REVIEW: One Million A.D. edited by Gardner Dozois

REVIEW SUMMARY: Did not quite rise to the level I hoped it would.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Six far-future novellas written in 2005

MY REVIEW:

PROS: 3 stories ranging from good to superb.

CONS: 2 mediocre entries and one just not very entertaining.

BOTTOM LINE: A mixed-bag balanced evenly over the “slightly-better-than-mediocre” tipping point.

One Million A.D. edited by Gardner Dozois collects six stories set in the far, far future by some of my favorite authors.

Reading anthologies has always been something of a mixed bag for me. (A ultimately enjoyable one, I might add!) Rare is the anthology that can capture surefire winners with every entry. It’s less likely with an original anthology than with a “best of” anthology because the former’s stories have not stood the test of time. The original stuff might be good, but with the already-written stories you can be sure – subject to one’s own version of quality, of course.

Even so, when I saw the author lineup included in the selection – some of whom have provided 5-star stories in the past – I had high hopes. Alas, some of these stories failed to overly excite me the way good sf should.

That said, I should say that four out of the six stories are good and “Mirror Image” by Nancy Kress was near-perfect. Altogether, the book sits balanced evenly over the “slightly-better-than-mediocre” tipping point.

Reviewlettes follow.


STORIES IN THIS ANTHOLOGY:

  1. “Good Mountain” by Robert Reed [2005 novella] (Rating: ) [Read 04/06/06]

    • Synopsis: The last survivors of a dying Earth flee the rapidly encroaching destruction in the belly of a giant worm.
    • Review: Not bad, but it felt padded. The core of the story – the escape from a far-future Earth in its final death throes – was diffused by flashbacks that should have been short summations instead of longish sidetracks. Traveling via giant worm creatures was cool, even though it was a little too reminiscent of the Fremen in Dune. The mockmen creatures were an interesting concept: subservient to men and low in social status. I liked that the world has lost the most of its history, including mankind’s evolution. The Earth, one side in perpetual daylight since the Earth is no longer rotating, is made up of constantly shifting islands and the danger is in the poisonous gases that erupt from below the surface.
  2. “A Piece of the Great World” [New Springtime] by Robert Silverberg [2005 novella] (Rating: ) [Read 04/07/06]
    • Synopsis: Nortekku and Thalarne, two fur-covered beings in a far-future Earth, join an archaeological expedition to a faraway land and are faced with some moral dilemmas concerning the legendary Sea-Lords.
    • Review: Good story, but its casual pacing seemed like the author was just writing about the New Springtime (the ever-cycling rise and fall of life on Earth) while waiting for a firm story to develop. It was interesting that the surviving races were aware of the cycles of life – the last one done in by the “death-stars” that fell from the sky and obliterated most life. Nortekku and Thalarne are part of a love triangle with Thalarne’s husband, Hamiruld who organized the expedition partly to keep Nortekku and Thalarne apart, and partly so that he and his rich syndicate of friends could retrieve some valuable artifacts. Nortekku makes a journey by airship (his first) to reunite with his love and together they travel by seas to the faraway isles that are home to the Sea-Lords. The moral dilemma comes in when it is learned that the artifacts are not only expected to be taken from the still-surviving Sea-Lords, but that the Sea-Lords themselves are part of the treasure.
  3. “Mirror Image” by Nancy Kress [2005 novella] (Rating: ) [Read 04/08/06]
    • Synopsis: Four “sister-selves” seek out the fifth who was exiled to a “quiet planet” for committing genocide.
    • Review: There was a lot of aspects of this story I liked: the idea of “sister-selves”, carbon-copies of the same downloaded memories into different biological vessels, sharing a common sense of self but each acting individually; the mystery over whether the sister-self named Haradil committed genocide and how/why she would do so; the religious sect of Arlbenists who seed planets throughout the galaxy with DNA-based life and deny existence of non-DNA-based life (and the ensuing religion versus science debate that arises); the all-powerful AI-like over-seer of humanity named QUENTIAM who is connected to all life forms through implants and who just might be showing signs of its age; the race of Mori who, by choice, retain their individuality from QUENTIAM; the action scenes where the sister-selves were re-grown with no connection to QUENTIAM and the intense feeling of loneliness they experienced; the idea of a “quiet planet” (one where survival is barely possible and there are no modern conveniences and certainly no contact with QUENTIAM) being used as a place for punishment; and the use of nanotech to heal wounds. This is a lot of cool stuff packed into one swift-moving story. Kress’ writing style is enjoyable and direct – conveying story without meandering into unimportant matters. This was a very, very good read.
  4. “Thousandth Night” by Alastair Reynolds [2005 novella] (Rating: ) [Read 04/09/06]
    • Synopsis: A family line of immortal human clones meet every 200,000 years to re-synch their collective memories. However, before the thousand nights of celebration end, it is learned that one of them may have committed genocide.
    • Review: As usual, Reynolds deals with grand cosmological ideas that are sweeping in scope and serve as a wonderful background for a decidedly human story – this time as story of betrayal and misguided hope. The Gentian Line of immortals, all derived from DNA of one person, travel the galaxy and meet up every 200,000 years or so to re-synch their collective memories. They do this by “threading a strand” of their memories – essentially creating a dream sequence of their experiences- for the others to absorb and, in a friendly artistic contest, pick the one that is the best. During the thousand-night reunion, Campion and Purslane notice that one in their line, Burdock, has broken protocol by falsifying a memory. When they investigate, they stumble upon the nefarious meaning of the “Great Work” whose aim is to breach that final barrier of human expansion that remains held at bay because of the vastness of the universe. Some will stop at nothing to get it. Although the writing was a bit dry at times, there was enough intrigue and sense-of-wonder here to keep the story interesting. The ending resolved the mystery, but its open-endedness makes me wonder if there is more to come in this universe.
  5. “Missile Gap” by Charles Stross [2005 novella] (Rating: ) [Read 04/11/06]
    • Synopsis: In an alternate 1962, the continents of Earth are transported to a huge disc in the Magellanic Cloud by some unknown abductor for some unknown reason.
    • Review: The story is told in three alternating threads. In one thread, Yuri Gagarin and the Russians seek to find the absentee aliens who did this as they are highly evolved and are therefore, they believe, Communists. A second thread follows an immigrant named Maddy, an unhappily-married nurse on the former Earth, now working with an entomologist to study the indigenous life forms (like some rather smart mock-termites) found on some islands of the disc that is now their home. The final thread involves Carl Sagan and the search for the identity of the alien abductors. The entertaining aspect of this story, for me, wasn’t the historical, economical and political musings that (sadly) dominated most of the story, but rather the awesome setting and the mystery of the abductors. The story was best in the later parts when the threads begin to answer those questions. The humans – mostly driven by Cold War paranoia – speculate that they are yet another reiteration of the same experiment that has been going on for eons.
  6. “Riding the Crocodile” by Greg Egan [2005 novella] (Rating: ) [Read 04/12/06]
    • Synopsis: After 10,309 years of marriage and seeing and doing all there is to do, post-singularity humans Leila and Jasim decide to do one last thing: make contact with the distant Aloof species who have been playing hard-to-get for millennia.
    • Review: The problem I had with this story was the motivation of Leila and Jasim. It was stated early on that they had done everything, been everywhere, seen all there is to see. So, how, exactly, is making contact with the Aloof – something that had been attempted by others for millennia, mind you, though admittedly others’ attempts have waned – the answer to delaying their well-accepted (and expected) death? I just didn’t see the motive for delaying for tens-of-thousands-of-years what they had already accepted as inevitable. I suppose an argument could be made that they were clinging on to dear life (even if it was uploaded life in which they continually re-instantiated themselves in new guides and locations), but even that seems weak because it is so far beyond what any other human did in the story. After tantalizing the reader with the promise of the seeing a new species, we never get to see them. Bah! It’s not all negative, though. The uploaded consciousness thing was cool because it was not overplayed. And, despite the lack of motive for going the extra tens-of-thousands-of-years, I did like the way that the story skipped along in many-year increments.