02/02/2008. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: Tachyon. 420 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-892391-53-7).
check out website: www.tachyonpublications.com
This anthology opens with 'Bicycle Repairman by Bruce Sterling. It's the tale of Lyle, an anarchist living in a squat who repairs bicycles. Sometimes, an old mate sends him packages for safe-keeping and one day he receives from this source a telly which shows only one channel, a political show but with sarcastic and subversive sub-titles. He is then visited by slinky lady with a bike to repair who later tries to burgle him. The story is pretty good and the life of street anarchist is, as portrayed here, sort of fun. I suspect it is not in reality. There is a lot of interesting technology in the story, mostly gadgets. Our hero takes a delibidinising drug that saves him wasting time with women. There is no romance.
'Thirteen Views Of A Cardboard City' by William Gibson, 'the quintessential cyberpunk', is hard to read. Its very post-modern with its cinematic descriptions of bleak urban scenes and I suppose there are literati who will love it but to me it hardly seems like a story at all.
'The Wedding Album' by David Marusek features Sims, holograms of real people made at a certain point in time with memories and feelings so they think, for a time, they are real. The revelation that they are Sims is a surprise, but not a complete shock because as the 'original' they were made from knows about Sims, too. They can be activated for a few hours every few years but the original grows and changes and can even resent the happy youth represented by the Sim. This is the story of a wedding album Sim and its great.
'Daddy's World' by Walter Jon Williams might be even better. Jamie is a happy kid who lives in a wonderful world where he has whirligigs to play with and a kite shaped Mister Jeepers greets him cheerfully when he comes home. Mom and Dad and sister Becky all love and play with him. As time passes, sister Becky grows up while Jamie does not. Its another story of the problems of a virtual person and it is brilliant.
'The Dog Said Bow-Wow' is an entertaining story by Michael Swanwick has a dog called Sir Blackthorpe Ravenscairn de Plus Precieux stealing royal jewels at Buckingham Palace.
'Lobsters' by Charles Stross has uploaded sentient lobsters, a reckless genius who gives away all his ideas to make other people rich and a sexy tax inspector. It's all written in dazzling language and its wonderful.
Amongst all the bright urban futures there is a tale of hunger and Agri-business malignity, 'Calorie Man' by Paulo Bacigalupi. Set in a future when energy comes from genetically manipulated animals on treadmills, with a Hindu hero, this future looks disturbingly likely to me.
Greg Egan's 'Yeyuka' is another story of corporate skulduggery that should raise awareness of these issues. Some of those fat cats our leaders kow-tow too have only their own best interests at heart, in the real world as well as in fiction.
The book ends on a high note with 'When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth' by Cory Doctorow which is an apocalyptic story but with a positive, hopeful note. Disaster strikes but the good people keep striving, as in Heinlein's 'Farnham's Freehold' and Stephen King's 'The Stand'. System Administrators will love it.
The revered editor tells me that when reviewing short story anthologies the best tactic is to pick out the best and worst. Well the worst is the William Gibson story, mercifully short and the rest range from pretty good to bloody marvellous. This really is an excellent collection and a reminder that the short story is often the best venue for new ideas in the field. It's also a good way to make the acquaintance of new writers whose other works you might find interesting. There's a few here I'll be keeping an eye out for.
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