Yet again Audio Text has produced the goods by bringing out an excellent collection of Science Fiction unabridged short stories on CD. While it is also available as a download, the CD package is more interesting by providing a concrete entity to keep and explore, not forgetting its potential as a prospective gift for friends and family. As usual, you can’t fault the narration, but the main attraction to the collection is the variety and scope provided.
For example, we’ve got Nancy Kress with ‘Pathways’, a story set in a Kentucky mountain folk community following the fate of a young girl with a terminal genetic disease. In contrast to this, there is Allen M Steele’s ‘Martian Blood’ in which an alternative history of the planet and its people is explored, in particular genetic research of the natives.
Scientific research and its effects on people are also explored. CW Johnson’s ‘Exit Interrupted’ examines a rigid class structure and how it is affected by teleportation to other worlds, however, more down-to-earth is Greg Egan’s ‘Zero For Conduct’, where a young person living in Iran makes a startling discovery about superconductors. Probably the next big thing in science, superconductors will revolutionise the way we live over the next century and how would this affect us if the discovery wasn’t made in the West but in the emerging East?
One of my favourite stories of the collection had to be ‘The Irish Astronaut’ by Val Nolan. Taking place in an Irish village with an unpronounceable name, which is all the author gives, an American astronaut, Dale, sets out to deliver the ashes of a dead colleague by the name of Rodriguez. It all seems a bit much like Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting For Godot’. When the American talks to the locals in the hotel and surroundings, nothing can be pinned down and everything is on a shaky foundation. It was said that the village was once up in the mountains but now it’s down beside the sea. From a Houston, where everything was scientifically correct to the Irish village, which seems to be the opposite, it’s a world of contradictions and contrast. However, that was the case when the American astronauts on a Martian expedition suffered a disaster. All were killed in the Aquarius mission! A quaint story indeed, very captivating and well told to be sure.
Just making it in late 2013, Ian R MacLeod’s story ‘Entangled’ appeared in ‘Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine’. A rather strange story, it’s about a disease of the mind which links consciousness. In the UK, class and racial barriers become broken. It’s fantasy, of course, and unlikely to happen but it’s a good postulation of possibilities.
US author Carrie Vaughn’s story, ‘The Best We Can’, was fascinating from start to finish. An object appeared in the solar system from studies of asteroids and it turned out to be ‘not natural and not ours’. This object, UO-1, was obviously alien and proof that extra-terrestrial life existed. 21st-century science and politics, plus international relations did not make for a reduction in red tape and trying to get anything done, including a consensus of opinion, was well-nigh impossible. As the character says in the story, after discovering aliens, you still got to get up in the morning and go to work. A realistic story, it’s one of the best on the subject of first contact that I’ve listened to as yet.
We’ve also got Robert Reed’s ‘Among Us’, a rather xenophobic story about aliens in our midst, plus Alistair Reynolds with ‘A Map Of Mercury’. The latter story was indeed intriguing and interesting. The Welsh writer, a former astrophysicist, relates what it is to be human with a person on the planet Mercury amongst cyborgs. Finally, Michael Swanwick’s ‘The She Wolf’s Hidden Grin’ takes us far away from Earth with the stories of two girls, sisters and companions remote and yet still near to us today.
Overall, it’s an enjoyable collection of stories, each one intellectually stimulating and a delight to listen to on a rainy day. Many people would disagree on the league table concerning the top ten, but that’s human nature. At any rate, you will have ten of the best from last year, 2013, and they are all pretty darn good. This is a package to recommend to anyone with an interest in Science Fiction and, once again, I was pleased to be able to review it.
(pub: Infinivox/Audiotexttapes. 8 CDs 9.5 hours. Price: $29.99 (US) inc p&p. £27.54 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-884612-99-2)
read by: Tom Dheere, Nancy Linari and Dara Rosenberg