by Michael M Jones
For this installment of Schrödinger's Bookshelf, I thought I'd take a look at a few of the wonderful themed anthologies which
have been piling up on my desk. It's not just coincidence that all of the ones reviewed are from the same
publisher. DAW has been great about releasing an anthology just about every month to help feed the addiction of short fiction
aficionados like myself. Now, while material and tone may vary, most of them do share the same basic defining
characteristic: all of the stories collected within relate to a single theme.
[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other Schrödinger's Bookshelf columns.]
A thousand years from now, the world will undoubtedly be a very different place, possibly even completely unrecognizable. Despite this, fourteen authors have taken it upon themselves to try and depict an Earth of the far future. Will humanity even exist as we know it? The answers are sure to fascinate. John Helfers starts the collection off with "Afterward," which reads like an obituary to a race destroyed by a massive catastrophe. His lovingly detailed description of a world slowly reclaiming itself over the centuries is powerful and memorable.
Kevin J. Anderson speculates that even in the far future, there'll be people wanting to Get Away From It All, such as in this tale of backpackers on an alien planet, in "Landscapes." Brian Stableford turns in a story of genetic experimentation and desire with "Dr. Prospero and the Snake Lady." Dean Wesley Smith's "Nostalgia 101" teaches those blessed with an extraordinarily long lifespan that it's better to look to the future, rather than dwell in the past.
Sarah Hoyt's "Go Tell The Spartans" examines the potential role of women once humanity's ready to spread across the universe, and asks the question: What will we leave behind to make the journey? Mickey Zucker Reichart looks at conflict in the far future in "In His Own Image." "Bitter Quest," by Jim Fiscus, looks at a world where humanity has actually regressed after a series of plagues.
With other stories by Jack Williamson, Allen Steele, Robert Metzger, George Zebrowski and more, this collection brings
together some of science fiction's best visionaries for some thought-provoking results. One thing is for certain: wherever,
whatever, we are in a thousand year's time, it'll be as interesting as these stories conjecture.
These two books are best looked at as a pair, since they look at the two sides of the same coin. Every so often, it seems, a story or novella comes along which is just so good, so powerful, or so brimming with potential that it deserves to be expanded into something greater. Thus, an award-winning story becomes the seed for a full novel, or even an entire series. Brian Thomsen's collected some of these early masterworks and, in all cases but one, he has gotten the authors to contribute commentary on how each one of these stories evolved later on. (The Gordon Dickson story is accompanied by an introduction by the editor.)
In the Fantasy volume, we thus run into Gordon R. Dickson's "St. Dragon and the George," Suzy McKee Charnas' "Unicorn Tapestry," Katherine Kurtz's "The Gargoyle's Shadow," Lynn Abbey's "Jerlayne," Robert Silverberg's "Gilgamesh in the Outback," James Ward's "Midshipwizard," and two stories by Orson Scott Card, "Lost Boys" and "Hatrack River."
The Science Fiction volume reprints Connie Willis' "Fire Watch." John Varley's "Air Raid," Anne McCaffrey's "Lady in the Tower," David Brin's "The Postman," Greg Bear's "Blood Music," Nancy Kress' "Beggars in Spain," and another Orson Scott Card story, "Ender's Game."
Now, I must confess that I haven't read a lot of the novels derived from these stories, so I can't accurately compare the beginning product to the finished one in all cases. But when looking at something like "Midshipwizard" as it relates to the novel Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe, or the story "Ender's Game" versus the book, it's fascinating to see how the authors kept the seeds of an idea even as they expanded the framework around it. In most cases, I'd even argue that the story is better for the added detail, background, character development and even plot. In some of these cases, such as Brin's "The Postman," McKee's "Unicorn Tapestry," or Varley's "Air Raid," I'm now inspired to go and find the later product, as the stories offered here really do feel like the beginning of something greater. Like many, my previous exposure to Brin's story came through the Kevin Costner movie, and here I can see that the movie didn't do the original work justice. So whether you've read the original short story, the novel it became, both, or neither, these two books offer up some interesting material. I did have to wonder at the inclusion of three Card stories, as that seems disproportionately heavy given the relatively low number of authors represented in the first place. Obviously, there are plenty of stories out there which could also have been featured. Enough for a second round of volumes, should these catch on, I might hope.
In general, I found this set of anthologies to be both fascinating and useful, a worthy introduction to some science
fiction and fantasy works I'd either missed out on previously, or never really looked at for one reason or another. As
soon as I can make some space on my shelf, you can bet I'll be looking to read a few classics as a result.
Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.
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