Tuesday, March 16, 1999

Title: Nanotech
Editor: Jack Dann/Gardner Dozois

Nanotech is a collection of short stories by some of science-fiction's best deliverers of nano-stories. Collected here as demonstration of how well the ideas involved can be used, and nano is one of SF's great source ideas. Contained in this volume are nine stories and one poem - those by Bear, Egan, Goonan, Kress, McDonald, De Fillipo, and Marusek being the ones to watch.

Greg Bear - Blood Music - University friends meet after a number of years and it becomes clear that one of them has gone further than they ever thought. One has been working on nanotech - making a lot of progress, he has scared the company he is working for. They want him to stop and start to destroy his work - desperate to continue his work he injects himself with his experimental machines. This story being the discussion between the two regarding the ramifications of what has been done. This is an enjoyable story which has since been converted into a novel due to the reception it gained. This is the first short story I have read by Bear, but having just picked up the novel of this story it will be his third I have read.

With a couple of the others here, this is only the second time I have read any of their work, the first time being in another collection (Mammoth Collection of Best SF, which I have as yet still to finish reviewing). Nancy Kress is the first of these with her story Margin Of Error which deals with the competition between two sisters to join the space race. One sister is cooperative and unaware of the other's ruthlessness - until she if forced out of the program and her sister takes all the credit for her work. But the ambitious sister in the end is not as smart or vigilant as she thinks - leading to her downfall at her sister's hand. This is a short but poignant story and nicely done.

Axoimatic was the title story from Australian author Greg Egan's first collection of short stories and has been chosen here to represent his work here. Egan is an author I have a lot of respect for and is possibly the man responsible for really making me stop and take notice of the short story as an incredibly valuable resource. The story here is on one hand that of a man who has lost his wife in a boched bank robbery and the emotions he goes through. On the other we have the technology capable of changing the way he thinks and the way he feels - is this really the answer to all his problems?

The next story is provided by an author who is new to me Michael F. Flynn and his Remembered Kisses is similar in plot to Axiomatic. Again a man has lost his wife, but this time to a car accident. While the story is capable and shows the lengths to which a grief stricken nano-engineer may go, it ultimately fails to thrill me. The core idea of what the machines do is smart and it definitely contains a defining line with the scene where the scientist explains that nano-tech just isn't possible and is in turn asked if this is the case how does DNA do it?

Ian McDonald's Recording Angel is similar to Bear's Blood in that I am pretty sure there is a novelisation of this story. Here we have a journalist investigating a strange phenomena that has arrived from space. The Chaga creeps out from its initial landing point consuming everything in its path - dissolving and reasembling according to its own rules. A nice story - full of ideas and paradoxes - engagingly different.

While I have seen Kathleen Ann Goonan's first novel on the shelves of my local bookshop, I avoided it, thanks to the very Gibson quote that is supposed to make me buy it. In some ways this is cynicism towards marketing techniques and in others it is the experience of having read work that has had the same type of quote and failed to impress. But having read this story, I am perfectly prepared to reconsider - I enjoyed Sunflowers a lot and would rate it as a discovery and possibly the best story of the collection. Again we have a man who is searching for his lost love in nanotech. But here we have a different type of depth and texturing - nano-terrorist attacks, nano-therapy, nano-dealers - integration and corruption. On top of that this is a story with concrete characters.

Having left Earth to leave behind its overly restrictive laws, the local agents have to go in search of a scientist when he stops communicating in Stephen Baxter's The Logic Pool. They find him dead amongst his work - the story then revolves around the reactions of the three investigators to what they find. Competently written and enjoyable enough - though it does not really stand out for me.

Paul Di Filippo seems to continue the secondary theme of this collection with what must be the fourth story about a man losing his wife and the effect nano has on the outcome. This time she has not died, merely left him, and he is trying to find out the truth, and in doing so moves deeper into alien territory. As sections of Africa join together, united by the use of nano - transforming the environment into a rude awakening. Blinded by human thoughts for too long - potential and promise are alien thoughts that provide a long needed wake up call. Subtle and smart writing provide an enjoyable read.

Like Kress, the first time I read a story by David Marusek was in the Mammoth Collection. With We Were Out Of Our Minds With Joy we are offered the longest story of the book. For the most part this is a story of a relationship and its ups and downs in a modern world. But that world is one that is full of technology and the way it affects that relationship - longevity, daily computer interface, the production of child allocation. As with much of the best SF this is primarily about people and the tech catches you on the rebound.

March 1999

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