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Live Without A Net Mass Market Paperback – July 1, 2003
From Publishers Weekly
Taking a post-Internet, post-computerized world as its unifying theme, Anders's (The Making of Star Trek: First Contact) uneven anthology showcases 18 mostly male British authors (not all of whom will be familiar to U.S. readers), whose contributions range from disconnected, inconclusive pieces to delightful shaggy-dog stories. Most focus on sophisticated biological technologies, such as Charles Stross's provocative "Rogue Farm," about "multi-human beings" and Stephen Baxter's sad little tale about slave-drones and successive revolutions, "Conurbation 2473." Other established names include Michael Swanwick, David Brin, Rudy Rucker and S.M. Stirling. But the longest entry belongs to relatively obscure Brit John Meaney. In Meaney's entertaining novella, "The Swastika Bomb," bioform animals serve as tanks, airplanes, bombs and deadly viruses, against an alternative history of the Battle of Britain in which the Axis and the Allies race to develop a nucleic instead of a nuclear bomb. All the stories are competently written, but few leave a lasting impression.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The Novella by John Meaney is the most complete but that may be because it's the only long story in the book and the length helps alot. Some of the writers seem to think that an abrupt ending (like a song that just stops) is how best to end a short story. IMHO it's not. A couple of the stories are just convoluted musings and go nowhere fast.
All in all Harlan Ellison has nothing to fear.
Some of the stories are excellent, thought-provoking, and moving: Alex Irvine's "Reformation," Del Stone Jr.'s "I Feed the Machine," and John Meaney's "The Swastika Bomb." A few were truly dreadful -- loosely related at best and/or more style than substance -- including a couple I couln't even make it through. Most were solid, but still dissapointing, on topic, but not credible as to how or why computers weren't in this world. One, John Grant's "No Solace for the Soul in Digitopia," was simply porn with (at its end) a veneer of alternate-universe's clothing.
The closest thing to a common thread was biotech of one sort or another replacing some functions of silicon computing, and the inherent differences of the two computing approaches. When done well (about half the time), that made for something to think about.
The best stories are Adam Roberts' "New Model Computer," which puts an O. Henry twist on post-Singularity fiction; Michael Swanwick's "Smoke and Mirrors," an amusing set of short-shorts featuring the author's retro-Victorian rogues, Darger and Surplus; Charlie Stross' "Rogue Farm," David Brin's "Reality Check;" S. M. Stirling's PKD-style head-scrambler "The Crystal Method;" John Meaney's "The Swastika Bomb," a WWII spy epic in an alternate history of advanced biowarfare; and my pick for the best story of the book, Del Stone Jr's frightening doomsday cult scenario, "I Feed The Machine."
Unfortunately, most of the rest is unengaging filler or just plain awful. John Grant's "No Solace For The Soul In Digitopia" consists largely of painfully detailed descriptions of the narrator depositing his seed into his various parallel-Earth wives, and Grant is no better than most sci-fi writers when it comes to sexual matter. The most inexplicable inclusion of the anthology is Alex Irvine's "Reformation," which infuses some Islamic mysticism into a straightforward cyberpunk yarn about a hacker/Internet-revolutionary. Irvine's story completely breaks the "no Net" theme of the book and is terribly out of place. Best left undescribed are "Frek and the Grulloo Woods," Paul di Filippo's "Clouds and Cold Fires," and Dave Hutchinson's "All The News, All Time, From Everywhere."
I'd check this book out at a library for the good stories, but hold off on buying it.
The tales are cleverly written so that the much of the audience, regardless of age or experiences, will find LIVE WITHOUT A NET as an entertaining short story medley that is worth the time away from hyperspace HTML to enter the world of printing text.
I'm a choosy SF reader, and anthologies in particular drive me nuts. I've been rereading DANGEROUS VISIONS for years, and the one bright spot annually is Windling and Datlow's BEST FANTASY AND HORROR - basically, I have to be force-fed anything new.
I was offered an advance copy of LIVE WITHOUT A NET, started reading with no small trepidation, and found myself devouring it. Anders' choices are stunningly good, and his taste in material impeccable. Swanwick, Roberson, and Meaney's contributions may be some of the finest short fiction I've ever read, and the rest of the material held a similar line of quality.
Quit reading this and just go buy the book. Trust me - it's worth the price and then some.
All in all, an interesting varied collection, and well worth the shelf-space....