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1995 - Year in SF&F: Reviews



THE WONDER TIMELINE: SF&F RETROSPECTIVE
Read other issues here

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Paul Di Filippo
"Spondulix"
© Science Fiction Age, Sep 1995
Strange Trades, 2000
--novella : 1996 SF Age Poll /2
--/ fourth place sf novella
--/ idea award
--/ humour award


One of the most humorous novellas ever written. The humor is a little off-beat and may not be everybody's cup of tea, but certainly any spoof of the modern widely-established principles of capitalism and sales techniques is highly welcome. Here a small fast food enterprise has the guts to take on the big shots, and even invent its own money (coupons for sandwiches). Through its own close-knit chain of wacky customers, sheer audacity and spunk, it achieves the heights of success entirely undreamt of. In the meantime, the reader will be treated to a certain zoo of strange characters, which Di Filippo seems to relish describing in hilarious detail. This novella comes highly recommended as a modern tongue-in-cheek economics textbook.
review: 24-Aug-06 (read in 2003)

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Greg Egan
"Luminous"

© IASFM, Sep 1995
Luminous, 2000
--novelette : 1996 Hugo
--novelette : 1996 Locus /12
--sf short story : 1996 Aurealis W
--novelette : 1996 SF Chronicle /2
--translated short story : 2003 Seiun W

--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award


Greg Egan's mind-candy concoctions (or "stories of gestated ideas") often sound more intriguing in synopsis than in actual realization. It is a simply mind-blowing experience to read short reviews of his collections and wonder why nobody else thought of writing sci-fi based on such cool ideas - but it often becomes too muddy and too wordy in story form. I felt disappointed by the lack of intensity and focus in narration here, but absolutely uplifted by the ideas contained. What if the laws of mathematics aren't quite as fixed, or as consistent, as we thought? Some of the new connections between mathematics and physics may indeed threaten to shatter our Universe, but I think, a review of current science postulates may be seriously overdue, especially since our science keeps running into a micro- and macro- nemesises, doom-holes and existential brick walls more and more these days.
review: 24-Aug-06 (read in 2000)


Art byKenneth A. Huff (Click to enlarge)

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James P. Hogan
"The Immortality Option" (nv)
(Code Of The Lifemaker 2)
© 1995, Ballantine Del Rey
--series: 1984 Locus /26
--overseas long fiction : 2000 Seiun

--/ cool sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award


This one is a curious literary "fish": on one hand it's a sharp and very competent (and well-researched) epic about the possibilities of robotic evolution, life-codes, AI power games and such. But on the other hand, it is an ungodly mess. The writer mixes the themes, ideas and extrapolations like a retired IBM maniac, or a typical pulp "mad scientist", little caring for the readability or even a slightest character development (in fact I doubt there were even human characters at all, throughout its 400 pages). It reads as an article, as a tractate, or as a Ph. D. thesis, but I cannot call it a novel. Granted it has a tremendous scale and exciting visions of robot cultures and AI domains - but it only serves to re-inforce the "mad scientist ramblings" impression. It's lofty stuff, but after a few chapters you will feel as though your head were cooked in an alchemist's bubbling alembic vessel, and be very fortunate indeed to escape to fresh air.
review: 14-Oct-06 (read in 2003)

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Nancy Kress
"Evolution"
© IASFM, Oct 1995
Beaker's Dozen, 1998
--novelette : 1996 Locus /5

One Amazon reader summarizes this tale nicely:""Evolution" takes a very serious topic, antibiotic-resistance in bacteria, and turns it into a bland, Shirley Jackson-esque tale of people becoming uncivilized. I kept thinking after the first few pages, "Ok, I get it. Why should I keep reading?" Yeah, same here. Of course the subject matter is frightening, but the tale is sleep-inducing at most.
review: 14-Oct-06 (read in 2003)

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David G. Nordley
"Alice's Asteroid"
© IASFM, Oct 1995
--short story : 1996 Locus /15
--short story : 1996 Asimov's Reader Poll /5 (tie)

--/ cool sf story

This is a prime example of how easily a "hard science fiction" space story can change into showcase of a writer's scientific knowledge, losing the excitement in the process. More and more of such competent and dry novellas are getting published nowadays, obviously being encouraged by editors and spear-headed by modern "hard sf" giants in the field. Even Larry Niven writes significantly "tamer" and "scientifically/boringly correct" nowadays. Which makes the literature of fantastic imagination a slave to scientifically-proven standards, almost a world- and physics- "syndication" in sf publishing. I know, I know, there is the fantasy genre, theoretically unbound by any science. But what of the space adventures? To my mind, Outer Space is just as wild and unconstricted by any "human scientific dogmas" as Gandalf's fireworks. Go and prove me wrong in the comments. ( I know I'm exaggerating, but I am mightily starved for fresh and non-conforming space fiction)
review: 14-Oct-06 (read in 2003)

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Robert Reed
"Brother Perfect"
(Sister Alice series)
© IASFM, Sep 1995
Sister Alice, 2003
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ awesome scale


Sister Alice is a super-being the size of a small planet, Brother Perfect is the same kind of an epic intelligence, and the whole merry family has the Universe as their oyster as they embark on a kind of "soap opera on steroids" with relationship squabbles and some entirely too-large-scale emotional perturbations. Sometimes I felt lost and too removed from all that stuff, not anchored enough in reality and asking myself the question, what is this novella for and how it can enhance my day. I have given it big rating mostly for sense of scale, but "Sister Alice" and certainly "Marrow" rate much better in composition.
review: 24-Aug-06 (read in 2000)

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Geoff Ryman
"Warmth"

© Interzone, Oct 1995
--short fiction : 1996 British SF
--fiction : 1996 Interzone Poll


When I went to write this review, I typed Greg Egan instead of Geoff Ryman, subconciously noting the similarities between these two writer's styles, and differences. Geoff Ryman imbued this story with more "warmth" (pun intended) than Egan ever would. (or Asimov, for that matter) The subject matter of this story is pure Asimov - it's about an emotional attachment that a child develops toward its robot nanny. Nothing new, but handled well and smoothly written.
review: 14-Oct-06 (read in 2003)

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Allen Steele
"The Death of Captain Future"
(Captain Future series)
© IASFM, Oct 1995
--novella : 1996 Hugo W
--novella : 1996 Locus /6
--novella : 1996 Asimov's Reader Poll /7
--novella : 1996 SF Chronicle /2
--novella : 1997 Nebula
--foreign short fiction : 1998 Seiun W


A noble effort. This is genuinely heart-warming! Somebody not only remembers Captain Future, but sets out to write a tribute to the old "salty dog of the spaceways". On top of that, this somebody is not some novelty or one-shot-parody producer like Silverberg or Mike Resnick or such, but a toughened space fiction professional Allen Steele. No wonder I started to read this novella with a pleasant goosebumps of expectation, waiting to lap up the successful entry like a grateful puppy. But this was not to be. I was disappointed. The adventure is there, the aliens and villains are more sophisticated and street-smart, the polit-correctness (in the form of pervading cynicism) is there as well, and the charm is irrevocably gone. I am not even speaking of yellowed pulp pages charm and cheesy dialogue and primitive plot charm, which would be a good riddance after all, but the romance of the spaceways and the gleam in the eye of an intrepid space explorer are gone... Supressed by smooth (and quite unexciting) story-telling, run-of-the-mill "reality show" dialogue and the general contemporary feel - which in its "Ikea" enthusiasm did away with the fancy baroque embellishments of Forties pulp fiction. Still it's a good effort (it even won a Hugo award), but it will not be added to my "Captain Future" collection, even as a successful parody. To be a parody, or even a pastiche, it needs a good deal more excitement and humour. However, as it stands, it's quite flat and unmemorable (like eating tofu cheese). Alastair Reynolds would've done a better job, with more flair and colour.
review: 14-Oct-06 (read in 2005)



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Allen Steele
"The War Memorial"
© IASFM, Sep 1995
--short story : 1996 Asimov's Reader Poll /2
--/ cool sf story

A platoon undergoes an attack in a Moon War battle. One soldier survives the initial blast, but the impact renders his combat armor useless, forcing him to watch the decimation and wonder if he will suffocate or be rescued. An intense military sf story, justly reprinted in the "Future War" anthology.
review: 24-Aug-06 (read in 2000)

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Neal Stephenson
"Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of Tribes of the Pacific Coast"

© 1995, "Full Spectrum 5", ed. J. Hershey
--/ cool sf story
--/ idea award

Tribes of the Suburbia: the Mall Sub-Culture. Basically, more cyberpunk than steampunk, also reminiscent of the George A. Romero's iconic "Dawn of the Dead" - "The stand-off between the gentlefolk adventurers and researchers and an enraged tribe of Mad Max-esque petrolhead barbarians in the ruins of a shopping mall".

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