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May 1998
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
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Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
Kathi Maio
Lucius Shepard
Gregory Benford
Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
Jerry Oltion
Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
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Editor's Recommendations - May 1998
by Gordon Van Gelder

David Hartwell makes it clear at once that his new anthology is premature. "The twentieth century is the science fiction century" he writes in The Science Fiction Century (Tor) . . . in 1997. But he notes that life doesn't neatly fit the patterns laid out by our calendars, and the gist of this book runs from Wells to Nancy Kress's "Beggars in Spain" (1991) and rejects earlier sf that Damon Knight collected in his 1962 anthology A Century of Science Fiction. Small matter. What we have is a grand assemblage of forty-five stories - including many novellas - set in small type and celebrating a wide variety of SF's traditions.

Hartwell's main argument is that SF "stands in opposition to literary Modernism. It is the paraliterary shadow of Modernism," and consequently Hartwell largely avoids anything with a Postmodern taint to it. (In fact, I believe he never uses the words "New Wave.") So if you're looking for stories with a bit more of an experimental edge to them and some literary self-consciousness - as well as more awareness of popular culture - turn instead to such collections as John Kessel's The Pure Product (Tor), Paul Di Filippo's Fractal Paisleys (Four Walls Eight Windows), Kit Reed's Weird Women, Wired Women (Wesleyan Univ. Press), or The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye by Jonathan Lethem (Orb). All four books have lots of lively reading. Kessel's collection includes most of the contents of his previous collection, Meeting in Infinity, and is probably the most varied of the four, but in this wild crowd, that's like calling one chameleon more colorful than another. Look again and things may well have changed.

If you're in a very postmodern mood, David Bowman's Bunny Modern (Little, Brown) is worth a look. The novel is not hardcore SF, but it's set in a speculative future wherein Con Edison rules New York. The book is much too coy at times, but the story is interesting and very, very offbeat.

One book that is hardcore SF - and very good - is Gregory Benford's Cosm. It's really a scientific mystery novel, and the mystery is engaging: what is this big ball that resulted from the impact of uranium atoms in a supercollider? The answer is exactly the sort of speculation that makes SF what it is.

Another hardcore SF novel is Joe Haldeman's Forever Peace (Ace) . . . at first glance, anyway. But what looks like a future war novel defies expectations and turns instead into more of a spy thriller. While the book is billed as a thematic sequel to The Forever War, it feels closer in theme and tone to Haldeman's 1968. Either way, it holds its own in this good company.

I discovered Sue Woolfe's Leaning Towards Infinity (Faber) because it was nominated for last year's Tiptree Award, and I'm glad I did. This near-future story of a family of math geniuses doesn't have much real science content, but it's extremely well-written and a very good read. The fact that it earned an award nomination demonstrates again the wonderful diversity and boundless nature of the SF field.

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