Edited by Julie E. Czerneda & Isaac Szpindel
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
“The Resonance of Light,” is a story about Nikola Tesla by Geoffrey A. Landis. Tesla, like Edison or da Vinci, is one of those figures popular with science fiction writers and Landis has already published a story about Tesla with the Sidewise-nominated “The Eyes of America.” In “The Resonance of Light,” Tesla invents a laser and through a combination of skill and luck (as well as a sense of quiet monomania) sets to work to use science to avert World War I. There is a slightly generic sense to both Landis’s depiction of Tesla and the period.
“Out of China,” spans a number of centuries as Julie E. Czerneda examines the discovery of the causes of the Bubonic Plague before it has a chance to leave China for Venice in the fourteenth century. While some of the glimpses she offers of the altered course of history don’t feel like they add anything to the story or the history, by the end of the story, they come together to form an incomplete mosaic of Czerneda’s altered, and Sinocentric, world.
Everything about Laura Anne Gilman’s “Site Fourteen,” appears to be meant to evoke the near tragedy of Apollo 13, although Gilman’s explorations take place below the sea as part of the NEREUS project. Unfortunately, Gilman’s clinical descriptions tend to decrease the drama of the story. Rather than giving the deepsea habitat an evocative name, such as Poseidon 14, it is simply Site Fourteen. The underlying idea of an ocean race rather than a space race is an interesting idea and Gilman’s points of divergence build well to set up the background necessary for her tale.
“Silent Leonardo,” is Kage Baker’s look at a Leonardo da Vinci whose life took a different course, resulting in him being more productive in the realm of mechanical contrivances and less focused on art. While in this world, many of his ideas were never built, Baker’s world appears to have a more destructive military tradition centuries earlier because of da Vinci’s creations. The story is told from the point of view of daVinci’s manager and friend, Giovanni Barelli, who speaks with a cadence reminiscent of one of Chico Marx’s characters.
Doranna Durgin’s “A Call from the Wild” is a story of nature versus nurture in which a species domesticated in our world is still wild. Told mostly from the point of view of a shepherd, Neil, but also from the point of view of one of the wild animals, Durgin raises the question of whether domestication for the species was inevitable, although the argument is weakened by the 15,000 years which separates the historical domestication and the story she is telling.
James Alan Gardner postulates a world in which mathematics rather than faith took the ascendant in “Axial Axioms.” Told as a series of short explanations of mathematical advances from Buddha through the ancient Greeks, this change seems to have an effect on outlook, but little real effect. Events in this mathematical world mirror those in our faith-based world, from the dream interpretation of Daniel to the death of Socrates. Perhaps more interesting would have been for Gardner to show the technological or cultural effects the change from faith to mathematics meant. Instead, it almost appears as if his story’s rejection of faith is also, ironically, an espousal of predeterminism.
Numerous stories set in the Victorian Age have replaced the fictitious Sherlock Holmes with Arthur Conan Doyle. In “The Terminal Solution,” Robin Wayne Bailey replaces Holmes with Joseph Bell, Doyle’s model for Holmes, and Watson with Doyle. The two men are trying to fight off the effects of an AIDS epidemic using only the techniques and knowledge available in the late nineteenth century, thereby demonstrating that timing is as important as anything else when it comes to technological advances.
John G. McDaid invents printing and alternate history in “The Ashbazu Effect,” set at the dawn of civilization in Sumer. His main character is trying to publish an alternate history making use of the new technology and discovers that it is more difficult than he expects. Nevertheless, his work makes an impression on various powers that be and he is allowed to learn of further technological developments in one of the strongest stories in the collection.
Peter Watts plays with the idea that religiosity stems from the temporal lobe in the brain in “A Word for Heathens.” Watts creates an intriguing version of a Rome run by an organization of charlatan priests and the enforcer who comes to understand that faith and religion can be real, not just an electromagnetic impulse. What sets the story apart is that neither the expected rebellion or retribution occur.
Unlike most of the other stories in ReVisions, Jihane Noskateh bases “A Ghost Story” not on history, but on legend. Her take on a world in which Pythagoras discovered a means to travel through time and space is interesting as an antiquarian in the future discovers the lost secret of the ancients. Although a good story, it seems out of place in revisions where so many of the stories are based on science and technology rather than the occult.
Kay Kenyon follows in Peter Watts's footsteps with “The Executioner’s Apprentice.” Rather than providing religion with a chemo-electrical basis, however, Kenyon's Mayans' religion is based on an understanding, at least partially, of the human genome. Into this barbaric world come the Eastern People of the Book, bent on conquest. Kenyon sets up a dilemma for Pacal, her Mayan executioner's apprentice, who must choose between the harsh scientific religion he has grown up with and the seemingly more benign faith based religion just newly introduced to his world, especially when he begins to learn the secrets of his own faith. Even then, Kenyon's religions are not all that they seem.
Mike Resnick & Susan R. Matthews create a world of the future which is focused on a battle between the haves and the have nots in “Swimming Upstream in the Wells of the Desert.” In this case, the authors have postulated a world which is divided between those who still have to rely on dwindling oil reserves and are tied to the ideologies of those who hold them, and those who have access to cold fusion. Although there is no real indication that cold fusion can work, the story can be read as a warning about the need to explore renewable and alternative resources.
“Unwirer,” by Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross may be the strongest story in the anthology. Doctorow and Stross look at technology which pretty much exists, but focus their attention on the legal issues surrounding the technology and paint a worst case scenario of an existing industry attempting to limit, or even outlaw, new technology and people who use it. Not only is the story well written, but given some of the battles between new media and more traditional outlets, it is extremely timely.
“When the Morning Stars Sang Together,” by Isaac Szpindel is yet another concatenation of science and religion. In this case, a more understanding Church and a more politically-minded Galileo work together with a resultant Church which is much more scientifically oriented. The story is split between Galileo's letters to his daughter, which outline the scientific theories he is pursuing, and a twentieth century Jesuit who has come to a realization he fears will bring the Church down, creating a strange situation of a scientist trying to suppress his own research to protect the Church.
“Herd Mentality,” by Jay Casselberg uses a world in which cloning became a reality in 1940, but only in a very limited way, with the creation of 250 clones of Albert Einstein before the technology was lost. Decades later, the world has changed in many ways, both minor and major, by the large number of geniuses who can work together or separately. Despite this, the limited number of Einsteins mean that people are not used to seeing the, especially when they are together. An Einstein "convention," leads to speculation about any hidden agenda the clones might have.
|Geoffrey A. Landis||The Resonance of Light|
|Julie E. Czerneda||Out of China|
|Laura Anne Gilman||Site Fourteen|
|Kage Baker||Silent Leonardo|
|Doranna Durgin||A Call from the Wild|
|James Alan Gardner||Axial Axioms|
|Robin Wayne Bailey||The Terminal Solution|
|John G. McDaid||The Ashbazu Effect|
|Peter Watts||A Word for Heathens|
|Jihane Noskateh||A Ghost Story|
|Kay Kenyon||The Executioner’s Apprentice|
|Mike Resnick & Susan R. Matthews||Swimming Upstream in the Wells of the Desert|
|Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross||Unwirer|
|Isaac Szpindel||When the Morning Stars Sang Together|
|Jay Casselberg||Herd Mentality|
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