It could be argued that ‘Nature’ is helping to keep that odd phenomenon, the short short story, alive. The SSS – not to be confused with the Drabble, which is a microstory of one hundred words – presumably due to the space constraints for fiction within the magazine, runs to no more than four pages.
Thus SF has found an evolutionary niche in a non-fiction periodical, much as happened back in the Sixties and Seventies with Playboy, which regularly had its published stories reprinted in ‘Year’s Best’ anthologies.
Several SSS’s feature in this volume and very good they are too. The longer pieces are also excellent, although in many I am seeing very good writing but little innovation.
There are two so far that I find both innovative and exciting, Rudy Rucker’s ‘Guadalupe and Hieronymus Bosch’ and Daryl Gregory’s ‘Second Person, Present Tense’.
David Langford – New Hope for the Dead (Nature 2005)
Hannu Rajaniemi – Deus Ex Homine (Nova Scotia 2005)
Gardner R Dozois – When the Great Days Came (F&SF 2005)
Daryl Gregory – Second Person, Present Tense (Asimov’s 2005)
Justina Robson – Dreadnought (Nature 2005)
Ken Macleod – A Case of Consilience (Nova Scotia 2005)
Tobias S Bucknell – Toy Planes (Nature 2005)
Neal Asher – Mason’s Rats (Asimov’s 2005)
Vonda N McIntyre – A Modest Proposal (Nature 2005)
Rudy Rucker – Guadalupe and Hieronymus Bosch (Interzone 2005)
Peter F Hamilton – The Forever Kitten (Nature 2005)
Matthew Jarpe – City of Reason (Asimov’s 2005)
Bruce Sterling – Ivory Tower (Nature 2005)
Lauren McLaughlin – Sheila (Interzone 2005)
Paul McAuley – Rats of The System (Constellations 2005)
Larissa Lai – I Love Liver: A Romance (Nature 2005)
James Patrick Kelly – The Edge of Nowhere (Asimov’s 2005)
Ted Chiang – What’s Expected of Us (Nature 2005)
Michael Swanwick – Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play (Asimov’s Aug 2005)
Stephen Baxter – Lakes of Light (Constellations 2005)
Oliver Morton – The Albian Message (Nature 2005)
Bud Sparhawk – Bright Red Star (Asimov’s 2005)
Alaya Dawn Johnson – Third Day Lights (Interzone 200 2005)
Greg Bear – Ram Shift Phase 2 (Nature 2005)
Gregory Benford – On the Brane (Gateways 2005)
R Garcia y Robertson – Oxygen Rising (2005)
Adam Roberts – And Future King… (Nature 2005)
Alastair Reynolds – Beyond the Aquila Rift (Constellations 2005)
Joe Haldeman – Angel of Light (Cosmos #6 – Dec 2005)
Liz Williams – Ikiryoh (Asimovs, Dec 2005)
Cory Doctorow – I, Robot (Infinite Matrix – Dec 2005)
David Langford – New Hope for the Dead
A satirical tale in which the digitally preserved dead are recruited to police e-mail during a credit crunch.
Hannu Rajaniemi – Deus Ex Homine
A very well-written story involving man’s fight against a virus which transforms humans into godlike AIs.
Gardner R Dozois – When the Great Days Came
The first of the stories in this volume featuring rats (either literally or symbolically). A rat witnesses the meteor strike which initiates the human extinction event.
Daryl Gregory – Second Person, Present Tense
One of the best stories in this volume, Gregory tells the story of Therese, whose personality was wiped by a new illegal drug. Having had her personality and memories reassembled, Terry has trouble convincing her family and therapists and maybe herself that she is not the Therese who took the drug in the first place. Gripping and thought-provoking.
Justina Robson – Dreadnought
A grim slice of dark space opera where dead soldiers, mounted on the flanks of a damaged military space vehicle are employed to host a damaged AI.
Ken Macleod – A Case of Consilience
An update on James Blish’s seminal novel ‘A Case of Conscience’ in which a priest seeks to communicate with seemingly intelligent networks of fungus.
Tobias S Bucknell – Toy Planes
An interesting little piece which relates the West Indies entry into the space race, from the viewpoint of a young pilot.
Neal Asher – Mason’s Rats
The rats in this story have mutated into a tool-bearing species which are raiding the grain from an automated factory. The question is, who are the true rats when one examines the bigger picture.
Vonda N McIntyre – A Modest Proposal
Like Macleod’s story, this is also a response to an earlier piece, in this case Swift’s (?) ‘A Modest Proposal to Improve on Nature’.
Rudy Rucker – Guadalupe and Hieronymus Bosch
As befits the artist, this is a surreal and colourful piece in which an alien takes a woman back in time to kidnap her hero, Hieronymus Bosch. The alien appears to be planning some kind of art installation of his own, featuring the relationship between the two, but things do not go to plan
Peter F Hamilton – The Forever Kitten
A short and fairly standard piece from Hamilton, which again looks at one of his favourite themes, that of longevity. It has a shock ending, which is unexpected, despite the brevity of the tale.
Matthew Jarpe – City of Reason
Asteroid dwellers, in a universe where disaffected radicals can set up their own communities in the asteroid belt. A one-man ship intercepts another ship hidden inside an asteroid containing a young couple. The girl, however is not what she seems and they are carrying a nuclear weapon, to destroy the City of Reason. A tale of advanced human augmentation.
Bruce Sterling – Ivory Tower
A very brief tale about physicists setting up their own university on the internet
Lauren McLaughlin – Sheila
A beautifully atmospheric and engaging story about AIs, humans and religion. AI worship also features in the following story by Paul McAuley
Paul McAuley – Rats of The System
When transcendent AIs abandon Earth, fundamentalist sects proclaim them as gods and set about destroying anyone who dares to believe differently. A scientist and a pilot are attacked by the Fanatics while studying one such AI, who is dismantling a binary star system. The Rats here are metaphorical.
Larissa Lai – I Love Liver: A Romance
Just as the title says, a researcher falls in love with the liver he has designed.
James Patrick Kelly – The Edge of Nowhere
One of my favourite stories in this volume, this is set in a virtual world atop a plateau, where the residents can order anything they wish to be constructed. One of them, however, is trying to write The Great American Novel, and this original work provokes the interest of three intelligent dogs who suddenly appear, enquiring about the book.
Ted Chiang – What’s Expected of Us
Another excellent short piece from nature examining the concept of free will and determinism.
Michael Swanwick – Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play
A story which takes place in Arcadia, replete with artificially created gods such as Dionysus, satyrs, nymphs, and the author’s regular characters – Darger and Surplus. see also ‘The Dog said Bow-Wow’
Stephen Baxter – Lakes of Light
Part of Stephen Baxter’s ‘Xeelee Sequence’, this features a contact unit who find human colonies living under domes on a Xeelee constructed shell around a sun.
Oliver Morton – The Albian Message
Aliens have apparently left messages encoded in human DNA which points to a location at the Trojan asteroids.
Bud Sparhawk – Bright Red Star
A grim militaristic tale highlighting the realities of war and desensitisation.
Alaya Dawn Johnson – Third Day Lights
‘a strange creature living within a bizarre ‘body’ with a two-dimensional friend, is visited by a human. He is able to respond to the challenges which she sets him, and reveals that humanity is in the process of retrieving all humans who may or may not have ever lived, before using the energy from all universes, no matter how strange.’ from bestsf.net
Greg Bear – Ram Shift Phase 2
Another short short story from Nature
Gregory Benford – On the Brane
Humans visit a parallel Earth in a universe which is dying far faster than ours, where the laws of physics are very different and intelligent life of a very odd sort has evolved on Earth.
R Garcia y Robertson – Oxygen Rising
A human negotiator is involved in a war between humans and various bioengineered human decendants
Adam Roberts – And Future King…
King Arthur is recreated and decides to run for government. Another very short piece from ‘Nature’
Alastair Reynolds – Beyond the Aquila Rift
Reynolds is expert at the incredibly dense universe he creates. Here, we find a ship which has taken the wrong turn somehow through a wormhole and ended up somewhere else, but exactly how far have they travelled, and for how long?
Joe Haldeman – Angel of Light
In the future Ahmad Abd al-kareem, an adherent of Chrislam finds a preserved copy of the Summer 1944 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories belonging to an ancestor. After much soul-searching he takes it to the bazaar and barters it to an alien for an eternal light.
Liz Williams – Ikiryoh
A fascinating story about Japanese society and a woman who is asked to look after a child which has been given the bad spirit of the ruler, an Ikiryoh. While the bad spirit is trapped in the child, the ruler will be kind and beneficent.
Cory Doctorow – I, Robot
One of the best stories in this collection, it follows a man whose brilliant wife defected to the East where technological controls are less severe, and he suspects she is responsible for the recent terrorist software attacks on the West.
“The Accord, a virtual utopia where the soul lives on after death and your perceptions are bound only by your imagination. This is the setting for a tale of love, murder and revenge that crosses the boundaries between the real world and this virtual reality”—
Blurb from the 2009 Solaris edition
One of the blurbs for this novel is a line from a review that says ‘one of the best novels of virtual reality ever written’ which actually pays this a disservice since it is far far more than that.
Noah Barakh is the architect of a worldwide project called The Accord. The Accord is a virtual representation of the Earth into which the consciousnesses of those who have been scanned are uploaded when the individuals die.
Noah is heading toward the point at which the Accord, guided by the consensus of those who have already begun living within it, will coalesce conflating various realities into one.
Barakh lives in a future UK where MPs have evolved into Electees. Electee Jack Burnham is fully behind the Accord project unaware that Noah (a rather too apt name for the builder of an ark of human souls) is in love with Electee Priscilla Burnham, Jack’s wife. Noah has been experimenting with his own Accord mini-realities where he and Priscilla are lovers.
In the real world Priscilla, it appears, does feel an attraction to Noah and invites him to her home while Jack is away. Jack is not away, however, and wrongly suspects that Noah and his wife have been having an affair for some time. He shoots Priscilla and later Noah, who – now dead – are reborn in The Accord.
This is only the prelude to where things start to get very interesting.
Brooke cleverly leaves the morality of some aspects to the reader. Noah’s initial creations of his and Priscilla’s relationship, for instance, would no doubt be considered to be a violation of her ‘digital self’ for want of a better phrase. Added to that, the versions of Priscilla that were in love with Noah were no doubt uploaded into the Accord to become part of the consensus.
This leads us further into Brooke’s exploration of the concept of editing personalities. It appears that the scanning technology allows one to not merely edit a personality but combine aspects of various personalities to create a new one.
It is this aspect of the novel that ultimately becomes the most fascinating since in such a reality (if one can term it so) one is not restricted to simply altering one’s surroundings.
Jack Burnham, for instance, who on the original Earth was prepared to kill anyway, embarks on a process whereby he becomes an amalgam of several people in order to turn himself into a remorseless destroyer.
In the Accord itself, if one is killed, one is reborn again shortly after, although it appears that the Accord itself changes one slightly in the process.
Thus, the characters that are pursuing their earthly passions and revenge are ultimately far from the original consciousnesses that existed on the dying earth that they left.
Brooke makes a marvellous job of creating an Earth on the brink of apocalypse where Britain is having to make choices about turning away armadas of boat people, as well as the world of the Accord where Noah’s uploaded scientists managed to export the Accord itself into quantum space.
As I have said however, the most fascinating and thought-provoking aspect of all this is the Post-Dickian examination of consciousness, questioning its very nature and the idea that it can be easily modified by oneself or others.
Despite the deceptively upbeat ending, one is left long after the book has ended, pondering the ethical and moral issues.
It’s a tour-de-force by Brooke, one of our best contemporary SF writers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
McDevitt is a tad frustrating. He’s a highly competent writer and one can’t fault his science or his characterisation. The ‘Academy’ novels (of which this is the fourth) have been highly enjoyable and I’m sure there are legions of readers out there who want more of Priscilla ‘Hutch’ Hutchins, Academy pilot and now, somewhat older, in an executive role within the Academy itself.
The Omega Clouds – agents of destruction which seem to be able to recognise right angles and other signs of intelligent life – have been studied intensively. Apart from the fact that they are based on nanotechnology, there is very little else discovered about them. One is heading toward Earth and will arrive in around a thousand years.
Meanwhile, elderly scientist Harold Tewkesbury has been studying a series of novalike explosions (his students have called them ‘Tewks’) that have shown up along Omega wave fronts.
Additionally, around 3000 light years from earth, a planet with a pre-industrial civilisation has been discovered, and an Omega cloud will reach them within months.
Hutch is determined to find a way to divert the Omega cloud and/or persuade the indigenes to abandon their coastal cities and move inland.
My frustration with McDevitt – putting aside for the moment his Americocentric view of the universe, which I have covered in previous reviews – lies with his alien races.
Very early on in this novel the Academy are trying to salvage what they can from an already Omega-scarred world which is about to be revisited. In a large auditorium they find a statue of what could be the architect; a tall alien beastie but wearing garments that overly resemble Twentieth Century European attire. In a previous volume we had a similar occurrence where a representation of a long-extinct wolflike creature showed him wearing a dinner jacket.
Think about it Jack! What are the odds that aliens, no matter how humanoid, would evolve the dinner jacket? It may seem that I am splitting hairs here but these are the things that ruin my enjoyment of the novel, which is a shame because on the whole it’s one of the best in the series so far.
There are wonderful characters, fascinating scientific anomalies, vast world-destroying clouds and… these Walt Disney aliens.
The race that Hutch is trying to save are cute green webfooted large-eyed bucktoothed beasties who look very like the creatures on a children’s show called Goompahs. They fall into that category of alien design beloved of ‘Star Trek’ and its clones, where the civilisation is basically human, but the people look different.
A third of the way into the novel they began to annoy me and I was at the point of hoping the Omega cloud would arrive prematurely and save me the trouble of reading any more about them.
Fat chance of that, as it turned out.
McDevitt tries to make a point about the cuteness factor. Many companies petition the Academy for permission to travel to Lookout for various money-making purposes, virtually all of which are refused. Humanity is completely engaged with them and their possible extinction, and at one point Hutch asks herself whether there would be so much public interest if the aliens had been unappealing insects?
Not enough is made of this, however, which is a shame as it is an issue that relates to how we deal with endangered species. The cute ones get all the attention, while threatened species of snails or beetles seldom appear in petitions or Facebook appeals. McDevitt missed an opportunity here which may have raised the bar on this book a tad.
It is by no means a bad novel, but one feels that as a nominee for the Nebula award this is surely missing something, and not just the world outside America.
Priest has created a compelling alternate history steampunk world where the basic premise is that in Seattle in the early days of the American Civil War, Leviticus Blue, a renowned inventor, created a revolutionary new drilling machine. This is the Boneshaker, designed to drill into the hardest permafrost in a bid to strike gold in the frozen wilds. One day, seemingly for no reason, Blue takes the machine on a rampage beneath the city which not only collapses cellars and buildings but releases a deadly mist from the Earth.
Seattle is evacuated and a great wall built around the city to confine the gas, known as The Bight. During the somewhat hurried exodus, Blue’s father-in-law, Maynard Wilkes, releases prisoners from a local jail who would otherwise have been left to die.
Fifteen years later, Blue’s widow, Briar, is coping with bringing up her son Ezekiel while working at a gruelling job where all her colleagues object to the widow of Levi Blue working with them.
Zeke, as he is known, is obsessed with discovering the truth behind his father’s actions. Having discovered that there are still people living within the walls – albeit in sealed off tunnels or buildings supplied with air by ceaseless pumping mechanisms – he runs off to try and enter the city and return to his parents’ house.
Briar, having discovered his note, has no choice but to go after him and attempt to get him out alive. There are worse things to worry about than the deadly gas itself it appears as one of its properties is to animate the dead, converting them to ravening flesh-eating zombies or ‘rotters’ as they are known here.
Priest, to her credit, does an excellent job of combining steampunk, alternate history and zombies in what is – given the bald synopsis above – a bit of a far-fetched notion.
However, it all works remarkably well, structured in a dual narrative following Zeke and Briar alternately as they roam the rotter-infested ruins of Seattle where the inventions of Levi Blue have been adapted to produce various instruments of defence and survival.
There’s a cast of extraordinary characters such as Lucy, a low-tech cyborg bar owner who has had her arms replaced with functioning mechanical replacements (thinking about it, it would have been a neat touch to call her bar ‘The Clockwork Arms’) and the sinister Captain Nemo-esque Dr Minnericht who never removes his mask and runs a small empire from his marble and brass underground headquarters.
It’s a bit of a disappointment that Priest does not explore the mutant birds further, since the blackbirds in the city seem to have evolved some form of gestalt consciousness. They are mentioned in passing, but nothing more is made of them, at least in this novel.
There are sequels so maybe we may learn more of these strange denizens of Seattle.
As of the time of posting, ‘Boneshaker’ has been optioned by Hammer for a movie adaptation and a screenplay is underway.
Continuing his journey back to Alliance space, Captain ‘Black Jack’ Geary has stress aplenty.
A decisive victory over the Syndics was blighted by losses of his own ships and by the fact that the Syndics destroyed one of their hypergates, unleashing deadly radiation on an inhabited Syndic planet. Subsequently Geary was warned discreetly that worm programmes were at work in the system, viruses which would have disabled ships’ engines during a hyperspace jump and ensuring that Geary and several other major ships did not return to normal space.
Additionally, two of his Captains exhibited ‘cowardice’ in not coming quickly enough to the aid of other ships. One of the Captains let slip that their orders may have come from elsewhere. While transferring the two captains to another ship the shuttle exploded, killing both of them.
So, having to cope with possible moles within his own fleet and a personal life that has become somewhat complex, Geary is under enormous stress to keep the fleet together and get them home with as little damage as possible.
The journey continues…
The sequel to ‘The Mind Pool’ is set much later. Humanity has been forbidden to travel into alien space via the network of wormholes controlled by a Federation of three alien races. This is because humans are deemed to be a violent and volatile species.
The novel begins with a Government official tracking down Chan Dalton to offer him a special assignment.
It would appear that a wormhole gateway has appeared which is unconnected to the alien network and is also accessible by humans.
Ships have been sent through to investigate but none have returned. Would Chan Dalton to be willing to reassemble his old crew and investigate?
What follows is an adventure in another universe where the humans have to deal with both inimical lobster-like aliens and the fundamentalist pacifist beliefs of their own alien crew. In truth, Sheffield could have made more of this internal battle of ideologies but that is a minor flaw. The only other problem with this book is the title, which has no relevance to anything in the text.
Like most of Sheffield’s work, this is highly readable, highly entertaining space opera which contains some excellent characterisation and some complex and interesting aliens, if a tad anthropomorphic. In its way, Sheffield’s work is very traditional, albeit with a modern gloss. It falls very much into the Romantic camp although Sheffield doesn’t shirk on the physics and it never falls into the trough of Star Trek technobollocks. There’s a themic thread of addiction which covers both the humans that have been addicted to various substances and Friday Indigo who becomes a slave to the lobster-folk who can stimulate his pleasure centres directly.
Sheffield left enough open for a sequel here but sadly it would appear that never transpired.
‘ ‘All over the world, men and women still find causes worth killing and dying for. And who are we to argue with them? Have we lived in their circumstances? have we felt what they feel? No. It is not our place to say if they are right or wrong.
At Shorn Conflict Investment, we are concerned with only two things. Will they win? And will it pay?’
Chris Faulkner has just landed the job of his life. But Shorn Associates are market leaders in Conflict Investment. They expect results, they expect the best. Chris has one very high-profile kill to his name already but will have to drive hard and go for kill after kill if he’s to keep his bosses happy.
All he has to do in the meantime is stay alive…’
Blurb from the Gollancz 2004 paperback edition
Abandoning Takeshi Kovacs for this novel (although Morgan ironically refers to a TK novel within the text through the thoughts of his main character, describing it as ‘a little far-fetched’) the author takes us to a near-future Britain, controlled by media and big business. It’s a Britain where rich and poor are separated geographically, the disaffected being confined to ‘the zones’.
Chris Faulkner is a hot-shot rising star in the world of Investment, but this is a Britain where boardroom battles are conducted on the road. Road rage has been legalised and is now the preferred method by which executives battle for promotion.
It is a mark of Morgan’s persuasiveness as a writer that this rather ‘far-fetched’ and farcical idea is made entirely convincing.
Chris is head-hunted for a post at Conflict Investments, a company specialising in profiting from the destabilisjng of foreign regimes, usually by selling weapons to their opponents, and immediately comes into conflict with almost everyone. From this point on, Morgan drags us into a relentless Shakespearean tragedy in which Faulkner is gradually pushed down a road where paradoxically, through doing what he thinks is the right thing, he is gradually dehumanising himself and transforming into a man numb to the feelings of those around him.
What lets the novel down is the dialogue which, for some reason, never rings true. Maybe it’s because the major characters, particularly Chris Faulkner and his new best mate, fellow executive Mike Bryant, are interchangeable in terms of dialogue. There is no real difference in their speech patterns and although Morgan has written Bryant as a wise-cracking wit, it never really comes off the page that way.
In some ways it is Morgan’s best book so far. Certainly he has done his homework on Politics and Commerce in a Capitalist world and has served us up a horrifying vision of what our society could grow into.
Oddly, it also owes a debt to Zelazny’s ‘Damnation Alley’ via its spiritual descendant, ‘Mad Max’. The film was an early and powerful influence on Morgan and some of its scenes were no doubt in the back of his mind as he set about creating this.
‘Hal Halliday is just another of the lost, crowding the streets of New York, mired in a 21st Century that is going nowhere. His business partner is dead and Hal is keeping their missing persons business going without really knowing why.
When a holodrama star approaches Hal to find her missing sister Hal is drawn into the world of dreams set up by VR magnate Sergio Mantoni. It is a world built on the desperate lives of a population of a ruined America; a world facing a new challenge from VIREX, an underground movement dedicated to ending the false promise of Virtual Reality.’
Blurb from the 2002 Gollancz Edition
Hal Halliday, Private Eye, still in mourning from the death of his partner Barney and the loss of his girlfriend, Kim, is commissioned by vampish VR starlet Vanessa Artois (One can’t help thinking her name should have been Stella) to find her missing sister, Canada.
This is a step up from ‘New York Nights’ in many ways. The pace is faster, the mood is darker, and although initially one might feel that the plot of NYN is being rehashed, we are taken into areas where it seems no one can be trusted.
Brown seems to have found his feet here, and having established his world with NYN can afford to dive straight into the action and shadow Hal as he follows clues and leads from location to location. A sub-plot involving members of the anti-VR organisation VIREX ends up being a little redundant and adds nothing to the plot other than to give Hal a clue as to the identity of the kidnapper.
An interesting feature of this novel is that Brown extrapolates the ambivalent nature of contemporary internet sexual identities to its logical conclusion. People entering VR sex-sites can choose the age and sex of their avatar. Mantoni’s hitman, Pablo for instance (a large muscular moustachioed Mexican) has regular meetings with Mantoni in a VR environment and adopts the persona of an attractive blonde female, often resulting in a sexual encounter with Mantoni. Mantoni is fully aware of Pablo’s ‘real’ form, but is nonetheless happy to engage in the sexual activities which Pablo initiates.
Halliday himself, in order to set a trap for the kidnapper, poses as a teenage girl in the Eros VR site and finds himself in the position of experiencing a teenage girl’s sexual arousal at Mantoni’s overtures.
Brown does not explore the issue in any depth, but thankfully neither does he moralise or allow Halliday outbursts of righteous self-disgust at these feelings.
The subject matter of course, relates directly to contemporary worries about older men (or indeed women) ‘grooming’ children on the internet whom the subsequently meet in the real world, which no doubt strikes a chord with many parents of internet users.
It’s a novel of a certain type, in that it is a lightweight, enjoyable read. ‘For those who like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing they will like’. It will appeal, I would imagine to those who don’t read a lot of Science Fiction.
My main problem with it (and it’s a minor niggle) is Halliday who, despite his dead boss and absconded ex-girlfriend, is just too patient and too likeable. Detectives should have psychological problems and speak rudely to anyone within earshot, or else have a deep dark secret. Even Sherlock Holmes had his seven percent solution to take the edge off his too-good-to-be true-ness. They should be tolerated only because they are the only ones capable of solving the case. Being nice is just not an option.