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DAW 30th Anniversary: Science Fiction, edited by Elizabeth R. Wollheim and Sheila E. Gilbert, DAW, 2002, 539 pp.
DAW 30th Anniversary: Science Fiction is a collection of science fiction stories by DAW authors, assembled for the purposes of celebrating a long-standing and strong imprint in SF, DAW Books. The stories are arranged chronologically by the date of the first publication by DAW of each author, so the book begins with a contribution by Brian Stableford (author of DAW’s first SF book, To Challenge Chaos, in May 1972) and concludes with a story by Julie E. Czerneda, whose first book, A Thousand Words for Stranger, was published in 1997. Most of the stories are stand-alone works, but a few continue or fill in gaps in tales already told at novel length in other DAW books by the authors. The book has two introductions, written by Wollheim and Gilbert, and each story has an introduction written either by one of the two editors or by the particular author.
DAW published a companion volume at the same time as this one. DAW 30th Anniversary: Fantasy is organized along the same principles (contributions from DAW authors in chronological order of first publication), has an appropriate fantasy cover but matches the science fiction volume in general design, and is of the same approximate length. Taken together, the two make a handsome addition to any bookshelf, and a handy survey of the incredible contribution of DAW Books over the years to both genres.
The two best stories in the DAW 30th Anniversary: Science Fiction are by Neal Barret, Jr. and Tad Williams. Neal Barret, Jr.’s “Grubber” is a worthy addition to a long tradition in science fiction short stories, one that I think of as the Tiptree tradition although there are many other admirable antecedents. “Grubber” follows the life cycle of a very strange alien lifeform. I’m not sure I even understood what was happening! But I love this kind of stuff, and Barret’s work is by far my favourite story in this collection. Khiri is a young grubber, roaming around, socializing with the Mothers and avoiding the terrifying presence of the Fathers who kill young grubbers. Khiri has to go to the not-place to escape the Fathers, and he gets better at this as he grows up. Then his view of reality gets completely inverted, as he becomes a Father himself and begins work on the Pattern. Barret throws in some other alien species, FTL speculations, and even a surprise appearance by humans. But we are always firmly in the point of view of the grubbers, and the story is wonderfully coherent and strange.
My other favourite in DAW 30th Anniversary: Science Fiction is “Not With a Whimper, Either” by Tad Williams. This story could have gone disastrously wrong: it’s written entirely from within the point of view, so to speak, of a chatroom, a conceit with rather limited scope. But Williams gives a flavour of the chatroom, enough to let us recognize the reality of it (people trolling about homoeroticism in Tolkien, for example) but not enough to make the experience pall. Then he throws in a glitch in the system, and we watch as the users try to figure out what could be happening. The welter of characters introduced at the beginning is randomly winnowed to one, so there’s a bit of a rupture between the two parts of the story. But that’s entirely forgivable, due to interest in what happens next. And “Not With a Whimper, Either” might be one of those stories written entirely with a twist or gag at the end in mind; normally I don’t appreciate such stories in any long-term way, but this one is just clever enough to warrant the praise.
Wollheim and Gilbert assemble quite a number of strong stories. The first story, Brian Stableford’s “The Home Front”, is a good example of the solid fiction on display in this book. Stableford tells the story of a man who plays in the market in the era that came to be known as the First Plague War, in 2129. Due to many different resistant types of disease, and terrorist manipulation of such, there is a run-up, a la tulipmania, on substances and plants that have supposedly been engineered to give protection. It’s a tragic tale, and well written.
I also liked “The Black Wall of Jerusalem” by Ian Watson. It’s about Jerusalem, appropriately enough, and the story begins with a man visiting the city. He encounters an obsessed woman who later gets sucked into another dimension through the black wall of the title. Soon he is involved a hyper-paranoid paramilitary-style group that is investigating the strange phenomenon. The story changes from highly realistic to highly bizarre, so I wasn’t too sure what to make of the ending. Otherwise, the story is quite interesting.
Other good stories include “The Sandman, the Tinman, and the BettyB” by C.J. Cherryh, about some working class buoy-tenders in outer space who have to deal with the deadly remnants of an old war; “The Big Picture” by Timothy Zahn, about the new perspectives needed in a stalemated war between humans and aliens; and “Station Ganymede” by Charles L. Harness, about efforts to navigate in the atmosphere of Jupiter. Three fairly grim stories that were also well-written are “Downtime” by C.J. Cherryh, about a system that steals biological time from the young for the old; “Words” by Cheryl Franklin, about a murder case that hides a more serious threat; and “The Heavens Fall” by S. Andrew Swann, about a horrifying miscarriage of justice.
The stories that take place in already-established universes were generally weaker than the stand-alone ones. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare them to the horrible Star Wars prequels, but I would suggest that the same effect is in play. The novelty of seeing characters we already know in a different context or at a younger age (or older as the case may be) is often what has to carry the story, and the author relies on our familiarity with the background to provide depth. This is all fine and good if the story is served by this approach, but if it’s a shortcut, it almost never works. The aforementioned Cherryh story is an example of a good story that fits in a larger universe, and Frederik Pohl’s Gateway story “Home for the Old Ones” is also not too bad. Kate Elliot’s Jaran universe shows up in “Sunseeker,” “Passage to Shola” is a Sholan story from Lisanne Norman, and Julie E. Czerneda’s “Prism” fits in with her Web Shifters series. These stories seem to crop up in the last half of the collection, which probably heightened my reaction.
DAW 30th Anniversary: Science Fiction also has stories by Brian W. Aldiss, Ron Goulart, Robert Sheckley, Charles Ingrid, and eluki bes shahar.
Overall, this collection has a diverse selection of work. Fans of any of the DAW series will probably like the last half of the collection more than I did. As one of the few original anthologies of 2002, this book is definitely worth checking out for anyone who is interested in short fiction in the genre.
Last modified: October 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 by James Schellenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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