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The Best of Michael Swanwick
Michael Swanwick
Subterranean Press, 464 pages

The Best of Michael Swanwick
Michael Swanwick
Michael Swanwick's third novel, Stations of the Tide, won a Nebula Award for best novel of 1991. It was also a nominee for the Hugo Award, as was his novella, Griffin's Egg, and was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in Britain. His first two published stories, The Feast of Saint Janis and Ginungagap were both Nebula Award finalists in 1980. Mummer Kiss was a Nebula Award nominee for 1981. The Man Who Met Picasso was a nominee for the World Fantasy Award in 1982.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Dragons of Babel
SF Site Review: The Dog Said Bow-Wow
SF Site Review: The Dog Said Bow-Wow
SF Site Review: Cigar-Box Faust, and Other Miniatures
SF Site Review: Cigar-Box Faust and Other Miniatures
SF Site Review: Tales of Old Earth
SF Site Review: The Iron Dragon's Daughter
SF Site Review: Jack Faust

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

There are many different ways of going about reviewing books, movies, music, or any other creative endeavor. The most common approach is generally to approach a work as an individual piece, context always helps but most things are reviewed and judged on their individual merits. Once in a while youll find a more substantial claim made, that the work on question is an example from an artist whose career work has been of such quality that it makes an argument for the worth of the artist and not just for the worth of one particular work.

By its title, the best of Micheal Swanwick might be thought to be an example of the first approach, a collection of bright spots out of three decades of writing. But the worth of these stories has already been judged. Out of the twenty-one stories in the collection, there's a Theodore Sturgeon Award winner, a World Fantasy Award winner, and five, count 'em, five, Hugo Award winners. The Best of Michael Swanwick is, on its own terms, a pretty convincing argument that when it come to short fiction, the best of Michael Swanwick is synonymous with the best in the field.

That said, there's no really good reason to go into the details of all the stories collected here. They're all worth any time spent reading and contemplating. In three of the stories, though, Swanwick picks up on one of the grand themes of science fiction; time travel, and a quick comparison of how time travel is used in each story goes along way towards demonstrating the range of artistry on display in The Best of Michael Swanwick.

Start with "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O," a story that mixes up historical eras from ancient Rome to sixteen-century Spain with MTV and characters out of myth and legend with the author's ability to directly confront the darker aspects of human behavior. Next, "Scherzo With Tyrannosaur" not only invokes and pays homage to "A Sound of Thunder" and "—All You Zombies—," two classics of the field, it adds its own contribution to the list of all-time great time travel paradoxes. Finally, there's "Triceratops Summer," a pastoral story in which a herd of triceratops suddenly appears in the Vermont countryside. People are curious but they don't panic, a local research institute admits to a slight accident and says they should be able to send them back in a few months, and the local residents' lives go on pretty much as before, with the exception of a few compromises made due to the occasional triceratops showing up in the backyard. It's a slice-of-Americana story made all the sharper by the addition of one element of the fantastic.

The Best of Michael Swanwick illustrates the same point over and over again. Here is the work of a writer who knows and understands the strengths and traditions of science fiction and fantasy and keeps finding new ways to make them his own. That's why, when finished with the collection, the reader is left with not just admiration and respect for Michael Swanwick the writer of story "A "or story "B," but for Michael Swanwick the writer, period.

Copyright © 2009 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson believes he knows a future Grandmaster when he sees one. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction. And, for something different, Greg blogs about news and politics relating to outdoors issues and the environment at Thinking Outside.

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