Visions of Paradise

Monday, October 04, 2010

Godlike Machines, part 1

I have mixed feelings about anthologies edited by Jonathan Strahan. I like the fact that he tends towards longer, novella-length stories in books such as the four volumes of Best Short Novels and the new Godlike Machines. I dislike the fact that he tends to mix fantasy with science fiction indiscriminately. I liked the fact that he has a predilection for science fiction set in the far future off planet Earth. I dislike the fact that he has a weakness for stories steeped in technological ideas wrapped in fancy language to the exclusion of characterization and strong plotting.

Every volume of Best Short Novels had a few stories I could not finish, as did The New Space Opera, co-edited with Gardner Dozois. I do not read his annual Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, because I can get two volumes devoted exclusively to science fiction (edited by Dozois and Hartwell/Cramer).

But I jumped on Godlike Machines as soon as it was released, because it certainly excluded fantasy, and likely cyberpunk (near future dismal) in favor of large concepts sf, which I like a lot. Plus it contained three of my very favorite authors (Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter and Robert Reed), as well as Cory Doctorow, Sean Williams and Greg Egan, all excellent writers.

The first story in the book is “Troika,” by Alastair Reynolds, which has lots of elements to it, including two parallel storylines:

• In the “present,” a former cosmonaut escapes from a mental institution and risks his life in a raging Russian snowstorm to find an aging astronomer and tell her that what he discovered on his last mission verified her theory for which she had been vilified and humiliated publicly;

• In the “past,” that mission is shown, as three cosmonauts explore this story’s Big Dumb Object, which had appeared inside the solar system and to date has resisted examination. But they succeed in entering it and learn amazing things as their lives change drastically, explaining why they end up as inmates in an insane asylum.

Both storylines are interesting, the one in the “present” having more characterization while the one in the “past” has more plot tension. They both mesh together eventually, and the story reaches a totally unexpected but believable ending. This is not Reynolds’ best story, nor his most technological, but still a good one. Then again, I have never read an Alastair Reynolds story that was not good.

As I finish each story, I will post its review here.


  • Alastair Reynolds is one of my favorites. After reading your review, I picked up this book. Anytime I get the chance to read a new Reynolds story, I jump on it.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 7:26 PM  

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