A nice collection for the Reynolds completionist, which includes a bunch of very good stories, and a bunch of okay ones. Not exactly as required-reading as Zima Blue and Other Stories was, but this collection has its share of must-reads.
One thing missing was notes from Reynolds himself after each story, which Zima Blue (and, I think, Galactic North) had. That would have made this collection just a little sweeter.
NB: Asterisks (*) before titles indicate the stories I thought were best of the lot.
Nunivak Snowflakes – Messages from the future sent in rains of fish; intelligent spacetime inhabiting the mechanical arm of a Inupiat teenager; a lone Canadian spy trying to keep ahead of several world superpowers. This is a wonderfully weird story, a wholly unique idea, and the first piece Reynolds ever published (at the age of 24!). Great start to this collection.
Monkey Suit – A nice little piece, with a sci-fi spin on the idea of the unfinished business of the recently departed. It doesn’t really add much to the Revelation Space universe though, so I was a tad disappointed.
*The Fixation – Oh wow. A kind of dark story with a weird premise. It’s sort of like the Bittorrenting of objects between parallel worlds, mixed in with a bit of fantasy about an alternate world where the Antikythera Mechanism wasn’t lost, and was key to the formation of an empire. I liked it!
*Feeling Rejected – A tiny story that’s really for academics, in the form of a peer-review rejection for a scientific paper, on the discovery of an extraterrestrial civilisation. It’s blithely satirical of the politics of academia today, while also chock full of ideas about how we might study other civilisations. I LOVE the idea of a cultural H-R diagram. I wish so much I could read all the cited articles. As a scientist, I found it hilarious!
Fury – A story about loyalty, memory, a 30-thousand-year-old galactic empire, a mystery with a grisly reveal, an ancient crime, and the question of how that crime can be punished. A decent tale, but I admit I liked the worldbuilding more than the plot. There’s uplifted animals, too!
Stroboscopic – Reminiscent of Player of Games by Iain M Banks, except the game in this story is far more deadly. Players must manipulate the ecology of alien lifeforms that are only truly alive for a short burst every 72 seconds, due to evolving near a pulsar. Trust me, it makes sense in the story. The weird biology, and how it’s worked into the rules of a futuristic game, makes this a very clever tale. The political-conspiracy-subplot was a little less convincing, though.
The Receivers – Not really my thing. It’s a well written story and all, but the plot just didn’t grip me very much. The story is about what happens to some famous 20th Century composers in an alternate timeline when World War I keeps going for decades. I suppose it counts as science fiction, but there was no real scientific explanation to the phenomenon that occurs. I guess this is more a story for music aficionados.
*Byrd Land Six – Now THAT is a fucking story! A physics experiment gone wrong creates a rather horrific situation for a small group of researchers in an near-future Antarctic base. Brilliant and chilling! I really enjoyed the rather spooky imagery involving wind and ice that just seems wrong…
The Star Surgeon’s Apprentice – Eh, that was okay. A fairly simplistic story about a teenage boy apprenticing on an interstellar ship which turns out to have a few secrets. This was originally written for a YA anthology, which explains why it’s rather basic, plot-wise, for a Reynolds story. One thought: It reads pretty damn goofy when a lot of exposition is given to a character that can’t speak in full sentences.
On the Oodnadatta – That was bizarre! A bit confusing in structure, but definitely a unique idea — actually, more of a mish-mash of several seemingly incongruous ideas. Self-driving road trains in the Australian outback, the legal status of the cryogenically frozen, simulation of human minds, mutant kangaroos, cloning, terrorists, slavery of sorts. Weird.
Fresco – A depressing vignette about a lonely AI, as it listens to signals from life beyond the Milky Way galaxy. Kind of a companion piece to the equally-short (but much more clever) “Feeling Rejected”, only taking an even more pessimistic view. Nothing special, but it’s nice to have it in this collection.
Viper – Some good ideas in this one, like a near-future prison on a high-speed train. But the central concept — putting criminals in VR simulations to assess their psychology — is one I’ve seen before: an episode of The Outer Limits, I think, with a smack of Inception. I thought I knew where it was going, but the ending was ambiguous enough not to make me groan.
Soirée – A slightly melancholy little piece about Earth’s first interstellar voyagers being awoken from stasis, and meeting those who came after them yet overtook them with superior technology. The little-white-lie aspect of the brave new world reminded me of Reynolds’ other story “Beyond the Aquila Rift”, but with a different flavour and nowhere near as creepy.
*The Sledge-maker’s Daughter – Set in a post-apocalyptic England, this story is oozing with worldbuilding details that hint at an epic backstory, yet the plot focuses mainly on the minor tribulations of a small community. I always enjoy the theme of advanced technology being rediscovered by a society reverted to simpler ways. And the personal stories of the titular daughter and the old woman were compelling. Very good, could be a whole novel, etc.
*Tiger, Burning – This was a fantastic story to close the collection on. A sort of detective tale (with an anthropomorphic feline protagonist who made me think of the comic character Blacksad) set in a future where humans have colonised thousands of parallel realities. A smattering of cheeky references to Shakespeare (sorry, “Shaxpia”) and Forbidden Planet made me laugh; while the ideas about the legal status of people after their memories have been transferred between realities, were clever.