*****”Old Music and the Slave Woman” – Ursula K. LeGuin.
Yes, I checked this book out from the library because I saw that it had a LeGuin story I hadn’t read before! And yes, this alone was worth the price of admission. (Well, since it was from the library there wasn’t a price, but, you know…)
Set in the world of the Ekumen. The egalitarian interplanetary alliance has come to this corner of the galaxy. Ideas of freedom have spread, causing riots and rebellion in a society based on racial slavery. An ambassador of the Ekumen is kidnapped by those who hope to use him as a political mouthpiece, and imprisoned.
A mere recital of the events of the tale can’t come even close to LeGuin’s succinct but thorough exploration of the evils of social injustice, tempered by the further evils that can happen when lofty ideals meet imperfect human reality. There’s more here to think about than in a dozen angry political screeds, and much more of worth.
*** “A Separate War” – Joe Haldeman.
A story which fills in a ‘gap’ covering what happened to one of the main characters in ‘The Forever War’ when the two protagonists were separated. A heterosexual woman from our time period deals with losing her lover, is trained for officership in a space military, and comes to terms with living in a homosexual future. I didn’t enjoy this as much as I remember liking ‘Forever War,’ but it was OK.
** “Investment Counselor” – Orson Scott Card.
This story introduces Ender Wiggin (of ‘Ender’s Game’) to the AI, Jane. Ender has just turned 20 and must figure out how to deal with his huge and hugely complicated trust fund. Jane presents herself as a piece of accounting software. While ‘Jane’ is the star of the show, here (by far the most intriguing and likable character in the story), the piece doesn’t answer enough questions about her to really stand on its own – it feels like a piece of deus ex machina. The custom of ‘speaking for the dead’ as described here, is unconvincing – a better job has been done elsewhere in Card’s work.
** “Temptation” – David Brin.
I’ve read Brin’s first ‘Uplift’ trilogy, but years ago. I remember thinking they were pretty all right, but haven’t gotten around to the second trilogy. This short story set in that world, didn’t really do it for me. It had a bit too much jammed into not enough pages, and the action and philosophy didn’t quite mesh. Rather a lot of time is spent in setting up a reasonably interesting sci-fi scenario – and then it’s sort of dropped: “Wait! Something new has come along! Now we are going to be faced with a philosophical dilemma having to do with the nature of reality and free will!” The terms in which the dilemma is discussed also seemed somewhat out of character for the individuals involved, as they’d been presented up until then. I also just didn’t find his sentient dolphins to be very compelling characters.
** “Getting to Know the Dragon” – Robert Silverberg.
Since Silverberg’s the editor, I guess he gets to put in whatever he wants! I haven’t read any of Silverberg’s other ‘Roma Aeterna’ alternate history stories, but I didn’t find this one to be among his best work. Again, there are two parts to the story that don’t really mesh that well. The main character, a scholar and ‘Renaissance’ man in a world dominated by the Roman emperor, has to deal with being co-opted into manic Imperial plans for grandiose architectural projects. The same character then reads a journal, recently unearthed from archives, telling the story of the hero Emperor Trajan’s journey around the globe. Like Captain Cook or Columbus, his supposedly heroic journey was actually marked by cruelty and barbarism. The take away seems to be that a ‘decadent’ and peaceful society may be better than a supposedly ‘progressive’ one. I’m fine with that premise, but the story just didn’t fully win me over.
*** “Orphans of the Helix” – Dan Simmons
For some reason, the introduction to/description of this story didn’t really grab me – but I actually really liked the story itself. It effectively advertised Simmons’ Hyperion books, which I haven’t yet read – but definitely want to. A bit reminiscent of a Star Trek episode, this short story has the AIs of a colony ship wake some of the crew to deal with a problem they’ve encountered – a far-flung colony is being harassed by a seemingly automated alien ‘harvester’ ship. Very enjoyable.
*** “Sleeping Dogs” – Nancy Kress
Set in the world of her ‘Sleepless’ novels, this short story makes a bit of a side-note on how her theoretical new bio-technologies might affect the lower echelons of society. A ‘trailer-trash’ type family illegally purchases some genetically modified puppies. Tragedy – and revenge – ensues. Not bad, but it didn’t fully transcend stereotypes.
*** “The Boy Who Would Live Forever” – Frederick Pohl
I believe this story was later expanded into a novel of the same name. It’s part of the ‘Heechee’ saga, which, due to the silly name, I always feel ought to be absurd and comic, but is actually fairly earnest sci-fi. This is very much in the vein of ‘classic sci-fi for boys.’ A young man (and his buddy) are willing to stake everything on a gamble of a mission – setting out randomly in an alien ship and hoping to find something of monetary value. But what he finds exceeds his wildest dreams…
*** “The Ship that Returned” – Anne McCaffrey.
Really, more like 2.5. The brain-ship Helva (of ‘The Ship Who Sang’ series) is experiencing grief after the death of her elderly partner, but finds herself a mission and some coping strategies to help her deal with it. McCaffrey’s very old-fashioned ideas regarding interpersonal relationships are very much on display here, but, as with most of her work, the writing style is breezily entertaining.
* “The Way of all the Ghosts” – Greg Bear
Maybe it was just my state of mind, but this story completely failed to keep my attention. I haven’t read any of the associated material, so maybe that has something to do with it. The premise – a team of misfits sent to deal with some kind of problem involving a tube-shaped pocket universe and alternate timestreams – seemed much more interesting than the snoozy actuality.
2.7 rounds up to 3 – LeGuin rescued this book from being a 2.