Saturday, 22 November 2014

Review: Fantastic Stories Presents: Science Fiction Super Pack #1


Fantastic Stories Presents: Science Fiction Super Pack #1
Fantastic Stories Presents: Science Fiction Super Pack #1 by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



In brief: The story selection is excellent. The copy-editing, however, is nonexistent. I marked 180 errors, which even in such a long book is a great many - far too many.

Like the companion fantasy volume, it only has one story I didn't think was good, and again, it's a piece of Lovecraft fanfiction. Lovecraft's overwrought prose doesn't do much for me even when Lovecraft himself writes it, and much less so when it's attempted by imitators. And Lovecraft's stories at least have something frightening that happens in them; these two stories (in this volume and the other) only have visions of aspects of the Mythos and crazy people ranting, which isn't scary or interesting.

Everything else was good, occasionally even amazing.

Again like the fantasy volume, it more or less alternates between recent stories and classics by the greats of the field. Unlike the fantasy volume, it contains at least two (and perhaps three or four) stories which I'd read before. It's a rare pleasure, though, to find this many excellent stories that are new to me. I do tend to prefer fantasy to SF, and maybe that's why I preferred the other volume slightly, but I enjoyed this too.

"The Cold Calculations" by Michael A. Burstein is a sad story of an AI whose life is messed up by a human. There's a clear nod to "The Cold Equations".

"They Twinkled Like Jewels" by Philip Jose Farmer starts out dystopian and ends up sci-fi horror. It's well told.

"Lingua Franca" by Carole McDonnell is a lovely social SF story which takes as its springboard the way that some people in the deaf community feel about hearing restoration and its impact on their culture.

"Dawn of Flame" by Stanley G. Weinbaum is post-apocalyptic, far from my favourite subgenre, and the protagonist is pigheadedly fighting against a warlord who seems to be doing a pretty good job of reunifying people and creating peace. It uses the trope of a woman so beautiful that men constantly fail their Stupidity save around her, which annoys me.

"Don't Jump" by Warren Lapine is a classic asteroid-miner tale, the kind of "clever engineer" story that dominated the field for so long, but with a post-New-Wave second layer about what's truly important in life. I think it succeeds, despite the occasional comma splice and other editing issues (Warren Lapine is the editor of the book, and reading this helped me realise why the copy editing has so many problems).

"Youth" by Isaac Asimov is one that I think I've read before, many years ago (I read a lot of Asimov as a teenager, and that's now 30 years in the past). I certainly tumbled to the twist ending very early on. Asimov has to maneuver awkwardly around his exposition in order to avoid giving the twist away too soon, and I didn't think it was a great story.

"Digger Don't Take No Requests" by John Teehan is in the blue-collar SF subgenre dominated by Allen Steele. The main character kind of gets his resolution handed to him, rather than achieving them through his own cleverness and effort, which reduces the effectiveness of a story with an enjoyable voice.

"Lighter Than You Think" by Nelson Bond is the story I've definitely read before, a jokey mad-science-gizmo-goes-wrong tale in the tradition of Fredric Brown. It was a bit of light fun.

"Garden of Souls" by M. Turville Heitz is a medium-future-Earth tale which asks some good questions about home and family.

"The Variable Man" by Philip K. Dick is set against an interstellar war, but is basically a mad-science-gizmo/clever-engineer story with a bit of politics thrown in. It's better than that makes it sound.

"Starwisps" by Edward J. McFadden III is a kind of psychic/magic powers story, rather a lovely one, though I thought the ending came a bit too easily and the mixture of names from our world with completely made-up names didn't really work.

"Gorgono and Slith" by Ray Bradbury is a bizarre drug-trip story about the author putting together a magazine. I didn't think much of it.

"I Was There When They Made the Video" by Cynthia Ward is a near-future story, written in that very thin slice of time between people being aware of cyberspace and its possibilities and the demise of CD stores. The music club culture is alien to me, so I didn't identify that well with the characters, but the ideas it raises (but only minimally explores) are good ones to think about.

"The Perfect Host" by Theodore Sturgeon is a brilliant piece of writing, despite, or even because of, the author self-insertion. The voices of the different narrators are distinct (Scalzi should take notes), and the sci-fi horror is genuinely disturbing.

"That Universe We Both Dreamed Of" by Jay O'Connell is a hopeful alien-contact story. I liked it.

"The Lake of Light" by Jack Williamson reads as if it was written based on a pulp cover of a scantily-clad woman singing to lobsterlike monsters while two rugged male adventurers await their chance to rescue her. It's about as good as it sounds. It's followed by a strange nonfiction piece on "The Menace of the Insect" which seems to have been scanned by accident from the same magazine and not edited out.

"Lies, Truth and the Color of Faith" by Gerri Lean is another psychic-powers story, well written and poignant as a woman discovers that her lover is using her on behalf of the enemy.

"The Second Satellite" by Edmond Hamilton is a pulp adventure on an undetected second satellite of Earth (yes, I know, it's really just a device to get the heroes to another world, where they defeat the evil race that looks less like them than the other race). Again, there's what seems to be an accidental scan of another nonfiction piece at the end.

"Hopscotch and Hottentots" by Lou Antonelli shows us a planet colonised by (South African) humans many generations ago, encountering newly arrived people from Earth, and a situation that parallels the history of South Africa - but resolves much more hopefully. I'm generally all for the hopeful ending, but with the setup it had, it fell a bit flat for me.

"No Place to Hide" by James Dorr shows us revenge gone very bad. The science is a bit dubious, but the story is strong.

"Industrial Revolution" by Poul Anderson starts as a club story, becomes the tale of the revolution against the nasty liberal government that hates capitalism, and ends with the hero getting, in my view, the wrong girl.

"The Visitor" by Ann Wilkes manages to do something new with first contact, which is hard. It also has an ending that makes you wonder which parts of the earlier story were accurate.

"Travel Diary" by Alfred Bester is a lovely feat of writing, alternating the kind of dry, high-level political history that you get in academic books with the diary of an oblivious, self-obsessed weathy airhead travelling around and missing or misinterpreting the political events.

"Encounter in Redgunk" by William R. Eakin is a Southern US story with a lot of emotional power.

"The Indecorous Rescue of Clarinda Merwin: Or, Reader, I Laid My Eggs in Him" by Brenda W. Clough combines first contact with the early-19th-century novel and makes it work.

"Lost Paradise" by C.L. Moore is one of her Northwest Smith stories, involving a kind of time travel and the end of a civilization. It's her usual powerful writing and lush description.

"Siblings" by Warren Lapine is another first-contact story, in which first contact almost goes terribly bad and then goes extremely well. It reminded me of Murray Leinster's "The Aliens", one of my favourite classic stories.

"Gun for Hire" by Mack Reynolds is one I may have read before, or the twist at the end may just be that obvious. It's a time-travel story, a mob hit man abducted into a peaceful future.

"The Answer" by H. Beam Piper is a postapocalyptic tragedy, rather beautifully done.

"Pythias" by Frederik Pohl is a scary tale of what happens when a man develops ultimate power.

"Arm of the Law" by Harry Harrison shows a robot cop cleaning up a backwater town on Mars. It's amusing and has its ideals written all over it in big, bold letters, like most Harrison stories.

"The Good Neighbours" by Edgar Pangborn is a story almost entirely in "tell" mode and without any real characters, and given those limitations it's surprisingly successful.

"The Intruder" by Emil Petaja is the Lovecraft fanfic I referred to earlier. The English isn't good, and nor is the story.

"The Six Fingers of Time" by R.A. Lafferty I have read before, fairly recently, so I remembered the ending. The journey was still worthwhile.

"An Ounce of Cure" by Alan Edward Nourse is a satire on medicine and its specialization.

"The Hoofer" by Walter M. Miller, Jr. is a blue-collar-SF tragedy, though the SF part is window dressing, and it would have worked just as well without.

"The Stellar Legion" by Leigh Brackett is good old planetary-romance pulp, basically a British colonial boys'-own-paper tale translated to Venus. For what it is, it's good.

"Year of the Big Thaw" by Marion Zimmer Bradley has hints of the Superman origin story. It finishes with the kind of soft ending that Bradley herself famously condemned, which is an unfortunate way to end the volume, perhaps.

The book closes with some repetitious and typo-ridden boilerplate background on the authors, clearly a rush job.

Now, I face a conflict of interest here, since I aspire to be published in the magazine that's partly funded by sales of this anthology. Having announced that conflict, I'll say: If you can deal with the many editing issues, the stories themselves are, on average, well above average, and they offer a wonderful smorgasbord of SF in many subgenres, representing every decade (except the 1970s) since 1930. There are a lot of them, too, and so I'd say it's worth the price.



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Review: Engines of Empathy


Engines of Empathy
Engines of Empathy by Paul Mannering

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



The blurb compares this book to Pratchett and Douglas Adams, and there is some resemblance. I know why they picked those names - everyone knows them - but it's really more like two other writers: Jasper Fforde and Tom Holt.

It has the slightly-off-from-our-world feel, and the silly names, of Fforde, both of them turned up beyond 11. Perhaps too far; I kept tripping over the world's oddities (is the row of cinnamon in the herb garden a difference, or a mistake, since cinnamon is made from tree bark?), and the silly names are extremely silly: EGS Benedict, Anna Colouthon, and Spaniel Pudding all make an appearance. I'm no fan of punny or silly names, especially when taken so far. I put up with them in Pratchett and Adams because they do everything else so well.

It also has the setup of a Tom Holt story, or rather, of the Tom Holt story, since all Tom Holt's books are essentially the same. Loserish Britishish person's dull life is abruptly complicated by supernaturalish events. Helped by another loserish person of the opposite gender, main character overcomes the supernatural problem, and they hook up.

Having said all that, I enjoyed this much more than I've ever enjoyed a Tom Holt or Jasper Fforde book. It makes up for the silly names (just; they are extremely silly) by some beautiful passages. "Driving less like the wind and more like a sea fog..." "'I have a plan,' Drakeforth grinned. 'Did you ever think that life would be so much easier if you had a hamster called Clarence instead?' I asked hopefully."

Also, the plot is not what I expected. There's some depth to it; it manages to have some more serious and even dark moments without descending into Holtean cynicism, and the ending took me by surprise, in a good way.

With all the language play it's hard to be sure, but I did spot one definite error: "illicit" for "elicit". The ebook is also full of unexpected hyphens in the middle of words, as if it's been scanned from a print version. Otherwise, the editing is largely clean.

This is the first of a trilogy, and I'l be watching out for the others. I found out about it on the SpecFicNZ forum thread for Sir Julius Vogel Award nominations, and I'll be adding my nomination. Silly names notwithstanding.



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Review: The Silk Code


The Silk Code
The Silk Code by Paul Levinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



This... well, it's not open to the accusation of being the same-old same-old. Amish bioengineers help protect a New York forensic scientist from a kind of retrovirus created by Neanderthals. Who are still around, and still fighting us. In the middle of the book, we go back to the 7th century, where a Tocharian druid, a Jew, a Byzantine Greek and a Moslem walk into a bar... sorry, I mean, circumnavigate Africa in search of the Singers, another name for the Neanderthals. Silk is all over the place, and the codes in DNA, music, language, and woven fabrics are freely convertible into one another (which is pretty obvious nonsense).

The science is... unlikely, and I found my suspension of disbelief tested beyond destruction a few times. I chose to regard it as more a technothriller than SF (the echo in the title of another well-known thriller involving dubious ancient mysteries helped with that). As a thriller, it kind of works. As a mystery, it very much doesn't; we're not given the clues to figure it out, and it has to be unwound in a big infodump at the end. There are scientific, or scientific-adjacent, infodumps throughout, usually short enough not to be too tedious.

The main character, the forensic scientist, unfortunately isn't very protagonistic. The author even hangs a lampshade on this early on, pointing out that he's just been reacting to events, but it doesn't improve all that much. Secondary characters drop dead around him with alarming frequency, he is apparently given a lot of latitude by his department to investigate the mystery, but his inquiries are not that effective, hence the need for the final infodump. He falls back on wild speculation as a substitute for any kind of scientific effectiveness (for a forensic scientist, he's very bad at finding evidence).

This isn't remotely a feminist book. A couple of the older female characters manage to be actual characters, but the younger ones are mainly objects of the male gaze. That includes Jenna, the MC's girlfriend, who, to me, never seemed to have any characteristics of her own; she was someone for him to have sex with, worry about and engage in expository dialog.

Nothing really hung together for me. Were the Neanderthals 30,000 years old, or was it just some technobabbled effect of the virus that made Neanderthal remains look that age? Apparently, both. Was the main Neanderthal character 300 or 30? What was the deal with the silk? Butterflies to carry messages, really?

Adding to the annoyance, I listened to this in the Podiobooks version. The narrator frequently fumbles words, and should not attempt an English accent; his attempt sounds like nothing on earth, but the closest comparison I can make is a Bostonian who's just lost a drunken brawl. The author shows off how well-connected he is in the SFF world by having well-known writers introduce each chapter.

That all makes it sound as if I hated it, and I didn't. I listened all the way through, and was entertained. It's just that the many issues eventually outweighed the entertainment factor, and apart from the chutzpah of even attempting something like this, there wasn't much to make it stand out.



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Saturday, 1 November 2014

Review: Kill School


Kill School
Kill School by Gregory Lynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Full disclosure: I know the author on social media. He's a fan of my books, and we've beta-read for each other (I beta-read this book). However, all of this is because we have a lot in common in our tastes and the way we think.

The voice of Hobbes the goblin, the narrator of this book, is Gregory Lynn's voice. I've always enjoyed that voice, and here I get a whole novella of it. It's snide, with the world-weary-decent-guy-just-trying-to-make-it-through vibe of [a:K.J. Parker|240708|K.J. Parker|https://s.gr-assets.com/assets/nophoto/user/u_50x66-ccc56e79bcc2db9e6cdcd450a4940d46.png]. It's not, however, just an amusing style with no substance. There's a plot, and a good one: Hobbes makes the mistake of defending himself too vigorously against a bully, with fatal results, and is faced with the choice of a horrible death or assassin school (without actually being told it's assassin school).

Something bad is about to go down, too, planned by the hobgoblin bosses. We don't find out what in this first novella, and if I had to quibble I'd say that the story is too evidently Episode 1, though the final test at Kill School is a good place to break it. I certainly didn't mind, though, and I look forward to the continuation of Hobbes' adventures.

I received a copy from the author as thanks for being a beta reader.



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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus


Owl and the Japanese Circus
Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



I received a pre-publication copy via Netgalley for purposes of review. (Accordingly, there is a chance that the editing issues I mention will be resolved before publication.)

This is an action-packed urban fantasy starring an antiquities thief, something between Indiana Jones and Lana Croft, only more obviously outside the law than either. It's fast-paced and entertaining, though the bits about translating the scroll are obvious technobabble to anyone who knows anything about linguistics, and there are a few other issues.

Firstly, there are some very strange vocabulary errors: summarized/surmised, appraise/apprise, enacted/enforced, distinct/distinctive, lead/led, glazed over/glossed over, damper down/damp down, you're/your, up/us, my/me and check/cheek (typos), friend's/friends', one/one's, consciously/in good conscience, reprise/reprieve, anymore/any more, succubi or incubi/succubus or incubus, conjugated/I have no idea, but probably not conjugated. As I say, hopefully these will be resolved before publication. I suspect that they're the remainder of a much larger number that have mostly been corrected. There are a few fumbled full stops and quotation marks, about the usual percentage.

More significant, to me, were the character issues. The story, as usual with urban fantasy, is told in first person by the protagonist, and the protagonist, also as usual, is a smart-mouthed woman who keeps getting herself in trouble by making stupid decisions. She tells us so over and over again, in fact. Now, I'm fine with all of this except the stupid decisions part. I never have much respect for female characters who make stupid, headstrong decisions that keep placing them in need of rescue by their sketchy-seeming, more powerful, more skilful, all-around more awesome love interest (who has A Secret that will Shock You, though it will probably be obvious to you a lot earlier than it is to the protagonist). It's true that she's competent in her field (perhaps unbelievably so; archaeology, like any discipline, has many parts to it, and people specialize early, so it's not really credible that she knows so much about so many different times and places and languages). What she's not competent at is doing anything remotely sensible that would keep her from getting beaten up or killed. And since she doesn't have the power of, for example, Harry Dresden, but is just a vanilla human, her survival to the end of the book is... let's say unlikely on the face of it.

I liked the cat, though. The cat rocked. Even if, in one scene, she started out with the cat on a leash accompanying her, and by the end of the scene he'd been with her friend the whole time. And even if he can open a window on the 23rd floor of a Vegas casino hotel (which generally don't have opening windows, do they?).

I did enjoy it, in a popcorn sort of way, and I've seen much worse. In all honesty, though, with so many problems I can't bring myself to give it four stars. It's a high three.



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Friday, 24 October 2014

Review: Fantastic Stories Presents: Fantasy Super Pack #1


Fantastic Stories Presents: Fantasy Super Pack #1
Fantastic Stories Presents: Fantasy Super Pack #1 by Robert E. Howard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



This enormous collection of 34 stories presumably showcases the taste of the editor of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, a relatively new prozine. As I'm interested in submitting to the magazine, I picked it up, and thoroughly enjoyed most of the stories, none of which I remembered reading before, though I'd heard of several of them.

I like stories that have a narrative arc, that build tension and then resolve it at the end, more than the currently-fashionable type of story that just stops at a thematic moment (or, I often suspect, when the author runs out of ideas). Based on this collection, this editor also likes the narrative-arc kind of story. Some of the stories had fairly predictable endings, I found, one or two fluffed about for a while before getting to the ending, and there were comparitively few twists (though there were a couple), but usually the tension was well maintained and satisfactorily resolved.

The editor is also clearly fond of the old Weird Tales style, and the Cthulhu Mythos in particular. This may account for the appearance of what I consider the one bad story in the bunch, Colleen Douglas's "Beyond Kadath", an almost plotless piece of amateurish Lovecraft fanfiction, rife with comma-splices.

The editor, in fact, is clearly better at picking good stories than at copy editing. Some of the stories have obviously been set from old printed books by optical character recognition, because they have the characteristic errors that that process produces, sitting there uncaught. There are, in several stories, missing or misplaced quotation marks. There are missing words, homonym errors (discrete/discreet, illusive/elusive, chords/cords, wretched/retched), and so forth. It's not in every story - most of the writers are good enough not to make the mistakes, but when they make them, or the OCR process makes them, the editor misses them, at least some of the time.

Leaving those cavils aside, especially for the price this is an excellent anthology, almost a quarter of a million words and, in my opinion, only one really bad story in the bunch.

This isn't just a fantasy collection. There are science fiction stories, and, as I mentioned, horror of the Weird Tales kind, mostly ghost stories and Mythos. There's sword and sorcery (Robert E. Howard's "Red Nails", for example, a Conan story with the trademark adolescent wish-fulfilment of the all-powerful, muscular barbarian picking up busty women, but the man could certainly write action). There's humour. Several of the stories involve time travel, while others deal in one way or another with the Fae, and might be called urban fantasy. There are a couple of post-apocalyptics, some of what I call "fantastica" (more or less surreal stories where the magic isn't rational), even a couple where the fantastical element is arguably in the mind of the viewpoint character. These disparate elements form a rich gumbo in which no two consecutive stories are alike. The more so since older stories are intermingled with more recent ones (in strict alternation, at first, though that pattern later breaks down); the most common decades represented are the 1950s, the 1930s, the 1990s and the 2000s, but every decade since 1910, except for the 1970s and 1980s, has at least one story. There's one original story in the volume, the rest are reprints. There's a mix, too, of famous writers like James Blish, Frederik Pohl, Philip K. Dick, Fritz Leiber, Stanley Weinbaum, Clifford Simak, Philip Jose Farmer, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, Lester Del Rey and, of course, H.P. Lovecraft, alongside writers I hadn't heard of, but whose stories mostly stood up to the high company they kept.

Older stories, of course, tend to be about straight white men, so it's not a big surprise to find a lot of those. Some of the newer stories feature more women or non-white characters, but I didn't spot any gay characters, if that's something you look for in your stories.

Inevitably, the older stories in particular sometimes fall into classic trope patterns: the deal with the devil that goes wrong ("No Strings Attached"), the equivalent of the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court ("A Knyght Ther Was"), comic trouble with fantasy critters ("Pest Control"). The authors usually do something interesting and different with the trope, though, and in a few cases I suspect that the trope became popular originally because of the story represented here, such as "Worlds of If" (1935), an alternate-worlds tale by Stanley Weinbaum.

Overall, a varied and enjoyable collection, which makes me want to subscribe to Fantastic Stories of the Imagination. I suspect that's part of the point; if so, mission accomplished.



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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Review: Time Travel: Recent Trips


Time Travel: Recent Trips
Time Travel: Recent Trips by Paula Guran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I received a pre-publication copy of this book via Netgalley for purposes of review.

Anthologies are usually a mixed bag, and this one is no exception, but, like the same editor's [b:Magic City: Recent Spells|20299673|Magic City Recent Spells|Paula Guran|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1391041549s/20299673.jpg|28133245], in this one the good outweighed the bad for me.

The time travel methods varied, from handwavium to technobabble to believing really hard, but I don't go to a time travel anthology looking for hard science.

Personally, I didn't get a lot from the overly academic survey of time travel literature that forms the editor's introduction, mire because of its dry style than because of its content.

Bandana Singh's "With Fate Conspire" is set in a post-apocalyptic (cli-fi) India, where scientists are using the abilities of an illiterate woman to connect to an earlier time in case that will help change history for the better. It's a story more enjoyable for its journey than its destination, a "soft ending" story, but well told.

Steve Rasnic Tem's "Twember" could have done with more polishing (and will hopefully get it before the final version is released); it has a few minor errors and awkward phrases. There's a passage of philosophical musing which doesn't fit the character speaking it at all, and overall I found it one of those dreary stories in which unhappy characters don't do anything.

Ken Liu's "The Man Who Ended History: a Documentary" has all the elements I've come to expect from a Liu story. Not only the East Asian setting and characters, but the importance of family, the heartrending events, and the infodumps. This one was so heartrending that I couldn't read much of it (I have a low tolerance for torture and grimness), but I read enough to encounter an odd moment. It's cast as a documentary, as the title suggests, and one of the things about writing in this format is that you have to show, not tell (even if the characters are telling, they're doing so in dialogue). Yet Liu manages to slip a "tell" passage in anyway. Describing one of the interviewees, he gives us information about the man's motivation for teaching that we could not possibly get by watching a documentary, where all we have is people's appearance and their words. It's a strange slip from such a skilled craftsman, but if Liu has a fault, it's infodumping.

Kage Baker's "The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park" takes an apparently trivial topic - a public park, its decline, and the woman whose passion for it takes over her life - and, observing it through the eyes of a man who has been rendered effectively autistic by an immortality treatment, makes me care. That takes skill, and I applaud it.

Dale Bailey's "Mating Habits of the Late Cretaceous" was, I felt, two stories. One was a "literary" story of a woman whose marriage is failing for reasons she can't understand (probably her own selfishness and emotional ineptitude), and which she seems unable to do anything about, and the bad decisions she makes. It wasn't to my taste; such stories aren't. The other is an SF story about a resort in the Late Cretaceous where, for obscene amounts of money, one can see dinosaurs. It wasn't filled out enough to stand on its own, but the two stories, like the couple in them, seemed separated by an unbridged gulf and never really worked together.

Yoon Ha Lee's "Blue Ink" felt, to me, incomplete and inconclusive, a slice of life with little plot. That's not to say I disliked it; it just left me not fully satisfied.

John Shirley's "Two Shots from Fly's Photo Gallery" is one of the "travel in time by believing really hard" stories, but the story itself is well handled. A man who has lost his wife to suicide goes back to the gunfight at the OK Corral to save one of her ancestors, in the hope that this will change her family history for the better, and discovers that ultimately you can't save people.

Tom Purdom's "The Mists of Time", by contrast, provides a counter to the prevailing cynicism of our culture that says that everyone has base motives, no matter what it looks like, and there are no real heroes. It's also a good story in the interesting-plot sense.

Howard Waldrop's "The King of Where-I-Go" surprised me, and not in a good way. I don't expect a story by an old hand like Waldrop to be dull, rambling and confused, but this was. It needed a good cut and polish. I'm reasonably sure it doesn't get the science right, either, in terms of how long it takes for polio vaccine to provide protection.

Genevieve Valentine's "Bespoke" may have had a point, but I didn't notice it. It might have been something about fiddling while Rome burned. Competently written, but landed very softly.

Mary Robinette Kowal's "First Flight" has a good premise: you can only time travel within your own lifetime, so to go back to the Wright Brothers' first sustained flight you need a feisty grandmother. She gets off a great zinger at the end. Needs a few phrases corrected or polished.

Charlie Jane Anders' "The Time Travel Club" is, as I now expect from Anders, clever and funny and about losers. Not hopeless losers, though, not completely. I enjoyed it.

Paul Cornell's "The Ghosts of Christmas", though littered with interrobangs and confusing the terms schizoid and schizophrenic, is a fascinating story about memory, about how we change over our lifetimes, and about how we influence our families (especially at memorable times like holidays). Good premise, too.

Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette's "The Ile of Dogges" is a new take on the old idea of using time travel to rescue lost art, in this case an Elizabethan satire. The censor who can't quite bring himself to destroy a seditious play because it's so good is a wonderful character.

Kristine Katherine Rush's "September at Wall and Broad" is another piece that needs correction and polishing before publication, to smooth some awkward phrases and correct the mispunctuation of "United State's" and the misspelling of "chauffeur". I usually find that stories that have a lot of copy editing errors don't work well for me in other ways, and this is an example. The mystery ends up only half solved, and neither candidate for protagonist does much that's protagonistic.

Eileen Gunn's "Thought Experiment" is another think-yourself-through-time story. I felt the ending was a touch rushed, but generally enjoyed it.

Suzanne J. Willis's "Number 73 Glad Avenue" is surreal, but in a way I enjoyed. It's the lead-in to a novel, and I'll be watching for that.

Michael Moorcock's "The Lost Canal" is another disappointment from a master from whom I expect better. Full of telling and infodumping and references to stories that aren't this story and probably don't exist, its premise full of absurdities, its prose littered with exclamation points, it wasn't a good way to close the volume. I felt much the same way about the Ian McDonald story from the same retrofuture-Mars anthology ([b:Old Mars|15849699|Old Mars|George R.R. Martin|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1360812677s/15849699.jpg|21595902]).

Speaking of sources, this is a reprint anthology. I was initially surprised, given the large number of mentions of Lightspeed, Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld in the resumes of the authors (and the soft endings of some of them, which I associate with those magazines), to read that more of these stories came from Asimov's than any other source. But then, where would you send a time travel story?

I've been critical of the individual stories in this volume, and some didn't work for me at all, but the collection as a whole I enjoyed. If, like me, you like to explore the idea of time travel, it's a good way to do so.



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