|Mass market paperback, 408 pages|
Acquired March 2012
Read March 2014
edited by George Mann
Several years ago, I read and enjoyed volume three of this series, so looping back to the beginning seemed warranted, although "new science fiction" hardly applies at this point. It's a decent anthology, though not as good as remember that later one being. Unfortunately, it doesn't start strong, as I found Jeffrey Thomas's "In His Sights" pretty difficult to get into, with lengthy exposition dumps starting right on the first page, but it eventually picked up for me with a fun time travel story in Peter F. Hamilton's "If At First..." and Stephen Baxter's apocalyptic "Last Contact."
"Cages" by Ian Watson, about aliens who introduce disabilities to the human race, was fascinating even if I didn't understand it and Mary A. Turzillo's "Zora and the Land Ethic Nomads" was a great, personal-level story set on Mars. Those four are seemingly it for strong stories, alas, though there are number of decent ones. Many of the middling ones run afoul of that old nemesis of science fiction: the writer who has an idea, but not a story. I wanted to love "The Bowlder Strain" by James Lovegrove (about a virus that removes your ability to swear) and "Personal Jesus" by Paul Di Filippo (about aliens who give everyone on Earth an iPod that lets them talk to God), but both had these amazing concepts wedded to insubstantial stories.
Special excoriation must be reserved for Mike Resnick & David Gerrold's "Jellyfish," about a Philip K. Dick/Kurt Vonnegut pastiche cleverly named "Dillon K. Filk" who... listen, I don't even know. It's the worst sort of metafiction: lazy, in-jokey, and knowing. I rarely hate stories as much as I hated this, but this was really a complete waste of every one of the 38 pages it was printed on. After ten pages have been wasted on basically nothing, then you get more and more expys of famous authors: "E. A. van der Vogel" (ugh), "Belevedere Atheling" (double ugh), "Robert Goldenboy" (really? are you even trying?), and then a whole page that just lists these I-am-sure-they-are-so-hilarious-to-Resnick-and-Gerrold-and-their-friends parody names of writer after writer after writer, culminating with "whatsisname, that sissy little creep who sold that stupid script to Star Truck while still in college, stealing the opportunity from a real science fiction writer." As if David Gerrold ever crossed the radar of Dick or Vonnegut; dream on, fanboy. It was at this point that I swore violently and went on to the next story, because life is too short. This story and Brian Aldiss's contribution ("The Four Ladies of the Apocalypse") make me think Mann was willing to take any old shit from famous writers to bolster his book.
Wow, I wasted a lot of words on it, but I seriously hated that story, and it remains my strongest emotional reaction to the book. Thankfully, I know the series will do better work later on.