Just Over The Horizon: The Complete Short Fiction Of Greg Bear Volume 1 by Greg Bear (book review).

One very big problem of defining a collection or a series of collections as the complete short fiction of a living author is that they tend to write more, rendering the project incomplete or demanding an extra volume. How soon that would come depends on how prolific the author is. Most writers don’t get every story published, so the question arises as to whether this is the complete, collected published fiction or have stories been dredged from under the bed. This volume doesn’t say but the suggestion is the former, as many of the stories here have either been nominated or have won awards. That in itself denotes the quality of this writer, Greg Bear.


In this volume, there are fourteen stories that have been ‘newly revised’ and one previously unpublished screenplay. While there is no forward to explain any rationale in selecting which stories appear here, the title, ‘Just Over The Horizon: The Complete Short Fiction Of Greg Bear Volume 1’, and the nature of those here indicate that these are the ones which have settings on Earth (real or imaginary, present or future) or at least within the solar system. Many of them consider scientific developments and the possible issues that arise.

‘Sisters’, the first in the book, is a typical example. In a world where most parents opt for the perfect, designer children, Letitia is a natural. No-one tinkered with her genes before birth. At school, she tends to be ostracised because of this, then her fellow pupils start dying. The genetic alterations have bred a fatal flaw into their DNA. Mutations and genetic engineering are a feature of several others of these stories.

In ‘Schrodinger’s Plague’, it is a rhinovirus (like the one that produces colds) and, in this form, it is deadly. The subject of a quantum mechanical experiment, the question is whether or not it has been released.

One of Bear’s best known novels is the Hugo winning ‘Blood Music’. The story, with the same title, that also won a Hugo was its genesis. Again, tinkering with DNA is at the centre of the plot. This time it is bacteria, which by working together, develop intelligence. Though this is initially beneficial, it has unforeseen consequences for the human race.

‘Tangents’ is another Hugo-winning story. This time the scientific focus is on the mathematics of the fourth dimension, not time but that overlaying our three usual ones. The boy, Pal, is a mathematical genius and has an instinctive understanding of all four dimensions and finds a way to communicate with the beings that inhabit all four by the means of music. It is also a tribute to Alan Turing.

‘A Martian Ricorso’ is the only one that sets foot on another planet. Although it now seems an unlikely scenario, it postulates a cyclical emergence of life on that world. The other Science Fiction story is ‘Silicon Times E-Book Review’ in which an AI is reviewing a book written by another.

The sea is an element that recurs in a couple of these stories. ‘Warm Sea’ is a gentle story of the encounter between a man nearing the end of his life and a kraken while ‘Richie By The Sea’ is a much darker one. Here, disappearances of children lead a childless couple to worry about a boy who seems to be sleeping rough in a neighbour’s boatshed. The others in the collection tend towards being fantastic or surreal.

‘Dead Run’ is one of my favourites in this volume and involves a trucker whose job is to take the souls of the dead to Hell. A fair living begins to unravel when he encounters a living hitchhiker looking for his dead girlfriend.

Many authors try their hand at re-writing fairy tales. Bear is no exception and ‘Sleepside Story’ turns around the story of ‘Beauty And The Beast’, exploring the ideas by the gender reversal of the characters. These and the other stories in the volume are equally accomplished.

The final offering is a screenplay. Originally written as a potential ‘Outer Limits’ episode but never produced, it revolves around an autistic boy who has the mathematical insight to solve the problems that scientists working with nuclear fusion are having. There are similarities between this and the story ‘Tangents’. Both feature a young mathematical genius and an older person trying to solve an inter-dimensional problem. The story, though, has a greater depth to it and is more successful. Scripts tend to need the hand of a good director to flesh out the details that a story usually provides within the text.

There is no doubt that these are all good stories, some of which will be familiar to readers as they have been collected in a number of other volumes. For those who haven’t met them before, this is an excellent way to get to know the quality of Greg Bear’s writing. I look forward to volume 2.

Pauline Morgan

October 2016

(pub: Open Road, New York. 260 page paperback. Price: $16.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-5040-2145-6. Ebook: Price: $14.99 (US))ISBN: 978-1-5040-2141-8.

check out websites: www.openroadmedia.com/contributor/greg-bear/ and www.gregbear.com

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