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Reality Dust
      Making History
Stephen Baxter
      Paul J. McAuley
Gollancz, 165 pages

Stephen Baxter
Stephen Baxter was born in 1957 and was raised in Liverpool. He studied mathematics at Cambridge and got a PhD from Southampton. He worked in information technology and lives in Buckinghamshire, England. His first story, "The Xeelee Flower," was published in Interzone 19.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Time Ships
SF Site Review: Origin
SF Site Review: Origin
SF Site Review: Longtusk and Deep Future
SF Site Review: Manifold: Space
SF Site Review: Longtusk
SF Site Review: Vacuum Diagrams
SF Site Review: Titan

Paul J. McAuley
Paul J. McAuley was born in England in 1955 and currently lives in Scotland. He worked as a researcher in biology at various universities before going to St. Andrew's University as a lecturer in botany for 6 years. He's chosen to move on to become a full-time writer.

His first novel, Four Hundred Billion Stars, won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award and several subsequent novels have been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, winning one for Fairyland which also won the 1997 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best SF Novel. His short story, "The Temptation of Dr. Stein," won the British Fantasy Award. Pasquale's Angel won the very first Sidewise Award for Alternate History (Long Form) in 1996. McAuley also produces a regular review column for Interzone and contributes reviews to Foundation.

Paul J. McAuley Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Fairyland
SF Site Reading List: Paul J. McAuley
SF Site Review: Whole Wide World
SF Site Review: The Secret of Life
SF Site Interview: Paul J. McAuley
SF Site Excerpt: The Secret of Life
SF Site Review: Shrine of Stars
SF Site Review: Pasquale's Angel
SF Site Review: Ancients of Days
SF Site Review: The Invisible Country
SF Site Review: Child Of The River
SF Site Review: Fairyland

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Reality Dust / Making History Raise your hand if you remember the Ace Doubles. All right, that separates the old-timers from the younger readers. The Ace Doubles were a series of paperbacks that featured two complete novels, printed back-to-back in the same volume. It was extra value for the reader and allowed the publication of some books that might not have sold so well on their own. The form died out as science fiction writers moved away from dependence on the magazines as their main outlet and SF novels became longer and longer in the 60s.

Yet writers have continued to use the short novel, or novella, as one of the best lengths for science fiction. It provides enough room to explore an idea and establish characters and story without requiring a two-week commitment on the part of anyone who wants to read it. But while the novella remains a staple of SF magazines, its length does not fit well in terms of a being published on its own. Thus Gollancz has revived the old double format, (at least in the UK), and, in the case of this volume containing stories by Stephen Baxter and Paul J. McAuley, we can all be glad they did.

Stephen Baxter's Reality Dust is a tale out of his Xeelee Sequence, a linked series of stories, most of them collected in Vacuum Diagrams, detailing the past and future history of not only the human race but of the universe as a whole. Reality Dust takes place in approximately 5400 A.D., just after the overthrow of the Qax Occupation. Hama is a young man charged with investigating the crimes of the Pharoahs, human beings gifted with immortality who served the Qax as administrators and governors. The underlying irony of the story is that during the three hundred years of the occupation the Qax systematically destroyed human culture on Earth, so that the remaining Pharoahs are the only people possessing any memory of humanity's past, killing them will sever the last remaining links to human history. The story proceeds as Hama and his companions travel to Callisto to investigate the activities of a renegade Pharoah named Reth Cana. This is exactly the kind of story that shows Baxter at his best, an interesting speculation in the strangeness of quantum reality with enough characterization and story to insure that it works as a piece of fiction, and not just a lecture on the odd fringes of physics. Reality Dust works both as a stand-alone story and as a new chapter in Baxter's future history.

History, and the way historians approach their craft, is the main theme of Paul J. McAuley's Making History. Fredo Graves, a proponent of the Great Man theory of history, which holds that history can best be viewed by studying the lives of exceptional individuals, has been sent to Saturn's moons to investigate and chronicle the life of Marisa Bassi, the leader of a recently failed revolution against the Three Powers Alliance. There he meets Demi Lacombe, a beautiful young woman working to restore the ecology destroyed in the war, and Dev Veeder, a colonel hunting down and interrogating the last of the rebels. The story unfolds tragically, as the lives of all three characters become intertwined. Making History is a somber story, the setting of a world in-between destruction and renewal gives it a tone very similar to that in Cordwainer Smith's "Alpha Ralpha Boulevard." By the end, the historian comes to realize that history does not always unfold the way we expect it to, and that surprises await anyone who tries to see the future strictly in terms of the past.

Both of the stories in this volume are fine examples of the craft of their respective authors. Readers already familiar with Stephen Baxter and Paul J. McAuley will find much to enjoy here, as will anyone looking for an introduction to the work of two of the better writers of contemporary science fiction.

Copyright © 2002 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson enjoys pondering history, past and future, from his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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