Another retro review, this time of one of the many theme anthologies DAW books has done through the years.
Like most of them in my limited experience, the vast bulk of the stories are mediocre with one or two good ones.
From May 15, 2001 …
Exploring and colonizing the stars is the theme, a classic science fiction idea. But only a couple of stories here have any chance of becoming classics. Many are bland and mediocre .
Two classic science fiction tales, A.E. van Vogt’s “Far Centaurus” and Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Sentinel, provide the inspiration for a mediocre story and a bland story. The mediocre one is Robert J. Sawyer’s “The Shoulders of Giants” with a starship racing to a frontier already settled by humanity. The bland story is Eric Kotani’s “Edgeworld” with its discovery of an alien artifact.
Also on the bland side are Jack Williamson’s “Eden Star”, with family conflicts played out on a planet with light-worshipping aliens, and Edo van Belkom’s “Coming of Age” about colonists who discover that their children are doomed to permanent pre-pubescence. The weakest story, in terms of originality, is the entirely predictable “Full Circle” by Mike Resnick and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Even humor can not save this old plot about futilely trying to get rid of one noxious pest by importing another.
On the marginally interesting edge of the spectrum are Paul Levinson’s “The Suspended Fourth”, about a planet where birdsong may hold the key to avoiding disasters, and Alan Dean Foster’s “The Muffin Migration”, another of those stories where colonists rue ignoring the natives’ advice about the local fauna. Dana Stabenow’s “No Place Like Home” has a few plot holes but its black humor and mean-spiritedness make up for it in a tale weighing the relative values of human life and that of alien bacteria.
Both Allen Steele’s “The Boid Hunt” and Tom Piccirilli’s “I Am a Graveyard Hated by the Moon” are character centered stories. The Steele tale is a deadly coming of age story and an examination of courage before and during a hunt for alien predators. Piccirilli’s mixture of virtual reality, nanotechnology, characters who think they’re gods, and landscapes haunting characters doesn’t quite work but is an enjoyable story reminiscent of Roger Zelazny.
Peter Ullian’s “The Vietnamization of Centauri V” is not a strict retelling of the Vietnam War on an alien world but, rather, how three soldiers are differently affected by the carnage around them to which they sometimes contribute, sometimes balk at. Its plot may not be that original, but it rings psychologically true.
The best stories of the anthology, both very much worth reading and both sharing settings from their authors’ novels, are Robert Charles Wilson’s “The Dryad’s Wedding” and Pamela Sargent’s “Dream of Venus”. Set on the same planet as the setting for his Bios, “The Dryad’s Wedding” features a woman’s whose memories and personality were re-set by a trauma that almost killed her when she was sixteen. Nineteen years later she is set to again marry her old husband. Wandering the planet Isis, with its ecosystem lethal to any one not genetically engineered to live there, she has began to notice some strange things . . . like a mound of talking spiders. Set in the same universe as her trilogy about terraforming Venus, Sargent’s “Dream of Venus” is about the conflict between artistic integrity and political realities. Rich, aimless, and young Hassan hopes producing a propagandistic “mind-tour” on the Venus project will be a ladder to the kind of Earth-side job his father wants for him. He’s partnered with brilliant Miriam, a poor woman from the North America provinces. She has something different in mind other than a simple celebration of the centuries-long terraforming project.
This collection is worth reading despite the bland and predictable tales. There are enough interesting, if flawed, stories here, and a couple of very good ones, to make it worthwhile.