The Best of Michael Swanwick

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Michael Swanwick – 2008

The nice thing about ebooks is that they’re a lot more affordable than paper books, especially when they’re on sale. Subterranean Press had an ebook sale for the month of September, and among my many purchases was the short story collection, The Best of Michael Swanwick. The collection gathers 21 years of stories written over the course of his career, which began in 1980. Over the course of a quarter-century, Swanwick has been nominated for 14 Hugo short story awards. He won five of those in a six year span from 1999 to 2004.

All of the Hugo-winning stories are included here, along with a selection of Swanwick’s favorite stories. A series of mini-reviews follows after the jump.

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Calculating God (Robert J. Sawyer)

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Robert J. Sawyer (2000)

My introduction to Robert J. Sawyer came when WWW:Wake was serialized in Analog magazine back in 2008. I remember reading a couple pieces of the novel and thinking it was pretty interesting stuff, but I didn’t get around to rereading and finishing the novel back in 2011. It held up through my changing tastes, and I’m looking forward to digging into WWW:Watch soon.

A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of his 2000 novel, Calculating God. I’d never heard of it, but the concept was pretty interesting: aliens land on Earth, part of an investigation into the existence of a God. Their first stop is a Toronto museum, where a paleontologist named Tom Jericho works. Their theory: God has been steering the evolution of life through the history of the universe. Their proof: two other planets in the galaxy have suffered a series of mass extinctions at precisely the same times, among other things. Their intent: to see if Earth is part of the same grand plan.

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The Starry Rift (James Tiptree Jr.)

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James Tiptree Jr., 1986

The Starry Rift (1986), written by James Tiptree Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon), is a collection of three novellas linked around the common theme of navigating the troubles of a frontier region, in this case a star-void region between arms of the Milky Way. Separated in time over decades and centuries, the stories recount some of the problems humanity encounters as it spreads into the galaxy at large – unknown life forms, piracy, and diplomacy are only a few of the things characters encounter as they fill in blank areas on the star maps.

The stories are as entertaining as they are thought-provoking, but this is something to be expected when dealing with Tiptree stories. Written late in Sheldon’s life, The Starry Rift is among the last of her fiction to be published. Since I’m really not too familiar with Tiptree’s fiction, but from what little I’ve read of her earlier works, The Starry Rift seems quite a bit less pessimistic in tone.

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Of All Possible Worlds (William Tenn)

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William Tenn, 1955

William Tenn has a gift for telling a story that is funny, entertaining, and interesting all at the same time. Of All Possible Worlds collects eight of Tenn’s stories written from 1947 to 1954. The stories are rooted in science fictions pulp roots, but still seem surprisingly modern in certain aspects. “The Liberation of Earth” (first published in 1954) in particular seems almost like a direct forerunner of the New Wave movement that would take hold in sci-fi during the 1960s.

That being said, the collection isn’t really food for deep thought, but there are a few interesting things that could be said about the stories contained within. Let’s get started, shall we?

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Errata: Out of the Sun

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As it turns out, Out of the Sun was first published in 1968, and the version I read was a re-release that was published in 1983. I think that makes it a *little* more interesting as a story, making it perhaps more predictive of laser technology in warfare, rather than just piggybacking onto something that was In The News in 1983. I’m guessing that the debate over the SDI was probably the spur to get the story republished, but looking at it as a story that predated the program by nearly 15 years, I shouldn’t judge it quite so harshly in that aspect. That being said, that doesn’t change my opinion much, as the writing is still mediocre at best, but at least it bothered to be predictively mediocre!

Mini-Review: Out of the Sun (Ben Bova)

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Out of the Sun, Ben Bova, 1984

Back in my freshman year of high school, one of my friends handed me a book. “Here, you’ll definitely like this,” he said, handing me a book after confirming I’d never heard of the author before. The author was Ben Bova, the book was Mars. Mars and a couple other books in Bova’s Grand Tour series really rekindled my love for science fiction (I’d started early with Clarke and Asimov, but that love affair died out early) and put me back on the path of reading sci-fi regularly.

It’s been years since I last read Bova, and damned if I can’t remember much about his writing style. I vaguely remember the plots: explorer goes to planet, finds life. It was kind of formulaic, bit it was interesting to see what Bova imagined may live out there, and how it had adapted to its environment. The books are definitely something I should return to in the near future, but for now I’m going to stick to a paperback I picked up a few months ago: Out of the Sun.

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Reading Backlog

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So, a partial rundown on the sci-fi books in my possession that have yet to be read:

  • The Martian Way, Isaac Asimov
  • The Sunborn, Gregory Benford
  • Out of the Sun, Ben Bova
  • Venus, Ben Bova
  • The Machineries of Joy, Ray Bradbury
  • Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, Philip K Dick
  • Stardust, Neil Gaiman
  • With a Finger in My I, David Gerrold
  • Neuromancer, William Gibson
  • Count Zero, William Gibson
  • Mona Lisa Overdrive, William Gibson
  • Zero History, William Gibson
  • The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, Robert Heinlein
  • Loups-Garous, Natsuhiko Kyogoku
  • Neutron Star, Larry Niven
  • Rocket Girls, Housuke Nojiri
  • Gateway, Frederik Pohl
  • Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
  • WWW: Watch, Robert J. Sawyer (may have to reread WWW:Wake, it’s been about a year since I read it)
  • Old Man’s War, John Scalzi
  • The Ghost Brigades, John Scalzi
  • Mind to Mind, Robert Silverberg
  • Starshine, Theodore Sturgeon
  • Case and the Dreamer, Theodore Sturgeon
  • The Cosmic Rape, Theodore Sturgeon
  • Rule 34, Charles Stross
  • Accelerando, Charles Stross
  • Roadside Picnic, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
  • The Human Angle, William Tenn
  • Of All Possible Worlds, William Tenn
  • The Starry Rift, James Tiptree, Jr.

I suspect this may take a while to read.

The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi)

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The world of The Windup Girl is a journey through a corner of a future world imagined by Paolo Bacigalupi. The ecosystem’s shot to hell, the end result of rapidly mutating strains of engineered bacteria, viruses, and insects. Global trade is only starting to recover after the last drops of petroleum have been extracted from the earth. The sea level is rising, with strict carbon caps too late to contain the damage. Worldwide, governments are bowing to the will of calorie companies, the only entities capable of keeping ahead of the latest famine-causing plague.

The Thai Kingdom is one of the last countries yet to bend to the will of the calorie companies. Their secret? The world’s last seedbank, guarding the genetic material of everything lost to bioterrorism, and a mysterious generipper, a genius at bringing extinct species back to life and immune to everything the calorie companies can throw at them. The fate of the Thai Kingdom rests on control of the seedbank. The calorie companies want in, by any means possible.

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Magazine Subscriptions and All That Jazz

Well, I made a switch to a new Windows phone after my first-gen Droid finally kicked the bucket. As much as I would have liked to stay with the Android, a nice offer from my brother to give me the phone he just decommissioned, no strings attached, was just too good to pass up.

I’m settling into the new Metro interface just fine, but upon switching over my Kindle account to the new phone, I was disappointed that the magazine subscriptions I signed up to last month weren’t available on the Windows phone. Unfortunately, since the subscriptions were only viewable on Android or Apple devices, I was forced to cancel them.

I was hoping that I could start a regular series on reviewing some articles of interest in Apex, Lightspeed, Analog, and Fantasy & Science Fiction (with room for expansion in the future), but for now, I guess I’ll have to shelve those plans. If anyone can think of another app where I can subscribe to these magazines on the Windows phone, please let me know!

(A review of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl is in the (slow) process of being written, and should be along in the next day or two. I also have a couple of essays I’m working on based on some comments and conversations, and maybe a couple reviews on stories from the aforementioned magazines.)

The Hugo Nominees: The Shadow War of the Night Dragons

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I guess tropical moisture brings allergies with it…my eyes sufficiently watery and my medication sufficently capable of making me spacey has prevented me from doing my best writing over the last few days. I’m a little late on even getting this one out before the Hugo ceremonies.

Anyway, here’s the final review essay, a day past being relevant

Ah, medieval fantasy. It’s easy to think of all the tropes that come to mind with those two words. Power-mad emperors, fire-breathing dragons, court alchemists, subpar writing with heavy infusion of camp…All of these are embraced (lovingly) by John Scalzi in The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue. It’s also got the most interesting history behind it: the story was written as an April Fool’s joke to introduce a new fantasy trilogy by a writer largely working within the subgenre of space opera.

And what a joke it was. Paragraph-long sentences. Vaguely Norse-sounding words used as descriptions. A mystery that should defy all rational explanation. All of the worst bits that immediately spring to mind when you think of a generic fantasy story, thrown in a blender and told through sketches that could have easily been derived from Monty Python sketches (complete with absurd, but consistent, internal logic).

Welcome to The Shadow War of the Night Dragons.

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