think is a FTL vessel, despite the owner’s insistence that there is no such thing as a FTL drive.

‘The Short Count’ (1952)

A very poetic piece in which a couple have their last conversation while waiting for a bomb to destroy them.

‘Conventional Ending’ (1954)

Cogswell drags reality into his fiction with a piece centred around letters to editors and other SF writers suggesting a story that could pay for their SF convention bar bill.