by Robert J. Sawyer
Out of This World
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Although Robert Sawyer has written numerous short stories, he is almost entirely known for his science fiction novels. At the same time, his stories have been nominated and won several awards, including the Hugo, Aurora, HOMer and Bram Stoker Award. Iterations collects twenty-two of Sawyer's stories ranging from his earliest professional sales to stories published in 2000.
One of the advantages of a short story collection over a novel is the ability to showcase a variety of different aspects of an author's style. In Iterations, Sawyer demonstrates his ability to handle a series detective story in "The Hand Your Dealt," but also shows that he can deliver on a more light-hearted story with "If I'm Here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage" and "The Contest."
Ideas and themes which pervade Sawyer's novels also find their way into his short fiction. Stories like "The Abdication of Pope Mary III" and "Fallen Angel" examine the role of God in the universe and science while in "Just Like Old Times" Sawyer returns to the dinosaurs which featured so prominently in so many of his early novels. the use of these themes in his short stories, especially when the reader is able to compare the stories to novels, provides a more extensive view of Sawyer's works than would otherwise be available.
One thing which sets Iterations apart from so many author collections is the previous availability of the stories. In many cases, the stories included in a collection have previously appeared in Asimov's, Analog, or F&SF. The only story in Iterations which has seen prior publication in a major genre magazine is "Uphill Climb," which appeared in Amazing Stories in 1987. The rest have appeared in anthologies from a variety of major and minor publishing house. This means, of course, that the average reader is more likely to be surprised by the contents of these stories.
The collection opens up with "The Hand Your Dealt," one of Sawyer's Hugo-nominated stories. It is a police procedural in a world in which cloning is a possibility. By the time the reader has finished "The Shoulders of Giants," a story which looks at the problems inherent in the traditional generation ship story, the reader has had the opportunity to read a variety of lengths of stories as well as explore different moods, from humorous to serious, which Sawyer employs.
While some of the shorter pieces, like "The Contest" and "If I'm Here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage" are essentially extended jokes, Sawyer has written them with care. While they may not stand out, they entertain while the reader is in the worlds Sawyer has created for them. Stories like "Just Like Old Times," on the other hand, demonstrate that Sawyer can use short fiction to tackle serious issues.
Perhaps the major strength of Iterations is the rarity of the stories Sawyer has included. All too often, purchasing an author's collection is amassing stories which a reader already has in the major magazines. Iterations gives readers a chance to read stories which are completely new to them while retaining the familiarity of the style of an author whose work has already been read.
|The Hand You're Dealt||Just Like Old Times|
|Peking Man||The Contest|
|Iterations||Stream of Consciousness|
|The Blue Planet||The Abdication of Pope Mary III|
|Wiping Out||Star Light, Star Bright|
|Uphill Climb||Above It All|
|Last But Not Least||Ours to Discover|
|If I'm Here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage||You See, But You Do Not Observe|
|Where the Heart Is||Fallen Angel|
|Lost in the Mail||The Shoulders of Giants|