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Gregory Benford
Lucky Bat Books, 225 pages

Gregory Benford
Gregory Benford is a physicist and astronomer at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of a series of hard SF novels, beginning with In the Ocean of Night (1978) and following quickly with works such as Timescape (1980) and the popular Galactic Centre series, including Across the Sea of Suns, Great Sky River (1987), Tides of Light (1989) and Furious Gulf (1994).

Gregory Benford Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Martian Race
SF Site Review: Worlds Vast and Various
SF Site Review: Eater
SF Site Review: Deep Time
SF Site Review: Against Infinity
SF Site Review: Artifact
SF Site Review: Cosm
SF Site Review: Foundation's Fear

Past Feature Reviews
A review by D. Douglas Fratz

Gregory Benford has been one of science fiction's foremost authors for more than four decades, writing hard SF novels and stories that are among the best in each decade since the 70s. A new Benford short story collection is therefore a notable event. It has been more than a decade since his last short story collection (Worlds Vast and Various in 1999, which was followed by a collection of four novellas, Immersions and Other Short Novels, in 2002). Anomalies includes most (but not all) of his short stories from the 2000s, plus a few earlier stories, seventeen in all, along with new and insightful afterwords.

It is a testament to the quality of Benford's stories that nine of the seventeen stories here were included in one or more best-of-the-year collections, and those stories are indeed among the best in the collection. They include two stories from earlier collections, which open and close the volume: "A Worm in the Well" and "Doing Lennon." The first is a 1994 story introducing intrepid independent space miner and spaceship pilot Claire Ambrase, included with its sequel (written twelve years later) "The Worm Turns." These stories of extreme hard SF adventure feature one of Benford's most memorable protagonists, Claire, a female loner (with some decidedly masculine attitudes) and her sardonic ship-computer, Erma. (It is surprises me that Benford has not written more stories featuring Claire and Erma.) "Doing Lennon" (1975) was one of the most memorable time travel stories of the 70s, and certainly worthy of inclusion here. The only other earlier story included is "Lazarus Rising" (1982), a gripping action story about a man who wakes to find himself on life support, unable to move, as he hears technicians discussing pulling the plug.

Benford's most common themes are time travel and hard-science (primarily physics and cosmology) speculation, and those abound in this volume. The best time-travel story here (besides "Doing Lennon") is "Mercies" (2011) about a man who travels back in time to kill serial killers before they begin their reigns of terror. "Caveat Time Traveler" (2008) is also a short but interesting time-travel story. The best hard-SF speculation stories include parallel universe story "Twenty-Two Centimeters" (2004) and "Gravity's Whisper" (2010), a short piece centering on number theory. "Applied Mathematical Theory" (2006) is a short idea-story about seeking to explain cosmic microwave data -- an interesting story, but the theological theme seemed strained to me. The title story, "Anomalies" (1999), is another idea story positing that the observable universe is merely programmed data that can be subject to correctable glitches -- very well written, but I found the idea itself not especially profound.

Several other stories here are clearly post-9/11 works, involving Islamic settings or themes. Perhaps the finest is "The Semisent" (2006) about a young Iraqi girl who is given a semi-sentient device that becomes critical to her future life, a short but very effective story. "The Man Who Wasn't There" (2005) is a typical post-9/11 story of intrigue involving the European Islamic Front. "Ol' Gator" (2003) is a gripping and haunting story of an American soldier in the Iraq war who observes surreal and ironic events, and is particularly notable for its interesting back-story on recent Iraqi history. (Strangely, this story was not chosen for any of the best-of-the-year anthologies.)

Two other pieces here also are must-reading. "The Champagne Award" is an engaging story set in an over-populated future where "kid-credits" are bought and sold. "Isaac from the Outside" is a poem about Isaac Asimov that is both touching and genuine, and will be especially appreciated by anyone who knew him.

Some of the stories here are not quite as strong as the others. In particular, "The Final Now" (2010) is an end-of-times dialogue that did not resonate with me and "Comes the Revolution" (2001) I found to be perplexingly incomprehensible. But overall, this is a superior collection that provides worthy reading for any fan of hard science fiction. Benford's afternotes are also well worth perusing, as they provide some fine insights into him and fiction; especially notable were his description of the role of his subconscious in his writing.

It is well worth your time to find and read Anomalies. I also can't help but note that here are superior Benford stories published in recent years that are not included here, and I hope that we will see another collection before the decade ends.

Copyright © 2013 D. Douglas Fratz

D. Douglas Fratz has more than forty years experience as editor and publisher of literary review magazines in the science fiction and fantasy field, and author of commentary and critiques on science fiction and fantasy literature and media.

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