Like most short story collections, this is something of a mixed bag. But as it contains some examples of Varley at his best, and his best is at the top of the field, it is an important collection for any serious fan of his, and good reading for everyone.
"The Pusher" is a very quiet story that will bring to the fore some unconscious assumptions most people have when hearing about an adult male interacting with an pre-adolescent female. In this case, those assumptions are exploded by the story's middle, and there is a serious investigation of just what types of emotional stress a near-light speed traveler would be subjected to, and what he can do about it. A unique look at a problem that just might be somewhere in humanity's future.
The title story, "Blue Champagne", didn't do very much for me, though it shows a remarkable imagination in its construction of a very unique champagne 'glass' and a very different approach to help for nerve damage that the medical profession is only now beginning to attempt. But it should be read before the next story "Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo" both for some common background elements and a shared character. "Tango" is the best story here, an achingly emotional story about a girl raised in isolation by a computer on a space station that had been decimated by a plague so virulent that it was projected to wipe out all human life if it ever escaped from the station. Now the station's orbit is deteriorating and it must be destroyed, and the girl can't be rescued. Finely written, with some twists that are not expectable, and not overplayed.
"Press Enter " is the Hugo and Nebula Award winning story that will make all the believers in world-wide conspiracies, mystery fans, and the computer nerds very happy. This is a more plot driven story than some of the others here, but with more than enough character to engage your heart as well as your mind.
The only truly insignificant story here is "The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged)", which is a compilation of very short vignettes of representative people from that book, who no longer exist. Happily it's a really short story. The rest of the stories are what I call average; quite readable and enjoyable, but not ones that will make you sit up and take notice or remember for very long.
There is something of a theme that runs through many of the stories here, that of the alienated, isolated individual trying to cope with the world, which gives these stories a feeling of darkness, a somberness tempered by Varley's resolutions to his character's problems.
A good introduction to Varley for those who haven't read any of his other work, with enough excellent stories to make you want to come back for more, and will repay your time spent reading with an expanded view of both the world and the human condition.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)