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Gernsback to the Future
on April 18, 2011
This is an odd little collection of fifteen science fiction stories. For one thing, the table of contents is on the last page. I have no idea why. I also can't see what the theme of the collection might be. The editor, Jonathan Strahan, outlines the history of science fiction from Hugo Gernsback to the present. The field has matured beyond the restrictions of early hard science fiction and become something wider, richer, and apparently harder to define.
What about the stories? "[S]ome of the stories are classic hard SF, some are not. [I]t is part of the ongoing discussion about what science fiction is in the 21st century." Since the stories are not related in any systematic way, perhaps the collection is a celebration of diversity. I am never sure what people mean by that, either. Ah, well. The stories are all pretty good, each in its own way. Four stood out for me:
Hannu Rajaniemi's "The Server and the Dragon" has no human characters. But it is rich with motives and emotions that humans have no trouble understanding. From two, one.
Robert Reed's "Mantis" is two stories, edited. A man and a woman exercise and watch another man and woman meet on the street outside. Between the two couples a high tech window subtly alters what they see of each other. Oh, and there's a bug.
In Gwyneth Jones' "The Ki-anna" a fraternal twin investigates his sister's death on a war-torn planet. An accident or a murder or the self-sacrifice of a seasoned anthropologist?
In John Barnes' "The Birds and the Bees and the Gasoline Trees" the growth of a huge undersea structure is investigated by a nearly-indestructible genetically engineered woman who has been recalled to Earth from the environment she was designed for. She works with her ex-husband and his new wife.
I recommend the collection for its interesting and dissimilar stories. Don't invest a lot of time trying to figure out how the stories are related or what this means for the future of science fiction. Just read and enjoy.