Overall this book of short stories is good but the range of styles and sub-genres varies greatly and the stories often do not live up to the talent of the contributors. I recommend it – there are some excellent stories – but taken as a whole the book does not live up to expectations.
Normally, I start with a summary of the opening chapters of the book, but as this is all short stories, I shall provide a quick summary of each, including my overall opinion:
• “A Smart Well-Mannered Uprising of the Dead” by Ian McDonald. The dead post messages on social media. Good fun but no surprises.
• “The Incredible Exploding Man” by Dave Hutchison. An interesting take on what visiting other dimensions might do to you. Exciting and interesting. One of the best.
• “Sweet Spots” by Paul di Filippo. A boy realizes he can create interesting situations by initiating long chains of events at specific “sweet spots”. Will he use his talent for good or evil? An unusual premise well told but the last sentence fails to satisfy.
• “The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three” by Ken Macleod. The French demonstrate a flying saucer based on anti gravity, but is it a fake? Intriguing and interesting but told at a slow pace.
• “The One that Got Away” by Tricia Sullivan. A group of people are on a beach looking for something called “core” while others film them for social media. Peculiar and vague throughout with an unsatisfying and rather opaque ending.
• “Rock Day” by Stephen Baxter. A boy and his dog find themselves to be one of the last survivors, but the reason is not the usual apocalypse and the boy’s role is not obvious. An interesting approach on the post-apocalypse plot but overall too contrived.
• “Eluna” by Stephen Palmer. A woman learns how to pollinate plants that can become star ships. An interesting world, well presented in an exciting story. One of the better stories with a twist to the ending.
• “Shall I Tell You the Problem with Time Travel?” by Adam Roberts. Time travel has a side effect that may explain some past events. An interesting idea but by the time it reaches the end there are no surprises.
• “The Lives and Deaths of Che Guevara” by Lavie Tidhar. Che Guevara is cloned and his clones turn up in many places. A slow-paced and pedestrian tale without much insight into cloning.
• “Steel Lake” by Jack Skillingstead. A man accidentally takes experimental drugs and can no longer sleep but he still can dream. An interesting portrayal of a father’s regrets with respect to his son. Not strong fantasy but interesting and insightful. Another good story.
• “Mooncakes” by Mike Resnick and Laurie Tom. A woman is about to leave Earth forever and wishes she could see her sister to share the chinese moon cake festival. The story focuses on her reflections and feelings. The SF aspects are coincidental. Well written but not to my tastes.
• “At Play in the Fields” by Steve Rasnic Tem. A man is revived from cryogenic suspension by a sapient alien plant to help it excavate human archaeological sites. The aliens are suitably obscure and weird but the story doesn’t seem to go anywhere in particular.
• “How We Came Back from Mars” by Ian Watson. A story that pokes fun at the moon hoax claims. Good fun and scarily believable. Probably the best story.
• “You Never Know” by Pat Cadigan. A shop gets a new security camera installed but it seems to be working in an odd way linked to collapsing quantum fields. A well told story but a bit hard to figure out what’s actually going on, even at the end.
• “Yestermorrow” by Richard Salter. Everyone’s consciousness is out of time order. So you wake up and need to check a diary to see what date you’re living today. This also means that you know when you’ll die, except that a murderer is snatching people just before they die and killing them. An interesting and entertaining new angle on a murder mystery, although the time travel aspect has too many logical errors to convince.
• “Dreaming Towers, Silent Mansions” by Jaine Fenn. A group of people have been transported to somewhere unknown to investigate what they find but they mysteriously disappear and die. Lots of intrigue as to what’s going on and an interesting conclusion that explains everything.
• “Eternity’s Children” by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown. A man returns to a planet that he fell in love with many decades ago and agonizes over what will happen when he passes on a terrible message. A very well presented image of the planet and the messenger’s dilemma.
• “For the Ages” by Alastair Reynolds. A group of people are leaving a message for future generations carved on the diamond surface of a neutron star. The revelations of the survivors become steadily more interesting.
• “Return of the Mutant Worms” by Peter F. Hamilton. A highly successful writer is approached by someone who holds the copyright to publish one of his first and worst stories. A bit of entertaining fun being poked at successful and proud writers.
As a whole, I found this book unsatisfying. There are several good stories and there are a wide range of styles, so there really is something for everyone but the overall effect falls flat. Each story starts with an introduction indicating the awards and successes of the authors and they are very impressive, so you would expect every story to excel, but there are too many stories that are pedestrian.
The stories are generally interesting with some clever ideas, but none of them really struck me as being enthralling, or better yet, challenged me to think about how I view the world. This is something I expect from good sci fi short stories. I also like short stories that stay in my mind and explode into new ideas or that have a clear satisfying ending, but most of these had neither. Too often an interesting start falls flat on the last page or the pace is slow and so it becomes a struggle to get to the end.
The stories tick all the boxes in terms of technical presentation, they are well written with no obvious errors of grammar, viewpoint, etc.
At this point in my review I usually give the Book Awards to send up the best and worst features of what I’ve just reviewed, but since this is such a wide-ranging set of stories it does not seem appropriate.
To summarise, this book is interesting and diverting but there was not enough to excite me or to challenge my worldview. I recommend it, but the reader might not want to bother reading every story right to the end.