Pyr, an Imprint of Prometheus Books
Reviewed by Dan Bieger
Lou Anders says in his introduction: What follows are fourteen tales, from the comedic to the cautionary, as different as the seventeen writers who penned them, as current as tomorrow, and as wild as imagination –and the only constant in them is the reality and inevitability of change. Because, as this volume testifies, the future lies ahead of us, and it’s coming fast.
Catherine Drewe, Paul Cornell
Evidently a set-up piece for a new world and a new set of adventures, this piece introduces a universe where the kingdoms of the 18th century are still plying their destinies, where science progressed through chemistry and the soft sciences rather than through physics so that it is possible to install a cover identity capable of withstanding state-of-the-art probes on top of a true identity; where folk can see and act on visions, and where nuclear power has not been dreamt of. The latter fact is the crux of the story and the pivot point in the relationship between the British agent sent to Mars to put a stop to Catherine Drewe’s meddling. There are some great bits dropped: the British fox hunt transformed into a clone hunt with the added attraction the prey becomes dinner; a needle into space sited in Woomera; the custom of ordering and consuming half the drink, the other half to be consumed upon return from the mission. This one makes you look forward to what Cornell has yet to say in this universe.
Cyto Couture, Kay Kenyon
This one sees a future of gene splicing, sentient flora, and the ugly ducklings running off with the loot. Think about Cinderella’s Stepsisters’ revenge.
The Sun Also Explodes, Chris Nakashim-Brown
Start with the horrifically delicious notion of home science gene splicing kits for adolescents, watch the world spin away from there, and then narrow your focus to prosthetics. Now, you have a tale of the mechanical versus the biotic and a patent for a penile prosthetic. You also get a handful of section titles derived from famous novel titles, as in the story’s title.
The Kindness of Strangers, Nancy Kress
An alien invasion, most of humanity dying off, and a love triangle gone terribly wrong add up to the basis for the next rebellion. What the aliens do and why are most logical, most apt for the story’s title. The net result of their efforts is also logical and predictable.
Alone with an Inconvenient Companion, Jack Skillingstead
Most of us get annoyed when all the well-intentioned people in the world attempt to control our lives for own good. Skillingstead shows us what the next logical step for the do-gooders will be. It isn’t pretty; in fact, it’s scary as hell!
True Names, Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow
Imagining a universe where life is based on code, a netspace of standard coding entities, e.g., filters, strategies, et al., the authors bring us the eternal struggle between chaos/Standard Existence – consisting of agglomerated codons in a voluntary society where each has a function and each has a say– and order – consisting of programs designed to produce stable policies that eliminate randomness for all entities. Chaos and order might fight the good fight throughout eternity save for a third entity named Brobdignag, nihilism incarnate intent on destroying order and chaos wherever they might be found. The story demands attention to detail as the bits and pieces are exotic, flow unevenly but logically to arrive at the climactic battle.
Molly’s Kids, Jack McDevitt
Can an Artificial Intelligence be expended in the best interests of mankind? What if the AI disagrees? If the plan proceeds, man will achieve interstellar travel. If the plan fails, man will have to think of another way.
Adventure, Paul McAuley
Some things don’t change. Even with colonization of the stars, loneliness breeds fantasies. Living out one’s fantasies in the far future involves the same risks as attempting to do so in the first part of the 21st century. There are upsides and down, mostly down.
Not Quite Alone in the Dream Quarter, Mike Resnick & Pat Cadigan
There are creatures to give humans dreams – visions, pictures, sensations, ideas. Gratification. What do they get in return?
An Eligible Boy, Ian MacDonald
When there are many more men than women, the dating scene in Delhi will be quite different but people will remain people. The haves will always use the have-nots.
SeniorSource, Kristine Kathryn Rusch
What if companies and planets outsourced work to space? What kind of people would be recruited and what would be the nature of their contracts? And how would one beat the system?
Mitigation, Karl Schroeder & Tobias S. Buckell
A few years from now, with global warming wreaking astonishing second and third order havoc, the seeds secreted away at Svalbard become booty, a treasure some countries want to acquire for their own survival, not by using them but by ransoming them. A man and a woman set out to prevent this disaster but their individual solutions differ. A nice twist tells us who succeeded.
Long Eyes, Jeff Carlson
As with McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang, Carlson gives us a human integrated into a starship making the trek through interstellar space. She discovers her benefactors trusted the AI more than they trust her. The ship forces investigations she doesn’t want to make but she cannot override them. An instant threat on a discovered planet provides the means for her to achieve freedom.
The Gambler, Paolo Bacigalupi
The internet gets carried to a place where it is the only source of information, where search engines mate with sampling engines to create a news business driven by hits. The more hits, the more profit and the score card is instantaneously visible on all screens everywhere. Now, take two immigrants from a despotic land, one fully acclimatized to the world as it is and one who wants news to be news. Together, they establish the possibility. Alone, he tries to make it happen.
Each of these stories is well-written, well thought out, and thoroughly enjoyable. Try to pick a best of the bunch and you’ll change your mind on every vote.