Published by The Science Fiction Book Club
In the sixth SFBC original anthology, editor Gardner Dozois casts his net to the far future, with six stories in sharing a theme centering on far-far-far-future human, and post-human, civilizations. Not surprisingly, Dozois has an impressive line-up of writers, all of whom have been nominated or received major genre awards.
The opening story is Robert Reed’s Good Mountain. Reed has been making a name in Hard SF/Space Opera, and here focuses on passengers trying to get to strange destinations aboard a living train. Not just on board, but inside an enormous worm, molded to hold its passengers. The bio-engineering marvel of such a creature was coupled very nicely with the mysterious destinations, as well as the mysterious passengers aboard the train.
Robert Silverberg’s story, A Piece of the Great World, places human characters in setting with a more familiar feeling; at one point, two of the characters go to an opera. The protagonists are shaggy post-humans, thinking themselves some experimental offshoot of the long-gone human. Silverberg describes them not unlike apes, or even Bigfoot, but their actions and emotions come across as familiar. Though set far beyond the years of human civilization, Silverberg imbued the story with very human and genuine sensibilities. Throughout the story, there is great tension and emotion, with a not-so-uplifting ending.
Nancy Kress is up next, and her story of cloning was a bit of a step-down from the previous two efforts. In the story, Mirror Image, Kress also takes the whole Big Brother notion to an almost frightening level, as a supercomputer connected to the world’s population may not be as flawless as though.
The next novella is the longest of the anthology, Alistair Reynolds’ Thousandth Night. I’ve been really enjoying Reynolds’ shorter (at least greater than novel-length) efforts of late and this story is no exception. The story feels a bit like Michael Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time stories, with a bit less decadence. Reynolds has carved something of a niche in Hard SF with much of his work having an air of mystery or noir. This story is no exception, as celebrants for the titular event discover the host of the party is not who they thought it was. The conspiracy at the heart of the story is at the heart of the very universe.
Charles Stross, one of the workhorses of British Hard-SF, provides the next story, Missile Gap. My only other experience with Stross’s writing is Singularity Sky, so I didn’t have too much with which to set my expectations. What initially seems like a typical Cold-War thriller becomes something more. The Americans and Soviets of the story are only approximations of their far distant ancestors, though the political climate comes across just as tense. However, the Earth is flat and trying to escape their respective portions of the world-disc is just as competitive for these two “nations.” Throughout the story, Stross does an excellent job of revealing just enough to keep the narrative moving along at a solid pace, without giving the reader a full picture of the story.
Riding the Crocodile by Greg Egan closes out the anthology. In this story, an aged couple of a 10,000 year marriage has understandably become complacent with their life. Feeling there is nothing new under the sun, they try to add some spice to their life. The last hurrah for these discontented immortals and is to communicate with aliens who have avoided human contact for years. I wasn’t as moved by the characters in this story as in Silverberg’s or Reynolds’ stories.
For me, Silverberg, Reynolds, Stross and Reed’s stories were big standouts. Though I found the Kress and Egan stories sub-par, my enjoyment of the other four stories did more than balance this into a very strong anthology. Wrapped in an evocative cover by genre superstar Bob Eggleton, this book is just one reason to become a member of the SFBC.
© 2007 Rob H. Bedford