Comments on each story:
- Greg Egan, “Dust” — The thing I like about Egan is that he writes science fiction similar to the kind I try to write–philosophical yet grounded in reality. It’s not hard SF, yet it’s not so wacko or adventure-based that it loses its message. This story is a nice mixture of the introspection of AI and cloning, the nature of self and reality.
- Terry Bisson, “Two Guys from the Future” — Bisson’s always good for these light, but excellently done, clever stories. In this one he plays fast and loose with time travel and art.
- Nancy Kress, “The Mountain to Mohammed” — Kress continues her raid on the politics and issues of our time, this one taking a long view on the escalation of malpractice insurance and existing medical conditions. Her future is bleak, but there’s a neat and clever ray of hope.
- Ian Watson, “The Coming of Vertummus” — Wow! What a ride. Watson here pulls out all the stops, doing a tiny version of what Robert Anton Wilson has made his life work: the very question of is history true, can it be trusted. But he goes beyond that and also delves into the question of trusting the mind after drugs. The ending is the only weak spot, petering out a bit to show the character’s state, but all in all, great fun.
- Robert Silverberg, “A Long Night’s Vigil at the Temple” — I don’t care for the majority of Silverberg stories–they seem to go on forever with very little interesting things happening. This one is like a deep dive into the mind of a priest, the concept had promise, but the execution was boring.
- Arthur C. Clarke, “The Hammer of God” — I don’t read that much hard SF–I never read much of it in the past either–but Clarke has always had a way of bringing me into a good nuts and bolt story, and it’s nice to see that he hasn’t lost his touch. Basically a study of a possible asteroid collision with the Earth, but also some nice jabs at politics and religion.
- Ian R. McLeod, “Grownups” — Kind of unsettling, in the “Bloodchild” soft of way, but not as ultimately affecting because it had no tie to our experience–some kind of connection to our sexual lives, not necessarily an explanation, but inferences beyond the obvious.
- Joe Haldeman, “Graves” — Seems like I’ve read this one before, possibly in Datlow’s Annual? In any case, not bad, but nothing to give an award to either. Decent use of personal knowledge and experience with a supernatural slant.
- Steven Utley, “The Glowing Cloud” — This was way long for the subject, which seemed to me to be old hat anyway–that is, the ethics of changing the past. Didn’t care for it at all.
- Tom Maddox, “Gravity’s Angel” — Dated now that the collider was killed in Congress, but you don’t have to let that affect what is basically a study in the attitudes of scientists rather than the usual focus in science fiction on the science itself. A little long for the subject, but well done.
- Maureen F. McHugh, “Protection” — I really liked this story–great setup, great characters, great idea. But it lacked one thing: a great ending. Still, this could be the basis for a great novel, which is likely the point here.
- Neal Barrett, Jr., “The Last Cardinal Bird in Tennessee” — Interesting structure–it’s told as a script to a play–but the subject is a little worn (future world in which everything’s just gone downhill). As a deviant block off of Tennessee Williams, it’s amusing, but I wouldn’t care for another go.
- Robert Reed, “Birth Day” — Simple little “AIs take over the world” story, but done with wit and feeling. Reed has a good touch, almost similar to James Morrow on a good day. Enjoyed this one.
- Pat Cadigan, “Naming Names” — A gem from Cadigan, and I’d say that even if I wasn’t biased. This one runs from the old premise that everyone has a secret name that gives you power over them, and turns some interesting corners.
- Jonathan Lethem and Lukas Jaeger, “The Elvis National Theater of Okinawa” — Short, simple, culturally on-line and hip. Didn’t care for it much but I don’t do hip so well anymore.
- Bradley Denton, “The Territory” — Tried to like this, an alternate history of the civil war with Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) as the main character, but I don’t care for the time period, and Denton didn’t provide enough oomph this time to carry me. Dozed off several times when reading this.
- Ian McDonald, “The Best and the Rest of James Joyce” — Several alternate histories featuring the old dubliner himself. Interesting, but I’m sure that I missed a lot of the cleverness by not being a Joyce-a-phile.
- Kate Wilhelm, “Naming the Flowers” — A strong story from Wilhelm about a strange child and a man with a desire to be more than just a success. I’ve never read Wilhelm’s novels, but I rarely dislike her short stories, and this one is one of the best. Poignant and rewarding.
- Ian R. MacLeod, “Snodgrass” — This time an alternate history story in which Stu Sutcliffe replaces John Lennon in the Beatles. 1992 was a year for alternate history stories, I guess. I liked this one a lot; MacLeod, I think, took a chance on his portrayal of the down-and-out Lennon, and I sense it was a good one.
- Kathe Koja, “By the Mirror of My Youth” — A twisty story by Koja. I would have liked it, I think, except that she spent way too much time being stylistic rather than just getting on with the story.
- Frederick Pohl, “Outnumbering the Dead” — Great story from the grandmaster. In this tale of a mortal among immortals, Pohl doesn’t necessarily make a point, but carefully shows us the humanity of one brave individual.
I read this collection over the space of four years, picking it up off and on. It was from no fault of the collection’s, just my weird reading habits. In retrospect, it was probably Utley’s story that had me stymied for so long. As normal, I disagree with Dozois’ choices about 25%, 50% I could take or leave, and think the remaining 25% golden. This anthology series is one, however, that I would hate to do without, even given those odds.
[Finished 16 April 1997]