My life in outer space

Silverberg – Robert

Stepsons of Terra – Robert Silverberg (1958)

Stepsons of Terra

‘They owed Mother Earth No Allegiance!

The first Corwinite in 500 years to visit Earth, Baird Ewing had been delegated by the desperate planetary colonists to seek the Mother Planet’s help against a destructive horde which would soon gall upon the planet Corwin.

But Earth… Earth had changed into a decadent, moldering world which could not even avoid her own destruction at the hands of the neighboring Sirians… much less help the distant and long-forgotten colony.

Earth had nothing to offer… except… maybe the secret of time travel!’

Blurb from the 1958 D-311 Ace Doubles paperback edition

The colony planet Corwin is under threat of invasion from the alien Klodni and Baird Ewing volunteers to return to the Mother Planet – with whom the colonists have had no contact in five hundred years – to beg for military aid.
Ewing discovers however that Earth had become a decadent world peopled by apathetic natives and no ships or armies to defend themselves.
His presence on Earth, despite this, has been noted. An academic researcher named Myreck contacts Ewing and asks if he will come to his College to give a talk about his colony world. He is also approached by citizens of the Sirius colony, the oldest of the Earth planetary colonies who are very suspicious of his presence and do not believe his claims of a non-human threat to human worlds.
The Sirians, who appear to exist in large numbers on Earth, are in the process of taking Earth over as a Sirian protectorate. They suspect Ewing of being a spy from the other colonies who may be plotting to move against them.
On his visit to Myreck’s college the scientists take Ewing on a tour of their laboratory which includes some working time travel equipment, although it is not until later in the novel that the significance of this comes into play.
It is worth noting that other Ace Doubles deal with issues of Humanity turning pacifist or at least non-military and suffering the consequences. (High, Bulmer). Although the subject is explored in different ways there seems to be a general sense of animosity toward the concept of a pacifist society. Silverberg does not outrightly condemn the concept but he certainly gives the impression that the males of Earth are listless and somewhat effeminate.
One has to consider whether these views of anti-pacifism (quite overtly hostile in the case of Bulmer) were a reaction to world events and changes in the social make-up of the time. The Korean War had only ended a few years before and the Vietnam War was ongoing. It’s difficult to say without further research if the issue of protests against war was a topic that authors consciously introduced in oblique ways into novels of the day.
After Ewing is drugged, kidnapped and interrogated by the Sirian Security Services, the pace steps up and Silverberg, to his credit, delivers up a pretty decent time paradox tale at the end of which Ewing realises how he can defeat the Klodni invasion and return to Earth to help throw off the yolk of the Sirian invaders.
It’s always interesting looking at early Silverberg novels. By this time he had already published three earlier novels for Ace and many short stories for various outlets. ‘Stepsons of Terra’ is certainly above the mean quality level for an Ace Double but does not give any hint of the high quality of writing he was later to produce.

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Year’s Best SF 1 – David G Hartwell (Ed.) (1996)

Year's Best SF

This is an oddly modest beginning to what turned out to be a very longrunning series, and to be honest, doesn’t have a bad tale in it. (Even the Robert Sheckley is entertaining in its own unique way. The weakest is the McKillip story which is a little too ambivalent about what it’s trying to say.)
This is possibly because of the comparative brevity of this book compared to its descendants, which are weightier, fulsome beasts; the tyrannosaurs of the Year’s Best evolutionary line.
The quality stories of the year have here been represented by a mixture of The Great and The Good, and the lesser knowns. It is, however, ‘Year’s Best American SF’ since The Great and The Good, and the lesser knowns involved (with the exception of Baxter, correct me if I am wrong) are all American.
A third of the authors are women, and as to the ethnic mix, it’s difficult for me to be absolutely sure about this as there are some authors new to me, but I suspect that everyone is white.
So, it’s ‘Year’s Best Mostly White Male American SF’ if we’re being truthful.
This imbalance to a certain extent is redressed in later and larger volumes, although the male american whites still do tend to dominate the pack.

James Patrick Kelly – Think Like a Dinosaur ( Asimov’s, 1995)
Patricia A. McKillip – Wonders of the Invisible World (Full Spectrum 5, 1995)
Robert Silverberg – Hot Times in Magma City ( Omni Online, 1995)
Stephen Baxter – Gossamer ( Science Fiction Age, 1995)
Gregory Benford – A Worm in the Well (Analog, 1995)
William Browning Spencer – Downloading Midnight (Tomorrow, 1995)
Joe Haldeman – For White Hill (Far Futures, 1995)
William Barton – In Saturn Time (Amazing Stories – The Anthology, 1995)
Ursula K. Le Guin – Coming of Age in Karhide (New Legends, 1995)
Roger Zelazny – The Three Descents of Jeremy Baker (F&SF, 1995)
Nancy Kress – Evolution (Asimov’s , 1995)
Robert Sheckley – The Day the Aliens Came (New Legends, 1995)
Joan Slonczewski – Microbe ( Analog, 1995)
Gene Wolfe – The Ziggurat ( Full Spectrum 5, 1995)

James Patrick Kelly – Think Like a Dinosaur ( Asimov’s, 1995)

Humanity have been given the secret of matter transmission from a highly advanced race of dinosaurs. Reminiscent of themes in Rogue Moon and Christopher Priest’s ‘The Prestige’, it seems that when people are scanned and transmitted elsewhere, there original bodies have to be disposed of. The dinos are fine with this. Humans have to learn to grow up.

Patricia A. McKillip – Wonders of the Invisible World (Full Spectrum 5, 1995)

A strange and memorable thing. After outpourings of prayer, with the utmost fervor and fasting, there appeared an Angel, whose face shone like the noonday sun. His features were those of a man, and beardless; his head encircled by a splendid tiara; on his shoulders were wings; his garments were white and shining; his robe reached to his ankles; and about his loins was a belt not unlike the girdles of the peoples of the East.’ wrote Cotton Mather in 1685. McKillip seeks to provide a rational explanation of this vision with time-travellers of a sort who – coming from a secular future free of religious belief – are hired by a researcher to appear to people of faith in the past in order to record and study the effect that such visitations had on people. It’s a decent enough story but it’s not clear what point McKillip is trying to make given the denouement.

Robert Silverberg – Hot Times in Magma City ( Omni Online, 1995)

In a future US, the San Andreas fault has become a hotspot (literally) of volcanic activity. A team of community service junkies in various stages of recovery are employed to both monitor activity and have been trained by Icelandic volcano specialists to dam the lava as it emerges. There is a clever connection between the lava bursting under pressure from the landscape and the anger and demons pent-up within the team and its leader.

Stephen Baxter – Gossamer ( Science Fiction Age, 1995)

Following a wormhole malfunction, two women in a small ship are forced to crash on the surface of Pluto. They have enough supplies to survive until a rescue ship arrives but the discovery of what may be life puts their rescue in jeopardy as the PTB would rather let them die than attempt a rescue which may destroy the fragile ecosystem. They must therefore try and effect their own escape.
An excellent bit of Hard SF speculation from Baxter who postulates the life on Pluto spinning webs to its tidally locked moon, Charon, in order to access its water deposits.

Gregory Benford – A Worm in the Well (Analog, 1995)

An excellent piece of Hard SF from Benford in which a female captain, desperate to pay of her debts to a sinister organisation with a Japanese name (they always work well) contracts to a flyby of what appears to be a wormhole trapped in the corona of the Sun. An excellent piece, eminently readable and well characterised.

William Browning Spencer – Downloading Midnight (Tomorrow, 1995)

In the future, porn is provided by VR personalities moulded by AIs from scans of living humans. Occasionally, the avatars go rogue and haunt the virtual universe. Captain Armageddon is such a one. He needs to be tracked down and wiped.
It’s a rich textured tale set in a world which has gone through an age of Decadence where people can not have a sexual relationship until several stages of contracts and arrangements have been completed.

Joe Haldeman – For White Hill (Far Futures, 1995)

One of the best in this collection, this is a love story between two artists invited to construct a piece on an Earth ravaged by nanophages during what appears to be an ongoing war, Haldeman’s perennial theme. The enemy is seldom mentioned but the results of their destruction are the backdrop to this tale. Beautifully written.

William Barton – In Saturn Time (Amazing Stories – The Anthology, 1995)

In an alternate timeline, Udall became President after Nixon and initiated a far more ambitious space programme. An ageing astronaut tells the story of the missions he has been a part of.

Ursula K. Le Guin – Coming of Age in Karhide (New Legends, 1995)

A beautiful and poetic tale set in Le Guin’s Hain universe on the planet featured in her excellent ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, featuring a coming of age of one of the gendermorphing denizens.

Roger Zelazny – The Three Descents of Jeremy Baker (F&SF, 1995)

Zelazny’s last published story apparently, in which he plays with Hard SF concepts, black holes, enigmatic aliens and the nature of time, all in his own distinctive way.

Nancy Kress – Evolution (Asimov’s , 1995)

A captivating human drama in a near future where antibiotic-resistant bacteria are making hospitals no-go areas. It’s refreshingly character-driven though

Robert Sheckley – The Day the Aliens Came (New Legends, 1995)

I still don’t get Robert Sheckley. Ok. I get the jokes. I get the weird surrealist concept of peculiar aliens with British/US surnames and the improbability of the entire premise, but does this have some further meaning. Is it a metaphor for the degradation of the Anglo-Saxon genome , or is it a celebration of diversity and the melting pot of human races?
I have no clue.

Joan Slonczewski – Microbe (Analog , 1995)

Slonczewski uses her background as a microbiologist to give us this small gem, set in the universe of ‘A Door Into Ocean‘. An expedition to another world finds a fascinating ecosystem based on triple helix DNA. The most dangerous predator on the planet however appears to be a microbe.

Gene Wolfe – The Ziggurat ( Full Spectrum 5, 1995)

Emery is staying alone in a cabin in the American wilderness, awaiting the arrival of his soon-to-be ex-wife and her three children. Just before she arrives, Emery’s cabin is robbed by three hooded figures, one of whom shoots at him with his own gun.
Ostensibly this is an SF tale about desperate stranded travellers, from the future it is suggested, although (being Wolfe) there are levels of meaning. Emery is a complex character, and the story is told from his perspective, so one has to be careful to read between the lines.


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.


One of Our Asteroids is Missing – Robert Silverberg (as Calvin M Knox) (1964)

One of our Asteroids is Missing

‘CAST OF CHARACTERS

John Storm

He had a dream of riches out among the stars, and he knew he had to follow it, even to his own doom.

Liz

She felt his call, even across the depths of space.

UMC

The Universal Mining Cartel was an entity too immense, too impersonal to be any more good or evil than its individual members.

Miss Vyzinski

She had a manner and a smile as coldly mechanical as the machines she worked with.

Jimmy

A records clerk, who liked to supplement his salary with something better.

Clyde Ellins

He did his job, driven by impersonal greed and unhampered by conscience.

John Storm’s return to Earth was triumphant: he was about to become a millionaire. Now there was only the routine job of validating his claim to the asteroid he’d found. But there was one problem — the computer had no record of Storm’s claim. And stranger yet, the computer had no record of John Storm. He didn’t officially exist!
There seemed only one possible explanation to the nightmare Storm found himself in — someone wanted Storm’s asteroid. There had to be something on that tiny celestial body worth a great deal more than the reactive ores Storm had discovered. And that something was obviously worth the obliteration of anyone or anything getting in the way.’

Blurb from the F-253 Ace Double paperback edition

If one did not know, it would be difficult to identify this gung-ho macho escapism as the work of SF Grand Master Robert Silverberg, writing under the name Calvin M Knox.
Young John Storm has been offered an engineering job with the stereotypical Big Corporation, UMC (The Universal Mining Cartel) but chooses to take two years off from his work and his girlfriend to go asteroid mining, hoping to strike lucky in the asteroid belt and discover a floating rock laced with rare metals.
Strike lucky he does, discovering a large metal-rich asteroid which will make him wealthy beyond his dreams. He returns to Mars to register his claim, and then to Earth, but finds that not only does his claim not exist on the system but that his own identity has been deleted from the records.
Enraged, he decides to return to Mars and track down whoever is behind the theft of his asteroid.
It’s a simple enough tale, and well-written if a little hastily I suspect. There are echoes of Robert Heinlein here and his juvenile wish-fulfilment pieces. John gets to travel around in his own one-man spaceship challenging the might and authority of UMC (who turn out to be, unsurprisingly, the baddies in this adventure) and ultimately discovering a far greater surprise inside the asteroid he claimed.
Clearly, at this point in his career Silverberg, like Heinlein, didn’t really extrapolate to include social change. Storm is a young man of the American Fifties or early Sixties. Women do not go asteroid mining. They stay home and fret about their manfolk out there in that terrible outer space place. The only other woman who appears in the novel is Miss Vyzinski who works in The Hall of Records and has trouble coping with the concept of records being deleted or falsified.
On Mars there is the quaint concept of a Used Spaceship Salesman since it is cheaper to buy a ship to go prospecting in, and sell it back to the dealer at the end of your mining operation, rather than taking it back to Earth.
In summary, it’s the ‘one man against The Company’ scenario where the litte guy ends up winning (with the help of an unexpected ally in this case) and getting the girl.
As I pointed out, it’s hard to see this as the work of the same author as that of ‘The Book of Skulls’, ‘Dying Inside’ or even ‘The Masks of Time’ from around the same period, although most Silverberg devotees will know of the sea change in his writing just before his best work was produced.


Best SF Stories of The Year #1 – Lester Del Rey (Ed) (1972)

Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year, 1st Annual

A round-up of some of the best writing from the movers and shakers in the genre as of 1971.
James Tiptree Jr is featured, before she came out to the world (or at least the SF world) as Alice Sheldon. Interestingly, there are two stories which deal with environmental issues. There three tales of pilots being forced to man ships, two dealing with the Catholic Church and two dealing with lovers being separated by time, space or other factors.

The Sliced-Crosswise Only-On-Tuesday World – Philip Jose Farmer (New Dimensions 1, 1971)

Interesting idea of a world where the huge population share the planet by a seventh of them having one day each, while the rest remain in stasis in transparent tanks, but what happens when one is living on Tuesdays and falls in love with someone from the Wednesday world?

Good News From The Vatican – Robert Silverberg (Universe 1, 1971)

This story, of the first robot Pope, has subsequently won awards and been reprinted countless times.

I’ll Be Waiting For You When The Swimming Pool is Empty – James Tiptree Jr (Protostars, 1971)

A light-hearted tale by Tiptree.
A young man visits a primitive planet and brings them the gift of western-style democracy. One wonders whether there isn’t a tinge of savage irony at the heart of this story. One also wonders what the relevance of the title is.

The Power of The Sentence – David M Locke (F&SF, April 1971)

A cleverly structured tale in which a lecture on grammar becomes a battle fought in words between extra-dimensional entities.

The Wicked Flee – Harry Harrison (New Dimensions 1, 1971)

Harrison seldom disappoints and here provides a beautifully atmospheric piece in which a renegade from a Catholic dictatorship of the future escapes into the past, pursued by an agent of the Church.
An interesting take on alternate pasts and presents.

When You Hear The Tone – Thomas N Scortia (Galaxy, 1971)

A poetic love story about a man who gets to know a woman through some form of time communication. Although he remains in his time frame he manages to call a woman through various periods of her life until he is brought up to date, and they can meet.
Not as schmaltzy as one would imagine.

Occam’s Scalpel – Theodore Sturgeon (If, Aug 1971)

A kind of double bluff from Sturgeon in which an employee of a multinational is worried by the new boss, now that the old dictator has died. He arranges for the new boss to examine the dead man’s body, and to see that it is not human, but what is really going on, and who is fooling whom?

Hot Potato – Burt K Filer (The Many Worlds of Science Fiction, 1971)

One of those quasi-humourous wise-cracking fast-paced pieces in which the opposing sides in a nuclear conflict learn how to store their arsenal in hyperspace.

The Human Operators – Ellison/Van Vogt (F&SF, Jan 1971)

This tells of a group of rogue ships which have enslaved individual humans within them to take care of them and perform maintenance duties. It is quite a melancholy tale, and tinged with a certain claustrophobia, since there is no way of knowing (in common with the human slaves) what human society is like outside of this system.
Ultimately though, there is an odd yet beautifully poetic ending.

Autumntime – A Lentini (Galaxy, Nov 1971)

An environmental tone-piece about a trip to see a tree, which, in the future, is a rare sight.

A Little Knowledge – Poul Anderson (Analog, Aug 1971)

Aggressive humans underestimate a quiet and obsequious alien whom they kidnap as a pilot for a ship which they plan to use for unimportant nefarious purposes.
One of those ‘twist in the tail’ pieces. Best SF of the year? Probably not.

To Make a New Neanderthal – W Macfarlane (Analog, Sep 1971)

Turning environmentalism on his head, Macfarlane posits a situation where pollution has helped to increase Humanity’s intelligence.

The Man Underneath – RA Lafferty – (If, Jan 1971)

Lafferty here plays with words and text as easily as he plays with our imaginations. A tale, oddly reminiscent of ‘The Prestige’, in which a magician is haunted by an echo of himself.

Ornithanthropus – B Alan Burhoe (If, Nov 1971)

Nicely detailed view of a world where humans have been adapted to meet the conditions, rather than the other way around.

Rammer – Larry Niven (Galaxy, Nov 1971)

One of Niven’s corpsicle tales, in which a revived cryogenically frozen body is awakened, but only to be trained to pilot a seeder ship, travelling round the galaxy dropping biological packages on dead worlds in order to kick-start them into a biosphere.


Year’s Best SF 3 – David G Hartwell (Ed.) (1998)

Year's Best SF 3

It’s interesting that most ‘Year’s Best’ anthologies tend to feature one or two of the old guard or the big names of SF, and this volume is no exception. In other cases, there may be ulterior motives, since the likes of Robert Silverberg, Jack Williamson, Will Gibson and Moorcock etc, still swing a lot of weight, and publishers will – one assumes – be keen to feature these names in a publication which is likely to sell to hardcore fans more than anyone else.
One has to say though that the quality of the work from the establishment writers (apologies to Mr Moorcock, who will no doubt quail at the thought of having become the establishment) is exceedingly high, particularly in the case of Moorcock, Silverberg and Gibson. There are one or two stories whose inclusion as ‘Year’s Best’ I would question, but then, I’m sure that’s going to be the case for most readers. It would have been nice, I think though, to have seen more fresh blood since there were only two or three writers in this volume who were new to me.
1997 seems to be the year of relationships in SF, since quite a few of these tales have a romantic element. Let’s hope it was just a passing fad.

Petting Zoo (1997) Gene Wolfe (Return of the Dinosaurs, May 1997, ed. Martin H. Greenberg, Mike Resnick, )

A young boy illicitly recreates an intelligent, slightly purple, T.Rex and rides off on a voyage of mayhem. However, there are consequences.

The Wisdom of Old Earth (1997) Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Dec 1997)

Post-humans getting back to nature try to experience what it is to be human and mortal again. Very poetic and not a little weird.

The Firefly Tree (1997) Jack Williamson (Science Fiction Age – May 1997)

Very poetic story about a young boy and a fabulous plant he discovers, which could be the First Contact between man and an intergalactic civilisation. Who will believe him when his dad is a dope farmer?

Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City (1997) William Gibson (New Worlds 1997)

A wonderful Ballard-esque tour through – as the title would suggest – thirteen (one imagines) photographs of a Far-East cardboard city where the residents have exploited the properties of boxes to the nth degree. Gibson always has an arty sharp visual side to his writing, which is more than usually evident here.
Quite marvellous.

The Nostalginauts (1997) shortstory by Sharon N. Farber [as by S. N. Dyer ] (Asimovs, March 1997)

A character-driven piece about time-travellers who can visit from the future, but only for a short time, insubstantially and with no sound, and only from 25 years ahead. This gives rise to a fashion of visiting one’s wedding or prom night, holding up pictures or messages from the future.

Guest Law (1997) novelette by John C. Wright (Asimovs July 1997)

More baroque technofabulousness, as a ship, piloted by the decadent and mannered hi-tech survivors of humanity, encounters another ship, and evokes the ‘Guest Law’ in order to receive the captn of the ship into their midst in mutual safety. Earth, it appears, is now controlled by machine intelligence and humanity is spread across space, living in ships and habitats.

The Voice (1997) shortstory by Gregory Benford (Science Fiction Age, May 1997)

An interesting concept of humans rediscovering written text after having been reliant on an inner ‘internet’ called The Voice. The Voice, however, seems to be resistant to the idea of humans reading for themselves.

Yeyuka (1997) shortstory by Greg Egan (Meanjin v56 #1)

Egan’s short stories can be compared with Ian Watson’s – not simply because they tend to be examinations of character within a Hard SF framework, but because they cover odd concepts, places and situations.
Here, a cancer surgeon, carrying a ring that guarantees him constant monitoring and medication goes to Africa where he finds the technology far behind that of Australia and the developed world. Very detailed. Very clever.

An Office Romance (1997) shortstory by Terry Bisson (Playboy, February 1997)

A very clever, witty and somewhat romantic story from Bisson, who posits a romance behind the windows of Windows in a future where we can immerse ourselves in an Office Environment, a place which is sometimes more real than real.

Itsy Bitsy Spider (1997) shortstory by James Patrick Kelly (Asimovs, June 1997)

Kelly decides to examine the emotive subject of Alzheimers, and how one might address it in the future, but this story is far more than that. It’s an examination of a relationship, and the way in which we all – consciously, deliberately or by means beyond our control – forget things from our past.

Beauty in the Night (1997) novelette by Robert Silverberg (Science Fiction Age, September 1997)

A wonderful poetic piece from Silverberg set in a future Salisbury where aliens have occupied the Earth and rearranged Stonehenge to their own alien configuration. A young man, fuelled by revenge against his brutal quisling father, sets out to kill one of the invaders.

Mr. Pale (1997) shortstory by Ray Bradbury (Driving Blind, Avon, 1997)

As is to be expected, a late tale from Bradbury with all the exoticism and poetry of his earlier years. Death is found travelling on a starship, having consigned the Earth to flames, but Death himself is dying. Should the Doctor try to save him?

The Pipes of Pan (1997) novelette by Brian Stableford (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 1997)

An interesting story, a little steampunkish, set in a world where children’s growth has been retarded in an effort to deal with the population programme.

Always True to Thee, in My Fashion (1997) shortstory by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Science Fiction, January 1997)

Imagine that moods could be changed by designer drugs and that the fashion is set by designers for the following season. A relationship in this world is examined, revealing a great deal about the attitudes and motives of the narrator.

Canary Land (1997) novelette by Tom Purdom (Asimov’s Science Fiction, January 1997)

A dense, complex piece involving music, gene patents, big business and espionage.

Universal Emulators (1997) shortstory by Tom Cool (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 1997)

Beautifully written, this is another of the stories in this volume that looks at a relationship. In this world, one can hire someone to be you, to take over half your life and deal with a heavy workload, or make your wife fall in love with you.

Fair Verona (1997) novelette by R. Garcia y Robertson (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October/November 1997)

The narrator spends his time between living virtually in medieval Verona and taking rich clients on Wyevern hunts on an alien world. The Wyverns are collared are radio controlled so they are effectively harmless, until Tony is dragged from his game to find his client ripped to pieces by a Wyvern, and his own life as a witness on the line.

Great Western (1997) novelette by Kim Newman (New Worlds 1997)

An odd alternate Earth tale is which modern England becomes a parallel of the Wild West, with corrupt Reeves, evil squires, beleaguered widows running farms, and a gun-totin’ motorbike riding hero riding to the rescue.

Turnover (1997) shortstory by Geoffrey A. Landis (Interzone, January 1997)

A rather daft story about a Professor and her handsome assistant examining larval occurrences on Venus. Couldn’t see the point of it. Another story featuring relationships in this volume.

The Mendelian Lamp Case [Dr Phil D’Amato] (1997) novelette by Paul Levinson (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, April 1997)

One feels that this should really have been worked up onto a novel. It doesn’t read like a short story and seems rushed into an implausible conclusion. The overall premise is that the Amish, through extensive selective breeding, have created a new sustainable green technology, and can for instance use fire flies that will light the inside of one’s home.Marvellous idea. Not that well employed.

Kiss Me (1997) shortstory by Katherine MacLean (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, February 1997)

It’s well-written, amusing, and casts a cynical eye on the motivations of young women. MacLean is an SF veteran, and it’s no surprise that there is a retro feel to this story, harking back to some of the quirky ‘feel good’ stories of the 40s and 50s. It’s another short piece which focuses on (at least one half of) a relationship, but should it really be in a Year’s Best anthology?

London Bone (1997) novelette by Michael Moorcock (New Worlds 1997)

Moorcock, as Hartwell points out, is a major figure in British and International SF and fantasy. Here is a mature work which is not only a love letter to London itself, but a commentary perhaps on London society, with its obsession the facile and superficial. Ray, the narrator, is a dealer in services, providing tours and shows for jaded tourists and is offered a chance to be finance a lucrative deal. Under a disused site in Southwark some strange bones have been discovered, fused together by a chemical process and scrimshawed with figures of matchstick men, and these bits of bone are being sought by collectors. It’s a memorable piece which also manages to take a sideswipe at many of our more overhyped sacred cows such as Madonna. It may in its own way be a commentary on modern society’s penchant for feeding on its own remains, regurgitating the old bones rather than producing anything truly new and original. It is perhaps significant that Andrew Lloyd-Webber, regularly the subject of claims that he has plagiarised the work of earlier (and conveniently dead) composers, comes under Moorcock’s hammer, and is described as having gone bankrupt following the failure of his popularity and his last show ‘Dogs’.
It’s a marvellous piece, full of witty one-liners and snapshots from London’s real and imaginary past.


The Year’s Best Science Fiction 1 – Harry Harrison / Brian Aldiss (Eds) (1968)

The Year's Best Science Fiction 1

This is the first volume in what was a very important and influential series of Year’s Best SF collections. Edited by Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison these annuals pushed the boundaries and helped to redefine not only what could be classed as SF, but what format it should adopt. Later volumes include poetry and other more experimental writing. The series was also known for its opinionated articles, the first issue’s dealing with the definition of SF.
Kit Reed’s story ‘The Vine’ is included in this volume. Is it SF? I would label it as allegorical fantasy personally, and as James Blish has written a part introduction to this book in which he questions what is labelled as SF, it needs to be pointed out. Aldiss, however, in his afterword, has a more liberal point of view.
Some forty years plus after this volume was written we can see that Aldiss’ argument holds more water than Blish’s. Blish seems to be implying that SF is only SF if it works within the rules he has set out. Within this volume, perhaps as a perverse response to Blish we have ‘The Vine’ and Ballard’s ‘The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race’. Within Blish’s rules we would not have included these pieces or evolved such writers as M John Harrison, China Mieville, Ballard himself and countless others.

This volume comprises of:-

Hawksbill Station – Robert Silverberg

An excellent concept, predating Julian May’s Exiles Saga in which political dissidents and misfits are sent back to the Palaeozoic Era. This is, however, more of a character study of what might happen to men under such circumstances, and one man in particular. Novelised subsequently under the same title.

1937 A.D.! – John T Sladek (New Worlds 1967)

John Sladek shows early promise with this tale of how the future could influence the present, when a young inventor, from Kiowa in the United States of Columbia, creates a time engine powered by a bicycle and travels to 1937, where Julius Doppler explains his ‘Doppler Effect’ to him.

Fifteen Miles – Ben Bova

Bova chooses the moon for this story, where a priest (one of three astronauts on the moon during the current mission) gets himself trapped in a crater while looking for water and has to be rescued. It is not clear why a priest was on the moon in the first place, although it is a rather cumbersomely inserted device to explore the story’s theme of redemption

The Vine – Kit Reed (F & SF 1967)

This could be seen as a metaphor for any business whose survival comes to mean more than the lives of the individuals who toil for it. A family has spent generations tending a vast grapevine, during which time other dependent industries have evolved around it, catering to the tourists who come to visit The Vine. Some of the family are having second thoughts about their hereditary roles as tenders of The Vine, but the Vine is not prepared to let them leave.

Interview With a Lemming – James Thurber (My World and Welcome To It – 1942)

A satirical short from humourist Thurber, which transcribes a philosophical discussion between human and lemming.

The Left Hand Way – A Bertram Chandler (Australian Science Fiction Review 1967)

A colonist ship crashlands, and the only survivor is a Buddhist priest who, when finding a cargo full of trainable humanoid robots, activates them and begins training them as Buddhist monks.

The Wreck of The Ship John B – Frank M Robinson (Playboy 1967)

In one of the better stories in this volume, Robinson looks at the effects of space travel on humans. Several young men on a three year flight to a colony world find a series of space-suited corpses in space, and then their abandoned ship.
The Captain, studying records from the ship, realises that his own crew is showing early signs of the same psychoses which led to the deaths of the other astronauts, and determines to find a solution before it is too late.

The Forest of Zil – Kris Neville

Earth has sent spaceborne arcologies out to try and find habitable worlds. One world, discovered after countless lifeless stars, is covered by a forest, the trees of which seem to be the only life-form, and seem to whisper the word ‘Zil’ when wind blows through their leaves.

The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race – JG Ballard (Ambit 1967)

One of Ballard’s more memorable and controversial creations, heralding an obsession with the President, and indeed with other media icons, who turn up in later stories and novels.

Answering Service – Fritz Leiber (Galaxy 1967)

An interesting piece here about a rich hypochondriac who rings and abuses what she supposes to be an answering service comprised of automated tapes.
Character driven and compelling.

The Last Command – Keith Laumer (Analog Jan 1967)

During construction of a new shopping mall on a colony planet a supposedly decommissioned automated warfare unit is awakened. A retired soldier is the only one who recognises the unit and remembers how to shut it down.

Mirror of Ice – Gary Wright (Galaxy 1967)

Interesting in that it explores a potential future sport, indeed presages the current fascination with dangerous sports. Here, a sled has to be specially designed to to ride the course which has been constructed to wind around a mountain and which has brought glory to some and death to others.

Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes – Harlan Ellison (Knight Magazine 1967)

Harlan Ellison, in a suitably Chandler-esque mode, tells the tale of the femme-fatale Maggie, whose man Nuncio, done her wrong. Now Maggie’s spirit possesses a Las Vegas fruit machine, looking for a man who can be true to her. Again, this is not SF. I am not sure what it is. It somehow deserves its place here though.


Hawksbill Station – Robert Silverberg (1967)

Hawksbill Station

This is an expansion of an earlier novella, but is nevertheless still a fairly short novel.
The basic premise is that a time-portal to the past has been established. As there is no possibility of return, the US Powers That Be have set up two points in the remote past, one in the late Cambrian Era and the other some 250 million years later. As there is no other use for such a thing, the government have decided to send political prisoners back through time along with the materials to build their own prison camp. The males are sent to the earlier camp and the females to another set millions of years later.
Barrett, now in his sixties, has become the de facto leader of the prisoners at what has become known as ‘Hawksbill Station’. The land is a desert of bare rock, apart from occasional moss. The only life is in the sea, and consists of invertebrates such as proto-squid, trilobytes and other exoskeletal beasties.
The men of course are in various stages of mental breakdown and Barrett is doing his best to hold it together.
One day, the men hear the sound of The Anvil (the time travel mechanism) starting which means that something or someone is being sent down the line from the future.
It is a new prisoner, a young man named Hahn who seems reticent to discuss his past and also appears to not know much about the state of affairs pertaining to the world of 2029, which he has just left.
Silverberg, as usual, focuses on characterisation, employing a dual timeline structure which switches between Hawksbill Station and the story of how Barrett came to be sentenced to being sent back in time.
In the future from which Barrett has been exiled, a revolution has taken place, seeing an oligarchy of ‘syndicalists’ taking charge. Inevitably the syndicalists evolve into a government who become the establishment and are, if anything, worse than those who were overthrown. Barrett becomes part of counter-revolutionary group, occasionally visited by the scientist Hawksbill, the man responsible for time travel technology.
It’s not a major Silverberg work. One could describe it as a series of psychological studies, since the main characters, with the possible exception of Hahn, are skilfully sketched. Jack Bernstein, for instance, someone whom Barrett had known since childhood and who had always insisted on being called Jack, decides to join the establishment and reverts to his real name of Jacob.
Silverberg likes to include Jewish protagonists, unsurprisingly, but is obviously not afraid to turn them into unpleasant characters.
Where the novel fails is in a lack of tension. Despite the dual timeline there are not enough surprises or false leads. Hahn’s purpose seems fairly obvious from his arrival. Barrett’s life in the future was of course leading toward his arrest and his trip to the past, and one would have thought that Silverberg might have thrown in some kind of twist which meant that Barrett ended up in Hawksbill Station for reasons other than the reader expected.
It’s interesting, but hampered by its brevity and its lack of twists and turns.


The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 13 – Gardner Dozois (Ed) (2000)

The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 13

A decent crop of stories from 1999 many of which seem preoccupied with the theme – either subtly or overtly – of longevity or perhaps to be more accurate the preservation of body and/or personality.
It’s a mixed bag, but the overall quality is high.

The Wedding Album (1999) David Marusek (Asimov’s 1999.06)

Marusek takes the basic concept that photographs will develop into ‘sims’ – 3D sentient captures. He then runs with the idea on a surprising and twisting journey into the future.

10 to 16 to 1 (1999) James Patrick Kelly (aka 1016 to 1) (Asimov’s 1999.06)

A visitor from the future to the 1960s has to recruit a young boy into a mission to save the world from nuclear holocaust. Emotive and well-characterised.

Winemaster (1999) Robert Reed (F&SF July 1999)

Robert Reed is a master of strangeness and envisions a plague which destroys and recreates humans as digitised entities. Very clever.

Galactic North (1999) Alastair Reynolds (Interzone #145)

Reynolds here – over a vast span of time – tells us the origin of a situation detailed in his Revelation Space novels and a long chase across time and space. Marvellous stuff. An exemplary example of new space opera.

Dapple: A Hwarhath Historical Romance (1999) Eleanor Arnason (Asimov’s 1999.09)

A romantic tale of a young female alien belonging to a curious species. They are gay by nature and only turn to heterosexuality in order to breed. The girl wants to be an actor but as this is a strictly male occupation she disguises herself as a boy in order to pursue her career.
A romantic and poetic piece.

People Came from Earth (1999) Stephen Baxter (Moon Shots, July 1999)

Following a nanocaust the survivors of a moon colony struggle to keep the human race alive. Another piece which is romantic in nature and despite being scientifically accurate is more poetic than realistic.

Green Tea (1999) Richard Wadholm (Asimov’s, October 1999)

Dense and slightly baroque Hard SF here in which exotic matter is stored on the vane of a spaceship in order that it will be transmuted and destroy a nearby star in an act of revenge. Cleverly structured first person piece. Hard work, but worth persevering with.

The Dragon of Pripyat (1999) novelette by Karl Schroeder (Tesseracts 8, October 1999)

One of the best in this collection. A freelance troubleshooter is sent to the Chernobyl site as intelligence suggests that terrorists may be planning to blow open the ‘sarcophagus’ containing the failed reactor. However, tales of a dragon living in the poisoned town seem to point to something else going on. Excellent writing and characterisation.

Written in Blood (1999) Chris Lawson (Asimov’s June 1999)

Another excellent piece, the title of which refers to a muslim and his daughter on their Hajj, who meet a man who can write the text of the Koran into DNA. Again, excellent characterisation, and containing a hefty swipe at the practice of female genital mutilation.

Hatching the Phoenix (1999) Frederik Pohl (Amazing Stories, Fall 1999)

A late Heechee story in which Gelle-Klara Moynlon visits a project she has funded which is capturing and enhancing the light from a system that has already been destroyed. The enhanced resolution means they can observe an intelligent species on the surface before the nova rendered them extinct.

Suicide Coast (1999) M. John Harrison (F&SF Jul 1999)

A very dark tale from Harrison about dangerous sports, software and the nature of friendship.

Hunting Mother (1999) Sage Walker (Not of Woman Born – Mar 1999)

On a converted asteroid, an elderly genetic scientist and her half-cougar ‘son’ dance with death in a very poetic, romantic piece on the theme of how the old have to give way to the new.

Mount Olympus (1999) Ben Bova (Analog Feb 1999)

A workmanlike but unoriginal tale from Bova which features a rescue from the caldera of Olympus Mons on Mars

Border Guards (1999) Greg Egan (Interzone #148 Oct 1999)

Egan postulates a future where immortal humans live in an infinite array of worlds called The Territories. A young man around a century old meets one of the creators of the Jewel, the device which, when implanted, absorbs the cells and functions of the brain. Mind blowing stuff.

Scherzo with Tyrannosaur (1999) Michael Swanwick (Asimovs July 1999)

A prelude to ‘Bones of the Earth’, set in a future where enigmatic aliens have given humans the secret of Time Travel. Tourists can travel to a thousand years before the dinosaurs are wiped out and dine on plesiosaur steaks. Swanwick examines some of the benefits, consequences and pitfalls of time travel very cleverly here.

A Hero of the Empire [Roma Eterna] (1999) Robert Silverberg (F&SF Oct 1999)

Silverberg in his alternate world where the Roman Empire continues to the present day. An exiled favourite of the Emperor is sent to Mecca where he encounters a modern-day Mohamed.
Expertly done, giving much food for thought.

How We Lost the Moon, a True Story by Frank W. Allen (1999) Paul J. McAuley (Moon Shots, July 1999)

A great short piece by McAuley which details what happens when a small black hole escapes from a research facility on the dark side of the moon. As expected, well written with interesting characterisation. Much better than Greg Benford’s novel ‘Artefact’ which uses a similar premise (on Earth) but falls down on the one dimensional characters.

Phallicide (1999) Charles Sheffield (Science Fiction Age Sep 1999)

Sheffield writes here from the viewpoint of a young woman brought up in a US cult, who is allowed certain liberties because she has a talent for Chemistry and pharnaceuticals. The cult employ her skills to develop Viagra-style drugs to keep the elderly Patriarch and his aging minions sexually active. When one of the eldwrs plans to marry her thirteen year old daughter, she decides to rebel.
It raises many social and ethical questions and may have benefited from being developed into a longer format.

Daddy’s World (1999) Walter Jon Williams (Not of Woman Born – Mar 1999)

A very decent piece about the digitisation of consciousness and what it may mean in real terms.

A Martian Romance (1999) Kim Stanley Robinson (The Martians – 1999)

One of Robinson’s alternate tales of his terraformed Mars in which the terraforming has failed. Some of the residents embark on a trip across one of the frozen seas.

The Sky-Green Blues (1999) Tanith Lee (Interzone #142 – 1999)

A tale of alien love and the reality experienced by a fictional character. Poetic but a little odd.

Exchange Rate (1999) Hal Clement (Absolute Magnitude, Winter 1999)

Clement does what he does best here which is to postulate exploration of life on a planet five times the radius of the earth. It’s ravaged by earthquakes, has very little hydrogen, and a complex atmospheric mix. Despite his years Clement has managed to keep pace with the younger writers.

Everywhere (1999) Geoff Ryman (Interzone, #140 February 1999)

A positive view of the future from Ryman at a time when The Angel of The North is a historical landmark. Superlative writing.

Hothouse Flowers • (1999) • shortstory by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October-November 1999)

The concept of keeping old people alive taken to a logical but absurd conclusion.

Evermore (1999) Sean Williams (Altair #4, August 1999)

A probe containing the digitised copies of prospective colonists has its main drive destroyed by an encounter with a micrometeor. The human personalities, living in isolated virtual worlds and after thousands of years being borderline insane are brought together for a radical proposition.

Of Scorned Women and Causal Loops (1999) Robert Grossbach (F&SF Jan 1999)

The hadron collider is the setting for this intriguing time travel murder investigation.

Son Observe the Time (1999) Kage Baker (Asimovs May 1999)

Part of Baker’s ‘Company’ series which features an organisation of immortal time travellers. Here they are in San Francisco before the great earthquake of 1906 attempting to conserve art and literature that would otherwise have been destroyed. Someone else is there, however, with an altogether different agenda. Excellent stuff.


Shadrach In The Furnace – Robert Silverberg (1976)

Shadrach in the Furnace (Frontiers of Imagination)

Shadrach Mordecai, despite his Jewish name, is a black Philadelphian, and the personal physician of Genghis II Mao IV Khan, dictator and ruler of the entire Earth in a dark dystopia of 2012.
Shadrach has a complex system of implants wired into his body which constantly update him on the tyrant’s vital signs; Genghis having extended his life so far by a process of organ transplants.
Genghis realises that this process cannot extend his life forever and is funding three research projects as an alternative.
Project Phoenix is researching into methods of rejuvenating the old man’s body. Project Talos is designing a synthetic body into which the consciousness of Genghis can be transferred, while Project Avatar is moving toward a point in which the tyrant’s mind can be decanted into the skull of his unwitting son, Mangu.
The idea of ‘getting into someone’s head’ – the perennial quest of a writer – appears in various metaphorical forms throughout the book.
Plans are thrown into chaos when Mangu discovers his fate from Katya Lindman – head of Project Talos, who may have done it in order to sabotage the rival project – and throws himself to his death from his balcony. The tyrant is then in need of another body donor, and decides that his next candidate is Shadrach.
Shadrach, upon discovering his fate, begins to write a fictional ‘diary’ of Genghis, attempting to get into his leader’s head, and piece together fragments of his past life.
Ultimately Shadrach does indeed literally get into his leader’s head and there installs a pump which will, on command from Shadrach, pump enough cranial fluid into his brain to cause him extreme pain or even kill him.
The structure is somewhat disjointed, beginning as one character third person narrative, but diverging later into Shadrach’s fictional diaries of Genghis.
Perhaps Silverberg thought that Genghis needed humanising, or at least that we should think that Shadrach needed to humanise Genghis, to put him into some sort of context.
It’s difficult to see what ‘the furnace’ of the title refers to in relation to the novel. Obviously, the reference is to the biblical Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being put into the furnace and being protected by God from burning.
Here, Shadrach has no God to rely on and has to take matters into his own hands (literally – the activating mechanism for the cranial pump is in Shadrach’s hand) in order to save himself.
At one point, however, Shadrach takes some time off, travels around the world and meets a Meshach with whom he becomes friends.
One of Silverberg’s better works which resonates with the various metaphors, mythical and historical references, and was nominated for various awards.