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I consider Don't Look Back to be one of the best sci-fi short story collections of the year, because the stories are intelligent, intriguing and imaginative. When I read this collection, I could see why the author is regarded as one of the best science writers of the 20th century, because he can write about science. I found his way of combining science and fiction highly effective.
Because john Gribbin is a science writer and an astrophysicist, he has invaluable insight into the source material and he's capable of writing stories that intellectually stimulate readers. This truly makes a difference, because his stories have - despite their fantastical and fictional nature - an element of credibilty that can't be found in many other stories.
This collection contains the following stories:
- Perpendicular Worlds
- Double Planet
- The Doomsday Device
- Programmed for destruction
- Random Variable
- The Royal Visit
- The Sins of the Fathers
- Sense of Direction
- The Best is Yet to Be
- Other Edens
- The Carbon Papers
- Don't Look Back
- Defense Initiative
- Hackers (with Ben Gribbin)
- The Words of If (with Ben Gribbin)
- Mother Love
- Something to Beef About
- Nature Trail (with Ben Gribbin)
- The Alice Encounter
- Easy as Pi
- Untanglement: The Leaving of the Quantum Cats
This collection also has two essays: 'A Do-It-Yourself Time Machine' and 'Is the Moon a Babel Fish?'. Both of them are worth reading and recommend that readers take a look at them.
What I like most about these stories is that the author uses science and scientific facts as a basis for many of them, but doesn't forget the value of imagination, storytelling and surprises. I also like the author's effortless way of adding humour, sharpness and wittiness to his stories, because many of them have hidden sharpness and subtle wittiness.
Below is a bit more information about the stories and my thoughts about them. I won't reveal too much information about the stories in my brief synopses, because I feel that these stories are best enjoyed without knowing too much about their contents.
- A story about a researcher called Dr Mackenzie and his problems with time travelling.
- This story features interesting speculation about time travel.
- The ending is excellent.
- A story about Earth, Moon and a comet carrying lots of ice and snow.
- I liked this story, because it featured intriguing scientific elements.
The Doomsday Device:
- A story about James Reed who is trying to figure why the biggest particle accelerator in the world is or isn't working.
- The author's views about how to bring peace to the world are fascinating.
Programmed for destruction:
- A story about a self-replicating robot and space exploration.
- The author paints an interesting view of the possible future of space exploration.
- This is another story about Dr Mackenzie and is partly connected to 'Perpendicular Worlds'.
- I enjoyed reading about what the author wrote about time paths, alternate worlds etc.
- Just like 'Perpendicular Worlds', this story also has an excellent ending.
The Royal Visit:
- In this story, His Galactic Highness the Prince Mackintosh visits Earth.
- This story is a perfect example of the fact that a story doesn't have to be long in order to be good.
The Sins of the Fathers:
- An interesting story about DNA studies, evolution and mutations.
- The author writes fluently about thought-provoking issues.
Sense of Direction:
- A story about Rantor, who is a great navigator. He lives in the Archipelago, which is believed to have been set by God in the midst of the eternal ocean.
- I liked the way the author wrote about Rantor and his feelings about what he was being asked to do.
- An excellent and well written story.
The Best is Yet to Be:
- In this excellent and fascinating story, a man called David travels in time.
- I think that this story will be of special interest to readers who are familiar with Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife.
- A story about Javed and Suzi who find an oxygen planet that is suitable for colonisation.
- I liked this story, because the author wrote well about Javed.
The Carbon Papers:
- This short story was an unexpected pleasure, because it's a brilliant take on Sherlock Holmes stories and features many familiar characters.
- I have a feeling that everyone who has ever read and ejoyed Sherlock Holmes stories will find this story thrilling.
- This story is connected to 'Sense of Direction' and features the same characters.
- Just like 'Sense of Direction', this is an excellent and well written story.
- I recommend reading 'Sense of Direction' and this story consecutively, because that way you'll get the most out of them.
Don't Look Back:
- An interesting story about Richie Jefferies who works as a communications engineer at the time probe and is interested in worthwhile classic rock music.
- I enjoyed reading about how computer enhancement technology, which was used to clean up images, was used to digitally reprocess music.
- In this story, a non-random signal arrives from space and is detected by Farside station.
- It was fascinating for me to read what followed when the signal was noticed, because the story is surprisingly exciting and it differs from many similar kind of stories that feature signals from space.
- A charming story about the tiny Dworfs whose ancestors, according to the legends, were stranded on Earth.
- This story is a wonderful combination of fairy tale and science fiction.
The Words of If:
- This short story reveals that anything is possible in an infinite universe.
- In this story, Kade experiences what it's like to have a mother who seems to know everything best.
- This story is a bit chilling vision of a future world where things are different and certain people have priviledges that others don't have.
Something to Beef About:
- This is an excellent story about a researcher called David Jenkins and a new variation of BSE (mad cow disease) that seems to be tailored by somebody.
- I had already previously read this story, but I enjoyed reading it again.
- This story perfectly demonstrates how good a storyteller the author is, because it's something different.
- A well-told tale about Rafe who enjoys the peace and quiet of a nature trail.
- This story deftly demonstrates how easy it is for humans to become estranged from nature and no longer know their environment.
The Alice Encounter:
- In this story, a Ship is sent to investigate an Anomaly, which turns out to be an alien ship.
- I found this story intriguing, because the author clearly seems to know what he is doing and writes well about various things.
- In this short story, an artifact is moving slowly into the Solar System.
- I enjoyed reading about the zoo hypothesis.
Easy as Pi:
- An interesting short story about Timmins who uses students to calculate digits of pi.
Untanglement: The Leaving of the Quantum Cats:
- An excellent final story featuring Multiverse and Doppelgangers.
- Readers who are familiar with Frederik Pohl and his novels will find something to enjoy in this story.
When you begin to read these stories and immerse yourself into them, you'll notice that they're very much products of their time, but they have stood the test of time well, because they contain themes and issues that are still relevant. You'll find several themes, issues and elements in them that are not outdated.
John Gribbin's prose is simultaneously intellectual, imaginative and unornamented. His writing style can perhaps best be compared to the writing styles of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, because he writes in a similar way. I find this good, because this kind of "hardcore" science fiction doesn't need florid literary expressions and complex prose to be intriguing.
The target audience of this collection is mainly sci-fi readers who know a thing or two about science and are not easily put off by scientific facts, but I believe that it will also be of interest to those who are not familiar with sci-fi stories, because its contents will appeal to the intelligence of many readers.
It's possible that some of the stories may feel a bit heavy if you're not familiar with science, but I advise you to bear with them, because they're worth reading for their complexity. Because of the somewhat heavy and scientific nature of certain stories, the stories in this collection are best enjoyed in small doses.
One of the most important things about this collection is that it may entice readers to seek out knowledge about science, physics and the universe. In my opinion, collections like this one serve as an excellent tool for readers to acquaint themselves with science and scientific phenomena, because interesting sci-fi stories may encourage readers to seek out information about many things related to science.
The cover art by David A. Hardy looks atmospheric and evokes a sense of awe and wonder.
I decided to give this collection five stars on the scale from one to five stars, because it contains stories that appealed to my intelligence. It felt satisfying to read these stories, because the author had interesting ideas and views about life, technology and universe.
My final words are:
John Gribbin's Don't Look Back is a sci-fi short story collection that offers speculative fiction readers a perfect opportunity to take a look at the author's short fiction and acquaint themselves with it. If you're interested in science and sci-fi stories, you'll most likely find this collection fascinating.