Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Future on Ice: Review

The short story collection Future on Ice was conceived as a companion book to Orson Scott Card's first anthology, Future on Fire. Meant to appear shortly after Fire's publication in 1991, Ice did not come out until 1998, my best friend gave me the book in 2002, and here I am ten years later finally reading the thing. So the first thing one might ask is: Do the stories hold up? Card chose these stories as the best of the '80s. Are they? And if they are, are the best science fiction stories of the 80s relevant twenty years later?

Are these the best? I really can't say. I don't know that I was ever immersed enough in 80s science fiction to make that judgement. My SF reading peak hit during the 80s and carried me through the early 90s, but even then I had a taste for the classics. You'd be more likely to find Bradbury or Asimov or Clarke or Silverberg or Sturgeon in my hands than anybody current or up-and-coming. And sure, Asimov is here...and a few other names that I know (Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, Octavia Butler, C. J. Cherryh...and, of course, Orson Scott Card). Overall, the authors are new to me.

But, I can say that these are, for the most part, good solid stories. And there isn't one that feels dated. They could have taken place in 1985 or 1965 or 2005 or beyond. Because these are people stories first. They are about the human condition and what we do with that no matter what our circumstance or time period. The ones that aren't as good (in my opinion) are not as good because I don't connect as well with them...not because they don't work well now. They just don't work well for me.

I think Card did a very good job of selecting a variety of stories. There should be something here for everyone--from computer geeks to time travelers, from alien first contact to inter-species war, from cyber-genetics to cyber-intelligence. We get a look at Earth's "past"--from the viewpoint of a future archeologist and a glimpse of what the future of humanity might look like (personally, I don't want to go there).

The best of the best:

"Robot Dreams" by Isaac Asimov: a roboticist inadvertently creates a robot capable of dreaming. What should we as humans do with that? [5 stars]
"Portraits of His Children" by George R. R. Martin: a novelist's daughter takes a unique revenge; teaching him a lesson through his other "children" [5 stars for an emotionally raw, heart-breakingly terrific story]
"Blood Music" by Greg Bear: creation of a nano-culture based on human cells initiates a take-over from within...instead of without [5 stars]
"Press Enter [ ]" by John Varley: a totally different take on how computers might take over the world. [5 stars]
"Rockaby Baby" by S. C. Sykes: You're a para- or quadriplegic. Would it be worth it to have your physical self completely whole again if you forgot who you were and everything that made you who you were? [5 stars]

The rest of the stories are a mixed bag ranging from 2-3 1/2 stars. Average for the whole collection 3 1/2 stars.

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