Yes, another retro review.
This one from May 19, 2001 and obviously before someone suggested I might want to limit those online paragraphs to four or five lines.
Review: Far Frontiers, eds. Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff, 2000.
Built around a liberal definition of frontiers, this anthology of original stories not only has stories about space exploration and life on harsh colony worlds but also stories about death and dreams and transformation. None of the stories break new ground, but most keep you entertained as they roam around old plots.
Two stories hold little interest. “The Cutting Edge” by Janet Pack handles the details of its technology plausibly and realistically, but, at this point in time, a story about using nanotechnology just to remove a brain tumor seems stale. “Home World” by Marc Bilgrey features the old story of a frontier couple threatened with the encroachment of the civilization they originally fled.
The vast bulk of the stories are entertaining examples of old ideas well done. It was nice to see geology, a little used science in science fiction, providing the clues to an alien artifact in Kathleen M. Massie-Ferch’s “Traces”. While conducting her researches, the heroine also has to avoid persecution by the theocratic government she lives under. It has already imprisoned her ex-husband for insisting man is not the universe’s sole intelligence. Robert J. Sawyer’s “Star Light, Star Bright” is one of those stories where the inhabitants of an artificial world, here a Dyson sphere, realize that man did not evolve there. Its charm derives from the clues they use to deduce this. The “Chauna” of Alan Dean Foster’s similiarly titled story are mythic creatures inhabiting deep space, and a legendary inventor and mogul, enfeebled and dying, leads a resentful crew on a quest to find them. Terry D. England’s “Out of the Cradle” was a fun, sometimes humorous story, about a connoisseur of death, or, more accurately, the pain involved in his elaborate, repeated suicides. His siblings wish he would put such adolescent activities behind and upload his mind to the TerraSphere, a virtual environment inhabited by most of humanity’s intellects. He has other ideas, though. The frontier of dream research is the subject of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Dreamlike States”. Its protagonist embarks on a disasterous project to synchronize his dream with those of his twin brother. Lawrence Watt-Evans’ “The Last Bastion” reminded me a bit of Vernor Vinge’s work, specifically A Fire upon the Deep. A coalition of human groups has to negotiate with the Link, a human-computer interface originally created by humanity and now at war with them. But both sides now need a peace because research by the Link has spawned new enemies for both. “Forgotten” by Peter Schweighofer doesn’t try to rationalize its ending, but its main attraction is the study of those abandoned in nursing homes, here a futuristic one in orbit around a gas giant. Julie E. Czerneda’s “Down on the Farm” offers the unusual proposition of an agricultural boot camp through which all of a colony world’s immigrants must go. They’re annoyed by its stress on primitive, labor intensive methods, but, at story’s end, hidden reasons for the camp are revealed.
Two adventure stories offer little novelty but still keep the pages turning: Andre Norton’s “Set in Stone” and Robin Wayne Bailey’s “Angel on the Outward Side”. The Norton tale features a slave and his masters confronting, on an exploratory mission, an alien and hostile intelligence. Bailey’s tale gives us a Shakespeare-quoting, android pacificst and his decidedly non-pacificistic partner, one of those mercenaries with a dead family and a whole lot of enemies who want his head. Here he meets an old love who hires him to find her lost sister. Nothing special in the plot pieces, but the team of North and Yoru were entertaining enough that I’d like to see them in other adventures.
The gem of the collection is Jane Lindskold’s “Ruins of the Past”. Full of plot surprises, good characterization, and humor at just the right moments, it tells of a woman desperately fleeing creditors who want to force her into lifetime indentured servitude. Hoping for quick cash, she climbs a mountain holding alien ruins at its summits, ruins which few return from. There an android waits to kill her. But the android has other needs, and a third presence lurks nearby.
With the exception of this Lindskold piece, this is collection of comfortably worn old plots well told. You won’t be sorry you read it. But most of the stories won’t stick in your mind either.