Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Mammoth Book of Science Fiction

A large (and pretty good) collection stories read piece by piece during the last 12-14 months. The overall quality was pretty good; most of the stories were well worth reading. There from a wide variety of source and time periods giving an interesting cross section of science fiction.

Ulla, Ulla • (2002) • shortstory by Eric Brown
The first expedition to Mars returns. There was a strange break-up of transmission during a Mars-walk, and rumors abound that the expedition made some strange discovery. The members of the expedition naturally deny everything and tell that to breakup was due from one member of the group dropping into a chasm. But there was really a find – something really unexpected. A very well told story. There was perhaps too little drama, but otherwise excellent story. ****
Deathday • [Confederation Universe Stories] • (1991) • novelette by Peter F. Hamilton
A man, whose wife has died from a disease on a new, very sparsely habited colony planet, hunts an alien beast as a way to cope with his grief. A well-written story with a twist which was surprising on other hand, but on the other was a pretty well know sf trope. ***½
The Infinite Assassin • (1991) • shortstory by Greg Egan
An assassin is able to perceive the countless (countless like the real numbers, not just countless like integers) alternative realities. His goal is to stop the spread of a vortex of slippage between realities, caused by dreams of a drug user. As he gets closer, the reality is shifting more and more. As he is the same in all the realities he, or at least some version of him, is able to get closer…A very good, well written alternative realities story. ****
Anachron • (1954) • shortstory by Damon Knight
A man discovers a way to make a sort of time portal. He starts to steal antiques through it. It seems that there are some strict natural laws preventing paradoxes. The story is fairly confusing, and even the protagonist has some trouble understanding what exactly is going on. A pretty average story. ***
Firewatch • [Time Travel] • (1982) • novelette by Connie Willis (variant of Fire Watch)
A story from the Oxford time travel series. As usual all characters are bumbling idiots and the organization of time travelers is totally incompetent. A student who was supposed to study the actual St Paul at Middle East journeys to the St. Paul Cathedral during the Blitz. I wonder if the world of these stories suffered some sort of plague, which lowered everyone’s IQ by 30-40 points? The “hero” of the story is a very good example of a typical whiny and stupid person, who is the common protagonist in Willis’s stories. ***
At the 'Me' Shop • (1995) • novelette by Robert Reed
A young boy is taking care of a shop, where you can’t book “a date” with yourself at earlier age. There are different people who meeting different age versions of themselves for different purposes. A poetically written story, but seems to lack something. ***
Vinland the Dream • (1991) • shortstory by Kim Stanley Robinson
A dig which studies the remains of the Vikings in the presumed site of Vinland. It is starting to seem that all the ruins are a very elaborate hoax from the 19th century. The writing is pretty good but aside some philosophical points I really didn’t get what was the meaning of the story. ***+
A Ticket to Tranai • (1955) • novelette by Robert Sheckley
A well known classic about a man who hears about a nice planet where life is really free. There are no taxes, there ample opportunities for everyone and women are young and beautiful. But it turns out that there are some catches. And then some more catches. And then even more. An excellent ironic story, one of the funniest and best science fiction novelettes ever. *****
The Exit Door Leads In • (1979) • shortstory by Philip K. Dick
A man takes part to a lottery and “wins” a compulsory military college education. The school and education seem kind of surreal and there might be a hidden agenda behind everything. Not one what could be expected, though. A pretty good story which felt a bit rushed, a slightly longer form might have been better. ***+
What Have I Done? • (1952) • shortstory by Mark Clifton
A man is able to “see” inside anyone almost instantly. He can tell what kind of person anyone is. He is working as an employment agent and is perfectly suited for the job. One day he meets a man who feels empty inside. He turns out to be an alien and the aliens are planning to conquer the Earth. The employment agent is more or less blackmailed to help the aliens in their assimilation. But he has a plan, a pretty nihilistic one. A pretty dark story considering that aliens are most likely defeated. Mark Clifton apparently really hated humankind. ***½
Finis • (1906) • shortstory by Frank Lillie Pollock [as by Frank L. Pollock ]
End of the world story. The light of the giant sun at the exact centre of the universe finally arrives at Earth. The scientific background was very quaint and likely implausible even from the standard of 1906, but the writing was surprisingly readable and even moving. I wonder if Larry Niven was familiar with this story – there is a major similarity with “Inconstant Moon”. ***½
The Last Days of Earth: Being the Story of the Launching of the "Red Sphere" • (1901) • shortstory by Geo. C. Wallis [as by George C. Wallis ]
Another end of the world story. This time the sun is running out, and the few last humans are waiting for the failure of last human machines. For some reason they are allowed to leave only then in a ball shaped space ship, which is apparently run by magic. Clearly less good than the former story and more dated. **½
Approaching Perimelasma • (1998) • novelette by Geoffrey A. Landis
A trip through a black hole. The protagonist is an AI copy of a human who is loaded to a very tiny robot onboard a tiny experimental ship. A first part was kind of slow, but the second half gave a lot of wonderful sense of wonder. A nice story. ***½
The Pen and the Dark • (1966) • novelette by Colin Kapp
An expedition to a strange alien artifact, which seems to absorb everything, both matter and energy which hits it, and seems to suck out all energy which even comes near. A pretty talky and pretty stupid story, with fairly fascinating alien object, but with horribly inane science. So absurd, that it could have been written in the 30s. Badly overlong and with weak finish. **
Inanimate Objection • (1954) • novelette by H. Chandler Elliott
Physical objects have malicious effort against people, or at least a mental patient thinks so. His doctors might be persuaded to think so, also as the evidence seems to be mounting. Pretty unlikely, but okayish story. ***-
The Very Pulse of the Machine • (1998) • novelette by Michael Swanwick
A woman is trying to survive on Io. She is the lone survivor of an accident which left her friend dead. There is a fair chance that she is able to hike to a base where there is oxygen and supplies available. But then someone or something establishes a radio contact with her. Who is talking to her? Or is it only a hallucination? And should she do what the voice suggests? A well written and excellent story with interesting main character. Could have been longer. ****
High Eight • (1965) • novelette by Keith Roberts [as by David Stringer ]
People burnt to crisp are found more and more near electric installations. A maintenance boss of an electric company tries to find out what is going on. There doesn’t seem to be any god explanation why people suddenly electrocute themselves. A badly overlong and rambling story with a downbeat ending. **½
Shards • (1962) • shortstory by Brian W. Aldiss
The start is confusing and very fragmented, just a stream of feeling and sights. The end explains everything pretty well. A nice story which works pretty well. ***½
Except My Life³ • (1991) • novelette by John Morressy (variant of Except My Life, Except My Life, Except My Life)
A group of clones (who works as a private detective) tries to solve a crime involving the best actor/actress (also cloned) ever have existed. A pretty inventive and well written story, but some tightened might have made it more effective. A fascinating way to indicated what clone was doing and saying what. They were all “I”, but with different superscripts, like I1 and me3. ****-
Into Your Tent I'll Creep • (1957) • shortstory by Eric Frank Russell
An emissary of alien visitors finds that he can hear the thoughts of dogs. Dogs are apparently the real masters of the earth, subtly influencing humans via mind control. And humans have already donated a breeding pair of dogs for the aliens. And the dogs seem really, really cute and something which should be pampered…A fun little story. But I was slightly disappointed that the REAL masters of Earth were not mentioned. Not a word about cats. ****
A Death in the House • (1959) • shortstory by Clifford D. Simak
A lonely farmer rescues a ship wrecked alien. He tries to get help from someone, but doesn’t find anyone who would be able and/or ready to offer any. When the alien dies the local priest refuses burial in the cemetery. The farmer respectfully buries the alien on his own property. He is due for a surprise, but he must also make a sacrifice. A wonderfully story thematically very close to Way Station, one of my all-time favorite novels. This might even be a prequel of sorts? ****+
Refugium • shortstory by Stephen Baxter
Humans have started to explore other solar systems with remote probes. No intelligent life has been found, but there are a lot of ruins which seem abandoned. There are some strange looking bubbles orbiting many of those worlds. Then similar bubbles are found on Oort Cloud making it possible to get to them. Two men with severe financial trouble are more or less forced to go inside one by a fairly disrespectful business man. (I believe there would be a few million volunteers...). And there is a solution for the Fermi paradox. An excellent story, but too short. Well, _nothing_ would long enough to properly convey what might happen next. ****+

498 pp.

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