Monday, September 15, 2008

Book #27, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine: 30th Anniversary Anthology, edited by Sheila Williams

An outstanding anthology -- probably won't offer anything new to regular readers of SF who will already be familiar with the works, but these stories are worth having in one volume and worth re-reading (and Asimov's and Tachyon are worth supporting, of course). My random thoughts, with no pretense of detachment or critical perspective:

John Varley - "Air Raid"
Oh yeah. Muscular writing; breathless; fun use of language and time-travel; not for the squeamish; truly weird but hyper-realistic.

Robert Silverberg - "The Time of the Burning"
Fine fine writing; a quiet story about the ravages and exhaustion of war, the personal scale and sacrifice; ethics pitched against politics and desire in the flames; a chamber piece that burns with emotion; understated and elegant.

Octavia E. Butler - "Speech Sounds"
So what do we turn to when speech fails? A little slow-moving and too much "what-if exercise" for my tastes; felt heavy-handed.

Bruce Sterling - "Dinner in Audoghast"
Exquisite delicate descriptions; ancient wonders brought to life; ironic, subtle, inevitable.

Isaac Asimov - "Robot Dreams"
Sparsely told, focused on the idea of martyrs and visionaries, the inspirational power of dreams; the flow of history and how humans might mold it; how to keep the Three Laws in check, even in the unconscious.

Kim Stanley Robinson - "Glacier"
Lovely imagery, family setting; a few ominous overtones; environmental/landscape backdrop essential; a little over-long.

Connie Willis - "Cibola"
Snappy, fascinating, well-researched, funny; sharply-drawn, odd Rosa; sardonic, modern but richly allusive of the past.

Jonathan Lethem - "The Happy Man"
Awakenings meet Born With the Dead, except we get to see Hell also, and it's made into a video game. Superb. First-person narration/voice is impeccable. One of the darkest stories I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Hope I never meet The Happy Man.

Mike Resnick - "Over There"
Alternate history; transparent writing; a little lacking in pathos; not all the comedic touches worked for me; clever scenes and settings; sure I missed the significance of certain details.

Ursula K. LeGuin - "Ether, OR"
Didn't do it for me. Excellent voices, character connections, mosaic backdrop depiction. Individual moments that forced me to take note, yes, but sum experience disappointing.

Kelly Link - "Flying Lessons"
Outstanding narrative construction, character development, touching and smart, feeling original even when pulling from classic allusions etc. Stand-out.

Michael Swanwick - "Ancient Engines"
Irresistible, specially if you enjoy perfectly crafted stories with talking heads and big ideas. Plus life-extension is a favorite subject of mine. (Tiny question, I couldn't figure this out: why does the mech not know what a Googol is?)

James Patrick Kelly - "Itsy Bitsy Spider"
Man oh man, talk about miniature masterpieces. So smoothly crafted it's invisible; my favorite type of story, character transformation/transition, substantial emotion; genuine poignancy achieved through setting; layers. I can't believe retroburbs don't exist. They have to, and if they don't right now, we'll see them soon, maybe in Tokyo, or maybe in Dubai.

Charles Stross - "Lobsters"
Conceptual soup, a la super-chunky; exposition and brain-candy rule; frenetic pace, as though Stross' plotting is always one step behind his own breathless smarts and just can't catch up. Must-read, but not for the characters or punch to the gut. Mmmm idea-protein bar.

Lucius Shepard - "Only Partly Here"
We get the ultra-crafty voice, the heart-rending setting and impossible possibility of survival, longing, connection, closure. 9/11 blues refracted through verbal absynth. Literary and penetrating; the dialogue, and dialogue-to-narrative transitions, are the most effective of any story in this anthology.

Stephen Baxter - "The Children of Time"
Cosmic panorama, episodic; clever parallels; grandeur and beauty; but evolutionary science versus , and proceedings seem a bit artificially inflated with importance

Robert Reed - "Eight Episodes"
So what about that Fermi Paradox? Very clever, and taking on the far-out with the commonplace; expertly paced and detail-oriented; you can't not watch until the last episode.
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