An excellent collection of Willis' short fiction, this book gathers together 11 of Willis' short stories, all previously published, however.
"The Last of the Winnebagos" – Willis' intro says that she has been criticized for this story by people who find it too "sentimental." However, it also won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, so not everyone agreed with that criticism! The book gives us a future scenario that is similar to that of Bradbury's ‘Fahrenheit 451' in some ways - the highways are super-fast, walled off from the scenery around them. A photojournalist on his way to an assignment to document a minor tourist attraction, an old couple who claim to be driving the very last Winnebago motor home around the country, sees a jackal run over in the road. This causes him to remember his dog, one of the last of the species, which was wiped out by a deadly virus – but his dog was killed in a car accident. In a case of too much, too late, the Secret-Service-type ‘humane society' investigates, putting both the journalist and the woman who accidentally ran over his dog years before under dire suspicion. Willis does a superb job here talking about the various kinds of extinction, different kinds of rights and freedoms, and the priorities and values that people assign, and why. Excellent story.
"Even the Queen" – A humorous story, which pokes a bit of fun at extremist feminism. The women of a family are up in arms because their teenage girl wants to join "The Cyclists." What could this group espouse that has them so horrified?
"Schwarzchild Radius" – Set in the trenches of WWI, soldiers are beset by deprivation, cold, violence and illness. In this situation, how did a brilliant physicist come up with theories regarding black holes that are respected years after his death?
"Ado" -- A comedic piece dealing with political correctness, which talks about what you have left if you try to eliminate everything that might possibly offend someone. (Answer: not much.) Not the most brilliantly earth-shattering concept, but done well.
"Spice Pogrom" – This sci-fi tale shows Willis' obsession with classic Hollywood, which I didn't go for too much in her novel ‘Remake.' However, I did really like this story of an alien ambassor visiting Earth's space station. Quarters are tight, and a NASA rep asks his girlfriend to put up one of the alien visitors in her apartment. Mr. ‘Okeefenokee' has a disconcerting love of shopping sprees and strip shows, and his comprehension of English is questionable. Mobbed by unwanted roommates, two particularly awful aspiring starlets, an unsympathetic landlord, etc, the tension grows to an almost unbelievable point... (and Willis conveys this amazingly effectively – it was stressful just to read!) But things wind up in a really cute and romantic way...
"Winter's Tale" – I agree with Willis' introduction here – she says that, in general, she finds conspiracy theories about Shakespeare's real identity annoying. However, this story, which speculates on who the Bard might have been, was really amazingly good – and almost believable! I cried.
"Chance" – An aging housewife moves back to the town where she went to college, at the urging of her self-centered husband, who only cares about the job he has waiting there. She reminisces about the choices she made in college, and reflects on how a decision doesn't necessarily have to be "evil" to ruin your entire life, and that of those around you.
"In the Late Cretaceous" – Here, Willis' wit. Again, skewers the academic milieu, when the latest disaster striking campus is the Dean bringing in an unqualified consultant to do observification and restructurification of the Paleontology department. Very funny, probably more so if you're a professor.
"Time Out" – Some similar themes here as to "Chance," but a much less hopeless take on them. Here, the housewife does get her second chance, and things work out in the end. Also brings in the academic setting, as a researcher is reluctantly recruited to work on a seemingly ridiculous experiment involving time travel.
"Jack" – Set during the Blitz of WWII, when normal British citizens organized to put out fires and rescue victims of bombings on a nightly basis. One team gets a new member who seems to have an almost preternatural sense for discovering where people might be trapped under rubble, and rescuing them. But one man suspects menace – is it just paranoia caused by war and stress.. or is there something more to his suspicions?
"At the Rialto" – Here, Willis applies ideas of quantum physics to researchers attending a conference in Hollywood. The weakest story in the lot, I found it somewhat annoying. Oh well, can't win ‘em all!