The subject matter in these stories is as variable as their quality. To me, the blurb "One giant leap for mankind" promised a near future focus using plausible technology and characters. This is achieved in a few stories. Sometimes there is an inverse relationship between the past profile of the author and the merit of the short story, seemingly reflecting directly on the demands and attention of the editor. There are a few fine stories, perhaps cast into stark relief by some others. I have offered views on each short story, mindful that style can be a personal preference.
The girl-thing that went out for sushi by Pat Cadigan ****
This is initially uncomfortable to read. The cyberpunk? style, needing translation itself, lends to the difficulty of interpreting the post-human characters and their participation in the plot. It seemed there may have also been a gender issue being thrown around, but most of the allegory was fairly shallow. I am pleased I gave myself a break to muster some objectivity, contemplating that the relationship between this narrative and most contemporary authorship may be compared with the relationship between the possible day-to-day speech of working people in the outer planets many decades hence and the way we speak today. The comparison is similar and made me aware that this initially difficult story is in fact very insightful. As the story dealt with the change associated with progress, the associated manipulations of the power players, the exuberant intoxication of the youthful and strident, and the fall-out on the quotidian players in history, I was captivated. The post-human marine "things" were more human than the "two steppers", the understated allegory made me start with the casual reference to binary thinking and secured this powerful little story four stars.
The Deeps of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear **
Rolling metaphor, wondrous names, slow unwrapping of the substance of a tale, alas these do not make a story. Something does happen, but it's predictable and fails to make a slab of glossy prose any less boring. Two stars and a strong coffee.
Drive by James SA Corey *****
At last, the short story format applied ideally. Good characters, interesting themes and a compelling story. A Mars setting usually works and the accompanying political jitters are as old as Kim Stanley Robinson. Corey assembles these and good hard sci-fi to provide a memorable take home message. Not a quiet moment. Five stars and I'll be checking out more of his work.
The Road to NPS by Sandra McDonald and Stephen D Covey ****
Another stronger plot and characterization, McDonald and Covey develop a tension and inevitability in a story spanning from Samoan sand to Europan slush. Enjoyable characters are tested to a soporific conclusion.
Sweet as a Dream and Fleeting as a Sigh by John Barnes ***
Serious AI navel gazing faster than human thought, this story is probably targeted at AI readership. Conversely, forays into human feelings and motivation lead to a slow read (for humans at least), although the conclusion is a giant leap from any intelligence. "I can Remember it for You Wholesale" without the cred, one hundred and one stars in binary.
Macy Minnot's Last Christmas on Dione, Ring Racing, Fiddler's Green, the Potter's Garden by Paul McAuley****
Strong perennial characters and reflections on lives lived fully make McAuley's story one worthy of his reputation. Wandering the solar system illuminates what it is to be human as a character disperses her father's ashes. Real people, fine allegory pulls an easy four stars.
Safety Tests by Kristine Kathryn Rusch****
Drill down into small facet of space travel - pilot testing. Observing the human element and variables is both interesting and communicated expertly by Rusch to four stars.
Bricks, Sticks, Straw by Gwyneth Jones**
Decaying AIs become erratic after being stranded off Earth, I think, but one feels stranded in this similarly erratic story where you count the pages to the end. This author can do better and the editor needs to rely less on reputations and push for a sound product.
Tycho and the Ants by Hannu Rajaniemi *
Fantasy mumbo jumbo - I'm afraid I read this on remote control, finding engagement a struggle.
Obelisk by Stephen Baxter ***
It doesn't hint at Baxter's good work but this Mars-based human story is reflective and a welcome step up in this anthology.
Vainglory by Alastair Reynolds ****
Reynolds's comfortable style renders this creative solar system spanning tale of love and fate a worthwhile read. The technical elements meet the Reynolds usual standard and remind me why I like his work. The plot hangs together but does not stand very tall - obviously he is an author who needs space to get wound up and found this collection undemanding.
Water Rights by An Owomoyela ****
Technically well secured, this story is a little erratic in style but remains true to the theme of this anthology, that of near future and technically feasible plots.
The Peak of Eternal Light by Bruce Sterling ****
This begins as an odd tale exploring the marriage customs of post-human inhabitants of Mercury. It develops well with interesting allegory and sound technical detail. The bicycle elements show how much a story can grow in quality with the luxury of a few more pages, Sterling's contribution being longer than the others in this anthology.