Spades: Contemporary Science Fiction
John M. Ford, “Heat of Fusion“
This is a new author for me. The story is told through diary entries of a man with terminal radiation poisoning. This is a hard one to describe… it’s intense, and very internally focused, with very little setting description. This one is captivating.
Robert L Forward: “The Singing Diamond“
A search for valuable ores in the Asteroid Belt leads to the discovery of a diamond disk with life in it.
This probably the most boring story I have read for this challenge, and that’s all I’m going to say about that. The SF Encyclopedia notes that this is Robert Forward’s first published story, so maybe he wrote better ones later on, but I’m not sure why the editors were so impressed with it. Its just missing something, I’m afraid.
Bruce Sterling: “The Beautiful & the Sublime”
I have heard of Bruce Sterling before, but I don’t think I have read anything by him. This is a far-future story that looks at how AI might transform society. The central plot, though, is about the building of an aircraft that mimics the flight of a dragonfly. The really revolutionary thing about it, from the point of view of the characters, is that the craft is designed to fly without a computer:
“Why?“ I said. “What happened to its controls?“
Somps grinned for the first time, exposing long, narrow teeth. “They haven’t been invented yet. I mean, there aren’t algorithms for its wing kinematics. Four wings flapping — it generates lift through vortex-dominated flow fields. You’ve seen dragonflies…“
I liked this bit where the narrator reflects on the history of science:
“… I confess that I felt the loss of those glory days, which we now see, in hindsight, as the last sunset glow of the Western analytic method. Those lost battalions of scientists, technicians, engineers!
Of course, to the modern temperament, this lopsided emphasis on rational thought seems stifling. Admittedly machine intelligence has its limits; it’s not capable of those human bursts of insight that once advanced scientific knowledge by leaps and bounds. The march of science is not the methodical crawling of robots.
But who misses it?“
I will not spoil it, but I definitely recommend this one if you can find it.
Hearts: Stories on Audio
HG Wells: “The Crystal Egg“
The main character, Mr. Cave, owns an antique shop. One antique item that comes into his possession is a crystal egg. One night he observes a light coming from the egg and examines it. For a moment, he has a glimpse of “a view of a wide and spacious and strange country” but soon the view vanishes. After a while, he starts to suspect that the crystal egg is showing the planet Mars. After that… well, there are some mysterious happenings, but I guess I was expecting something more dramatic. I have read The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The War of the Worlds, and those books had a similar feel to the classic horror of the same era (Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, ect). This is the first short story I have read by him, and it is very low-key in comparison to those novels. I liked it, but it did not blow me away.