This collection was my first introduction to the work of George Zebrowski – perhaps surprisingly, as he’s been writing and publishing for my entire lifetime, has won the Campbell award and been nominated for several others. He’s also the long-time partner of well-known author and editor Pamela Sargent, whose work I’ve been familiar with for some time.
The Water Sculptor –
Working on a tiny orbital station devoted to climate control is an isolated job – but that suits our protagonist here, an ex-astronaut who dreads returning to an overcrowded Earth. His former colleague feels similarly. But space is dangerous.
Nice set-up; a lot of things hinted at and implied about this future, so that the reader really gets a sense of a larger world outside the tiny one that is directly portrayed. But it also felt a bit too short and abrupt.
Parks of Rest and Culture –
‘Blade Runner”s world looks positively hopeful and cheery next to the picture Zebrowski paints here of a similar future. The environment is destroyed. Breathing masks are required to step outside. The wealthy live in sealed arcologies – or off-planet. One man, trapped in a dead-end, routine job and a loveless marriage, is tempted by the ads promising meaningful work outside Earth’s orbit.
Assassins of Air –
In a similar polluted future New York City to the previous story, many things have changed since our day. Other things have not changed, as a young gang member learns when he decides he wants to ‘go straight’ and get a legal job.
The Soft Terrible Music –
Starts off like something by Jorge Luis Borges, and ends up as a sci-fi crime investigation.
A recluse lives in a strange castle in Antarctica. Strangely obsessed with a well-known literature aficionado, he makes up a story about a library of lost books to lure her to become his wife.
However, their relationship, unsurprisingly seems doomed to failure – and hidden layers of motivation are revealed.
I loved the first half, but felt that the later revelations were a little uneven.
The Sea of Evening –
A couple of colleagues engage in a dialogue about the possibility of an emerging AI, and the philosophical corollaries involving first contact with actual alien intelligences.
Heathen God –
A strange little gnomish alien has been a prisoner in a human-run facility for over a century. The little-known secret regarding this inmate is that he is the being who created our solar system and, indeed, humanity as we know it. Obviously, this truth has been hidden due to the religious upheaval potential of this knowledge. But some are scheming to use the truth for their own purposes.
Wayside World –
On a post-apocalyptic colony world, the remnants of human civilisation have degenerated into a life resembling our worst conceptions of cavemen. The strong and brutish survive. Unfortunately, Ishbok is a man who, in our society, would probably have become a nerdy geek. Bullied, and rejected by his love interest, it doesn’t look like there’s much hope for him – until visitors arrive from the skies.
In the Distance, and Ahead in Time –
Here, we find out about another isolated and failing colony world (possibly in the same future and time period as the previous story). The survivors of an abortive arrival on this planet are confined to one plateau, surrounded by an ominous forest full of alien life. The original settlers sought out a simpler life, but for those who don’t refuse to see, it’s clear that things are on a downward slide. The tools they depend on are gradually failing.
You’d think that when visitors arrive, offering a way out, that all would be eager to grab the opportunity – but such is not the case.
Transfigured Night –
This long piece starts out in a very surreal and inaccessible style, but gradually, very similar themes to those in the previous two stories emerge. Far in the future, a group of human have retreated into virtual, solipsistic existences, their experiences bounded only by their imaginations.
Visitors arrive – equally ‘transfigured’ over time – but the new arrivals strongly believe in the value and satisfaction of experiencing objective reality. They try to convince others of their superiority of their philosophy.
Between the Winds –
Nearly identical in set-up to ‘Transfigured Night’ except that this one is written mainly from the perspective of the travellers who come across the ‘host servers’ that contain post-human virtual worlds, rather than concentrating on the inhabitants of those worlds. It’s also written in a much more conventional, accessible style.
The visitors who inhabit ‘reality’ argue about what should be done about these virtual realities: left alone; ‘rescued’ and brought into reality, destroyed? Are the inhabitants really ‘alive’ or merely programs? Is the existence of these worlds a repulsive obscenity – or wildly tempting?
Many thanks to Open Road Media and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book and introducing me to this author. As always, my opinion is solely my own.