Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 21, edited by Gardner Dozois (Part 3)

Into the third batch of eight stories (one more batch to go):

Sanjeev and Robotwallah by Ian McDonald. A youth in a future India is entranced by the remotely-controlled battle robots he sees in action and becomes determined to get involved. But reality proves less glamorous than he expected.

The Skysailor's Tale by Michael Swanwick. Another dissatisfied youth, this time in an alternative America in the Revolutionary War period. A vast British flying craft with a crew of a thousand, held up by a huge number of hydrogen-filled balloons, appears in the sky over his home town and of course proves irresistable to the youth. A story strong in atmosphere and convincing detail, as I have come to expect from this writer.

Of Love and Other Monsters by Vandana Singh. Yet another youth, in India again, who has the ability to weave minds together. He slowly finds out more about his origins as he constantly tries to escape the attentions of a man like himself - only far more powerful. An original and intriguing tale.

Steve Fever by Greg Egan. Dissatisfied youth number four (am I detecting a theme here?) in a future USA feels powerfully drawn to escape his farm and head for the city. But his impulse is not self-generated, and he is being called to the city for a bizarre purpose. A strange tale of nanobots out of control.

Hellfire at Twilight by Kage Baker. A time-travelling cyborg tasked with retrieving historical documents is sent back to the notorious Hellfire Club, a group of British aristocrats devoted to excess in depravity. He is after a Greek scroll describing the ceremony of the Eleusinian Mysteries , but find himself involved more closely than he expected. This one reminds me of Connie Willis's novel To Say Nothing of the Dog.

The Immortals of Atlantis by Brian Stableford. The destruction of fabled Atlantis, a biotechnologically advanced civilisation when the rest of humanity was still in the Stone Age, led the inhabitants to ensure their survival via latent mitochondrial DNA, which could be awakened in the unsuspecting carriers by the application of a sequence of drugs. An interesting notion given an unexpected twist in this short story, in which a woman in a present-day housing estate receives a peculiar visitor. I particularly enjoyed the wry description of the crime-ridden slum estate: "The Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses had stopped coming to the estate years ago, because there were far easier places in the world to do missionary work - Somalia, for instance, or Iraq".

Nothing Personal by Pat Cadigan. A present-day US police detective is assailed by a growing feeling of dread, which seems to be associated with the natural deaths of two identical young girls. But much more than this is going on. Not time-travelling in this tale, but shifting between alternate realities.

Tideline by Elizabeth Bear. An crippled battle robot tries to use its last energy to create a suitable memorial for its dead human comrades on the beach of a distant shore, and strikes up an unlikely relationship with a young boy.

A varied mix of stories this time (except for the dissatisfied youths) with some original ideas and unpredictable plots, although the Bear story struck me as rather familiar. My favourites from this group are the ones by Swanwick and Baker.


Fred said...

Thanks for the reviews of the book. It's good to see some familar names still writing SF. I'm glad that Pat Cadigan is still active. She's hard to find now on the shelves in the US. I occasionally get lucky and find a UK import in a used bookstore. If I ever hear of a new one by her, I usually go to abebooks. I have a better chance finding it there than I would in one of the chains, which don't seem to know that books are published outside the US.

Anthony G Williams said...

I recognise the name Pat Cadigan, Fred, but I can't offhand recall anything by her that I've read before. Does she write novels as well as short stories? What's she best known for?

Fred said...

I think she's best known in the US for her novels:

-Dervish is Digital
-Tea From an Empty Cup

I think I recall that she was called by one reviewer the
First Lady of Cyberpunk.

Those are the ones I've found and read so far. She is supposed to have another one out, but I can't find it, either on abebooks or amazon. The title is _Reality Used to Be A Friend of Mine_ and supposedly came out in 2003.

Anthony G Williams said...

Those titles don't ring any bells with me - she must be one of those authors who have passed me by.

Oh well, I've just placed my annual amazon book order, which should keep me quiet this winter...

Carl V. Anderson said...

I read McDonald's collection, Cyberabad Days, earlier this year and Sanjeev and Robotwallah was the first story in that collection, and a great start to a fascinating group of stories. It will certainly be going on my 'best of' list this year as I have found myself thinking about the stories in this book off and on throughout the year.