Original anthology of 28 stories.
Definitely an anthology that's a cut above the rest. The editors at Bantam put this together, & I think they've got some "pull" with the good authors and the good stories... NONE of these suffer from the common anthology syndrome where you feel that the editors offered a quick buck to whoever can crank out a tale... A lot of thought-provoking, sometimes challenging, and entertaining stuff here, by some (at least to me) unknowns as well as established, top-notch writers.
I was also very impressed by the editors' selections and ordering of the pieces. They were really selected and arranged in a way that really juxtaposed ideas and takes on things in a remarkably effective way. Kudos!
1 • Simply Indispensable • Michael Bishop
A both funny and dark story of a future talk show host who finds himself with an alien on his show that says he's turning over the job of running the universe from himself to Man. But is man ready for the responsibility?
30 • The Insipid Profession of Jonathan Hornebom • Jonathan Lethem
Very surreal piece about a kitsch artist who's having blackouts, coming to himself to find his artworks sabotaged. He hires a PI to investigate him to see what he's doing. She in turn, encounters a grad student with a strange theory about the artist Max Ernst. Both absurdist and spooky...
58 • Evita, Among the Wild Beasts • S. A. Stolnack
A rich playboy uses a virtual reality program that allows users to "enter" famous artworks to try to seduce a poor but beautiful woman. However, a revived religious cult that hearkens back to primitive times also has their influence on the young woman...
77 • The Music of What Happens • Howard V. Hendrix
A virtual reality artist is hired by a wealthy businessman to artistically recreate the experience of visiting his newly-acquired estate: Yellowstone Park. But when he hires his business-savvy ex- to be his manager for this major project, she begins to have suspicions. What are the businessman's plans for the REAL park, after the virtual one is completed? Is there a way to foil his plots and preserve Yellowstone?
Nice mix of cynicism and idealism here.
112 • A Belly Full of Stars • Michael Gust
Another surreal piece, lots of Christian religious imagery. Are angels what they seem? Is the Virgin Mary? An artist makes an infernal pact...
119 • Cool Zone • Pat York
In a celebrity-obsessed future, suffering for beauty is the norm - but abortion as performance art brings it to a new level.
132 • Of Silence and Slow Time • Karawynn Long
Not really a sci-fi piece, althought it's set in the future. It deals with the all-too-presently-real issue of deaf people wishing to intentionally choose to have deaf children. Long is, the blurb says, a teacher at a Deaf School, and, in my opinion, although she comes out against the concept, makes far too much of an effort to excuse and explain her protagonist's wishes. I'm sorry, but the very idea of inflicting a terrible handicap (and yes, it IS) on your child for your selfishness and self-centered desire to have a child "like you" is truly EVIL.
151 • The Breakthrough • Paul Park
Also not a sci-fi piece. A teacher working with an autistic boy seems to have made a communication breakthrough. But is it real, or wishful thinking?
162 • Shimabara • Karen Joy Fowler
A historical piece about a Japanese boy who becomes a Christian martyr, in the 17th century.
169 • What Dreams Are Made on • Mark Bourne
A whore in Shakespeare's time turns out to be an immersive actress from the future, her experiences broadcast as entertainment. But now, she's decided she doesn't want to go back...
A very very similar scenario to the recently-discussed 'Heroes Die' by Matthew Woodring Stover - but published 3 years earlier.
200 • Which Darkness Will Come Upon Us? • John M. Landsberg
A Native American and a white missionary encounter a group of aliens - who have accidentally dropped a powerful hand weapon on their first visit to Earth. Disaster strikes - but who will the disaster be worst for?
215 • Wonders of the Invisible World • Patricia A. McKillip
An angel appears to the colonial witch-hunter Cotton Mather - but it's really a grad student researcher from the future. Non-interference policies are, emotionally, a bitch.
224 • Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of Tribes of the Pacific Coast • Neal Stephenson
A rare short story from Stephenson, vividly evoking a future of technologically advanced gated communities, with a Road Warrior-type wasteland of vicious SUV-driving barbarians outside...
234 • The Sixty-Third Anniversary of Hysteria • Lisa Mason
Again, not sci-fi. A piece exploring a woman's submerged desires for emancipation and independence in the art scene of 1940s Mexico, as the outbreak of WWII looms.
246 • When a Man's an Empty Kettle • William Barton
The three members of a commerical spaceship's crew: a robot with (some of) a man's memories and identity, a robot with the appearance of a man, and a programmed-to-be-dependent furry female, arrive at a planet for shore leave - where they encounter a shapeshifting robot sex worker, and an exotic dancer who was formerly the lover of the man whom the robot believes he may be...
A complex web of entanglements and emotions ensues...
268 • The Dead Eye of the Camera • Jean-Claude Dunyach
A future wasteland of pain framed as art... where self-destructive masochists vie for the eye of the camera. One of the least effective pieces here, I felt.
275 • Tale of the Blue Spruce Dreaming (or How to be Flesh) • Jean Mark Gawron
In a future of AI's, young ones are told a tale (influenced by Australian Aboriginal myth) of their origin - how the first AI's had to take flesh, and how they learned to survive and reproduce...
312 • The Question Eaters • Tricia Sullivan
On a newly-colonized alien planet, only traces of the former inhabitant's language remains. But perhaps the influence of an alien language could be more viral than any living thing...
320 • Homecoming • Doug Beason
A lone space man in a long orbit... finally approaching Earth, He had to kill all his shipmates in order to survive, when mechanical disaster struck... didn't he? Earth will have sent a mission up to fetch him back down to home... won't they?
331 • The Massive Quantities of Ice • William John Watkins
An alien embedded in an impenetrable iceberg gives researchers strange dreams.
337 • Hearts and Flowers • Lawrence Watt-Evans
In the future, a jaded society searches for novelty. Since implants now assure balanced brain chemistry,. life has gotten a little dull. But when someone figures out how to (temporarily) induce the feeling of love, through adjustment of those implants, a fad for romance sweeps the country...
353 • Goddoggit • Emily Devenport
Entities need to take turns being God - and this time it's a dog's turn...
358 • Saving Face • Andrew Lane
Aliens have provided Man with some astounding & convenient new technology - including bio-cameras that every TV studio & media outlet is now using. But if aliens can actually control and influence what their cameras are showing, perhaps they have subtly gained control of Earth's media... or so suspects one anchorman...
369 • Ruby • Alan Rodgers
An "alternate-history" style take on Lee Harvey Oswald and JFK. (What is Oswald was the president). Not a fan of this kind of thing, I have to admit.
383 • Where the Shadows Rise and Fall • Pat McEwen
A Vietnam vet encounters one of his old mates - who's flipped out, and is a danger to both himself - and his little boy. Not bad, but again, I sorta feel like it's already been done.
402 • Fountains in Summer • Richard Bowes
An odd, psychological story about an antiques-shop owner, remembering his childhood, growing up with a mentally disturbed mother - and the implication that he, as well, may have a sort of split personality and/or other problems.
416 • A Fruitful Harvest • Lauren Fitzgerald
A boy whose mother is dying has been taken out to the country by his father. There, he learnes an odd secret from his grumpy neighbor.... as a man, he wonders if he has remembered it correctly... he needs to know, now that his young son has died...
423 • The Ziggurat • Gene Wolfe
Really good. Almost a Stephen-King-style story. A remote cabin in the woods. A snowstorm. A wife comes out through the weather to try to get her husband to sign divorce papers, and to drop off his son to him, also bringing her girls. But there are strange figures in the woods... and when they steal an axe and a hunting rifle, and attack, the menace grows. Are they just vandals? Or is there something more to this? Things didn't play out the way I expected....
Overall, an excellent anthology.