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Malak by Peter Watts
This is quite an interesting and deeply unsettling story about the effect of giving military unmanned craft a “conscience” and autonomy, but with human override; Azrael is an interesting “character” (it’s an odd term to use, because Watts is careful to never allow Azrael true consciousness) and the story is strange and unusual, very well written and thought-provoking about cost/benefit analysis in conflict and the nature of war.
Watching the Music Dance by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Rusch is… a terrifying writer. This story is painful, emotionally wrenching, to read, because Suze and Nils are so powerfully written; and because it’s so immediate and painful, the impact of the mother on the child, and the father’s attempts to deal with it. Rusch creates a near-future which is horrifying in its plausibility, especially the no-supermen element, and the characters are so immediate; I finished this with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, and I suspect it would hit parents even harder. This is really powerful, and really strong.
Laika’s Ghost by Karl Schroeder
Schroeder’s story is a strange one, especially in a hard SF anthology (the Red Mars aspect of it – giving new meaning to the term, too – is unmistakable); imaginative, and with some wonderful characters and a near-future world no one would want to live in really, it’s a well-written and interesting story, but it does seem to break the science quite a lot. On the other hand it does also make an interesting tale, and one that is thought-provoking, so it is a good one, and a good piece of specfic.
The Invasion of Venus by Stephen Baxter
I quite like this one; it feels more like it belongs in Is Anybody Out There? in some respects, but it’s a good story, with fantastically explored implications (albeit not in the same direction I would have thought, but that’s part of what’s fascinating about it). It has a sense of the universe and humanity’s place in it, and it also has a lot of interesting discussion about intelligence and communication and futility; a thought-provoking, well-written story.
The Server and the Dragon by Hannu Rajaniemi
This is the first truly awesome story of the collection; Rajaniemi works on a scale and level way beyond that of any of the other authors so far. The idea of the server, the dragon, the baby universe and the events that happen within the story have so many implications and such a level of familiarity and strangeness that awe is the only appropriate reaction, and Rajaniemi really lets the story work on its own merits, and brilliantly so.
Bit Rot by Charles Stross
Stross’ story is a rather strange one; it mixes science fiction with scientific concepts in an easy and free manner, blending them together to the point that they are indistinguishable. This particular piece combines AI with zombies to come up with a brilliant horror story with unfolding strangeness; it’s a far-future story, akin to Rajaniemi’s, with space travel and interesting ideas (accurate science? I don’t know enough to say) but at most basic characterisation and a poor execution; the style doesn’t quite work, giving mixed results.
Creatures with Wings by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Goonan’s story feels like it should have a strong emotional punch, but it really, for me, doesn’t; it feels rather divorced from reality, with the character of Kyo somewhat strangely unsympathetic despite all attempts to make us empathise and connect with him. The plot of the story is equally odd, with religious meditations combining with psychophilosophical considerations to form a strange and semi-comprehensible whole that, unfortunately, really misses the mark…
Walls of Flesh, Bars of Bone by Damien Broderick and Barbara Lamar
This is a seriously weird story that, to me at least, really is inexplicable and nonsensical; it seems to involve a lot of complicated quantum theory that resolves into chaos (or possibly devolves from order into ordure, as the main character would have it).Whilst the characters are relatively well-written, they too devolve into the chaotic and impenetrable final part of the story that really makes this a strange unreadable morass…
Mantis by Robert Reed
This feels less like science fiction and more like philosophy, but the near-future setting, brilliantly realised, gives us two sets of first-person viewpoints and narratives, linked, to follow; Reed manages to make the story work brilliantly, leaving questions hanging in the most fantastic way and making the characters, and the story, linger in the mind with the unfinished nature of at least one half of the narrative powerfully incorporated into the story. This is seriously cool.
Judgement Eve by John C. Wright
Paradise Lost meets The Evitable Conflict here, in Wright’s science fictional Miltonian story of justice and pride; it starts shakily but gains strength and momentum as it continues, building and building to an inevitable, powerful, brilliant confrontation that is written with great soul and humanity. Hard science fiction this is not, but it is thought-provoking, interesting, well-written, and what science fiction aspires to be: about what it is to be human.
A Soldier of the City by David Moles
This is a somewhat unusual story; Moles builds a science fictional culture and setting, and doesn’t really explain how or why it would (could, should) work. It seems to draw on things like the SG-1 prominence of ancient religions, and on mythology, with Ish as a well-written and interesting character, but the plot is a little disjointed and there’s not enough information there to understand the story properly; I’m left with very mixed feelings.
Mercies by Gregory Benford
Benford’s time-travel story is quite brilliant; combining quantum, serial killers, and futuristic technology, we have a story of justice and mercy brilliantly told with well-written and interesting characters, obviously focused on Warren but also bringing in serial killers and other characters from the future, in such a way that we have a really well-told conception of justice, and indeed, of inevitability; a really good story, with an unsettling moral.
The Ki-Anna by Gwyneth Jones
Jones’ story is a really good one; it’s a cultural, human exploration of some really odd, interesting themes that we see through the eyes both of a member of the culture and an outsider, a human. The story as a whole is interesting in its refusal of the liberal shibboleth of cultural liberalism whilst also being nonjudgemental – it’s an anthropologist’s story, and a crime story, and all in all, fascinating and thought-provoking reading.
The Birds and the Bees and the Gasoline Trees by John Barnes
I… like this story. It’s strange, and happy, and romantic, and sweet, and deeply scientific and geeky, and uses terms like panspermia, and synthesises all these disparate different elements into a cohesive and coherent whole with sympathetic, brilliant characters, a number of issues – including the autonomy and humanity of “humaniforms” (androids, ish) – treated, and an avoidance of a single “concept” as the basis of the story. Barnes’ story is a brilliant closer for this anthology.

I have to say that Strahan's made a slightly mixed selection here; there are some fantastic stories in here, and some far less good ones, but overall the quality was high and the majority of the stories were decently applied to the theme, but it did seem to be a little too scattershot at times, with some of the stories ending up just messy meditations rather than actual stories. A good, but not brilliant, selection.


reading, books
Daniel Franklin


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