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Isaac Asimov's Detectives
edited by Gardner Dozois and Sheila Williams
Ace Books, 243 pages

Art: Andy Lackow
Isaac Asimov's Detectives
Gardner Dozois & Sheila Williams
Gardner Dozois is the editor of Asimov's SF Magazine. Together, he and Sheila Williams have edited eight books of the Isaac Asimov's... series from Ace Books.

Asimov's SF Magazine Website
Gardner Dozois: ISFDB Bibliography
Sheila Williams: ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Kim Fawcett

Remember as a child, hiding under the blankets with a flashlight and a book, trying to read just one more story before bed? Well, Isaac Asimov's Detectives is a book that will reawaken that youthful hunger and keep you reading well past your bedtime.

Six detective stories by six of the industry's biggest names, carefully selected by two well-known editors -- what could go wrong? Very little. In fact, this anthology's biggest fault is that, at 243 pages, it's far too short. However, editors Gardner Dozois and Sheila Williams chose their six stories well; originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction magazine between 1978 and 1995, together they present a great cross-section of science fiction and fantasy.

The stories are all good, and two are positively exceptional. Greg Egan's all-too-possible "Cocoon", for instance, is a chilling study in human nature. Set not too far in the future, gays and lesbians have finally achieved such a level of acceptance in society that some, like detective James Glass, no longer feel that their sexuality matters any more than the colour of their eyes. But does it? When Glass starts investigating the destruction of a genetic engineering research centre, the answers he finds lead him to doubt the true hearts of everyone around him. It's hard to make this story sound as enticing yet disturbing as it is without giving away the plot. I can tell you that it left me in denial, and as much as I'd love to believe that Egan's insights into human behaviour are off the mark, a persistent set of goose bumps say otherwise.

And then there's Nancy Kress's, "Fault Lines" -- more goose bumps. Who hasn't felt lonely at some point? Who hasn't been depressed? If you haven't, then this story won't touch you, but I'm betting it will. Retired cop Gene Shaunessy sleepwalks through day after day as a teacher. His wife lies comatose after a hit-and-run accident, and his visits to her have become little more than part of his routine. He is lonely, bitter, and withdrawn, and so when an old friend calls looking for help, Shaunessy tries to shrug him off. Elderly people are killing themselves in pairs, but they are all active, happy people in love with each other. So why the suicides? Shaunessy runs into obstacle after obstacle as he reluctantly searches for the true answer, while desperately trying to hold onto his comforting numbness. This story won't leave you basking in afterglow, but it will make you value life, and love, more highly.

"The Barbie Murders" is another delightful story, this time from John Varley. The most SF of the lot, this story takes place on a lunar colony. Now, imagine this -- you're a cop who's assigned a murder case. Easy job, open and shut. The entire murder is on video, with lots of witnesses, and you even have the murder weapon. Great, except that both victim and murderer belong to a cult that practices complete uniformity. Every member is completely identical. No fingerprints. No names. No possessions. No pasts. So how do you find one specific individual in a group where individuality is a crime? And what possible motive could a "barbie" have for murder? "The Barbie Murders" is an engaging projection of everyone's desire to fit in. One word: cool...

These three stories together comprise only fifty percent of the anthology, yet easily justify the price of the book. Nothing is perfect though, and ironically this anthology's weak link is Asimov's own contribution, "The Backward Look." This is a story about a story, or rather a story about writing a story. Compared to the other contributions, the abstract plot seems stilted, dry, and wholly without tension. The anthology would not have suffered from its exclusion.

Fortunately, the other two stories do deserve their places. Both Lisa Goldstein's "Rites of Spring" and Kate Wilhem's "The Gorgon Field" are well worth reading, and add a welcome fantasy element to the collection. The latter also adds some chills to leave you sleepless, if you make the mistake I made and try to read it at bedtime.

Looking back at the six stories presented in Isaac Asimov's Detectives, I'm impressed again at the overall quality. I'm sure I'll read most of them again -- always a good sign. The anthology covers 17 years of publishing history, however, making me wonder about the masses of stories that didn't make the cut. So, Gardner and Sheila, can you pull this off a second time? Let's hope.

Copyright © 1998 by Kim Fawcett

Kim Fawcett works, reads, writes, and occasionally sleeps in Ottawa, Canada. A day job working as a contract technical writer hinders her creative efforts, but has no effect at all on her book-a-week reading habit. She dreams of (a) winning the lottery, (b) publishing a novel, © traveling the world, and (d) doing all of the above all at once.

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