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Not of Woman Born Mass Market Paperback – March 1, 1999
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
Since the 1970s, many of SF's original theme anthologies have been filled with flimsy toss-offs by the editor's pals. However, there are exceptions. In Not of Woman Born (theme: conscious evolution a.k.a. reproductive technology), editor Constance Ash has collected 13 original stories and one reprint that are strong, well-written, imaginative, highly diverse, and excellent. This is no surprise when you consider the amazing list of contributors, including Patricia A. McKillip, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Jack McDevitt, Robert Silverberg, Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald, and Walter Jon Williams. --Cynthia Ward
About the Author
Constance Ash lives in New York City.
Joe Haldeman is a Vietnam veteran whose classic novels The Forever War and Forever Peace both have the rare honor of winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards. He has served twice as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America and is currently an adjunct professor teaching writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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Theme anthologies sometimes suffer from too narrow a focus and/or carbon-copy stories. Not this one -- the authors interpreted the theme loosely enough so that I didn't lose interest. Walter Jon Williams takes a killer look at cybernetic family values in "Daddy's World", and Jack McDevitt delivers the most interesting look at gengineering one's progeny since Greg Egan's wonderfully sly "Eugene," in "Dead in the Water." McDevitt's mother-to-be is particularly well-drawn. A+ stories both; look for them on the award ballots next year. "A" stories: Silverberg's 1957 "There Was an Old Woman" is an amazingly fresh look at cloned lives, even 40 years on. Nina Kiriki Hoffman takes a sharp look at future retail clerks in "One Day at Central Convenience Mall." New author Janni Simner cleverly inverts bringing up baby in "Raising Jenny", and Richard Parks takes a close look at cloning's impact on showbiz in "Doppels." Plus "A-" (= flawed but very good) stories by Sage Walker, Susan Palwick, Patricia McKillip, Wm. F Wu, Doyle & Macdonald, and Kara Dalkey. Curiously, the only weak story in the bunch is by the editor. Overall: 2 "A+", 4 "A", 6 "A-", 1 "B+", and 1 "B" story.
The best original anthology I've seen this year. Highly recommended.
Peter D. Tillman
Hunting Mother by Sage Walker – I’m always intrigued by what order an anthologist puts the stories in and how they decide. I would not have picked this as my “grabber” story simply because it doesn’t have a lot of story to it. It’s got enough atmosphere for two or three tales and the characters are riveting, but not much happens. On the first page, we discover the hero, appropriately named Cougar, is a hybrid human on a terrarium bound for another planet. His mother, a geneticist, created him from her eggs and the cells of a – you guessed it – cougar. She’s dying and wants him to help her end it. He, although designed to help rid the ship excess life, is hesitant to kill her. That’s the entire story. After many pages of wonderful world building, we finally get to his decision. Pretty to look at, but not much substance.
Judith’s Flowers by Susan Palwick – And then we kick it up a notch! Another character with a unique background has to make a decision, but somehow I didn’t know which life she was going to choose. An impoverished Mexican girl from Baja comes to California to attend university. She’s got blonde hair and blue eyes and must decide if she wants to be a US citizen or a Mexican citizen by midnight. She misses her Latino grandmother, she doesn’t want to leave her boyfriend, she’s disgusted by the US media’s depiction of Mexico, and she knows if she leaves, her grandmother won’t get the monthly checks she sends. I couldn’t guess which way she was going to decide, but I’m happy with her decision.
A Gift to Be Simple by Patricia A. McPhillip – And another notch still. When a peaceful Shaker colony finds its members growing old and no new people entering the conclave, a member decides to take advantage of the encroaching technology and bear her own clone. After all, they have an affinity for the simple life. Who needs converts when you can replace yourself?
Island of the Ancestor by William F. Wu – This is a short adventure of another clone – a young man whose genes are those of his ancient ancestor. Groomed and trained to be the religious leader of his family’s Disneyland, he discovers can’t abide the blatant swindling his family does in his name as a faith healer. He chooses to escape and start his life over with the help of a beautiful industrial spy. There’s nothing wrong with a little adventure mixed in with a good concept.
One Day at Central Convenience Mall by Nina Kiriki Hoffman – I can easily see where the inspiration for this story came from. I’ve often thought all the salesgirls in a mall looked like the same young woman. In this story of android workers, they all are. One android – Book Store – notices her neighbor Dress Shop is acting strangely. She’s reading books and ordering strange coffee. When a human appears and tries to free Book Store by plugging in an unauthorized jack into Book Store’s skull, Dress Shop takes it instead, and Security Cop has to arrest both the human and Dress Shop. But Book Shop – who isn’t programmed to read anything remotely subversive - picks up Dress Shop’s book and slips it into her pocket. Clever story.
Dead in the Water by Jack McDevitt – I’ve never read a McDevitt short story, but I’ve read lots of his novels. This is another character faced with a life-altering decision. In the near future, specially engineered babies would be immortal, but there are strings attached: the couple can have no more children, the child will be sterile, people will hate them for their elitist. After she’s involved in an auto accident, she decides.
Raising Jenny by Janni Lee Simner – The grown, third daughter gets an odd endowment when her clinging mother passes away. She’s to carry her mother’s clone. Relying on nurture rather than nature, she tries everything to ensure her daughter is not her mother, encouraging to spread her wings and see the world like she never could. Unfortunately, this apple didn’t fall far enough from the tree.
There was an Old Woman by Robert Silverberg – Reported to be the first use of the word “clone,” this tale by one of the masters is clever and surprising. A rich geneticist is fired for attempting to prove nurture over nature by suggesting they experiment on babies. Taking her money and her fertilized egg to a ranch in the middle of nowhere, she splits the egg into thirty-two identical duplicates and raises the blond, blue-eyed batch of clones. From an early age, she determines their careers: a doctor, a lawyer, a historian, a criminal, and so on. Home schooled at an early age, they enter the best colleges and excel at their assigned areas of expertise. Only when they come home after graduation do they discover they hate their chosen occupations. The question is how to tell their domineering dear old mom.
Remailer by Debra Doyle and James D. McDonald – I am not a big fan of made-up pronouns and jive techno babble so this futuristic missing person’s case wasn’t my favorite just because it was so difficult to read.
The Leopard’s Garden by Constance Ash – A dark and atmospheric tale of the future where Africa is isolated and trying to rebuild its ecosystem. An aristocratic white man comes to the wild interior to find his ancestor’s bones but discover the women of Africa do not intend to include men in their future. A story with some grit.
Of Bitches Born by Michael Armstrong – My favorite story. A non-conformist refuses to use cloned sled dogs to race and frequently comes out last. I wondered how the horse versus steam engine story was going to end, but when everything rides on one high stake race, I was totally absorbed.
Doppels by Richard Parks – An actor is replaced by an ageless android and, by contract, has to provide input for the android’s eventual replacement of him. As he faces his own obsolescence, he gets in touch with the pieces of his humanity – including his dying ex-wife – he left behind.
Daddy’s World – A child living in a virtual fairyland begins to question his perfect family and his strange world. Only when his sister suddenly outages him, does he discover he is simply a recording in a computer, put there by his heartbroken parents when he died of cancer. They attempt to keep the brain engaged while waiting for cloning science to catch up and return their son to him.