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Absolute Magnitude

by Lapine & Pagel

hardcover edition

The new Tor hardcover Absolute Magnitude is a collection of stories from the first umpteen issues of the magazine of the same name and its predecessor, "Harsh Mistress." It includes a story by Janet Kagan, so you should read it. What? You want another reason? OK, it has a Terry Bisson story too.

"Fermat's Best Theorem" by Janet Kagan isn't science fiction so much as it is math fiction. It's predictable but charming. Write, Janet, write!

"10:07:24" by Terry Bisson is short, clever, and reminiscent of "They're Made Out of Meat."

Those were my favorite stories; the others that I enjoyed are good solid adventure SF:

"The Prize" by Denise Lopes Heald is a rather grim but absorbing story about two wounded soldiers in enemy territory. Heald is also the author of the novel Mistwalker, which I enjoyed.

Linda Tiernan Kepner's story "Planting Walnuts" is reminiscent of Mistwalker: Misfits struggle through a hostile alien jungle on a survey mission. The characters and setting have quite a bit of depth, which leads me to wonder if Kepner's writing a novel in this setting. I'd buy it.

"The Minds Who Jumped" by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre is about a future where people cross the interstellar voids by swapping their minds into different (often artificial) bodies at their destinations. It's full of alliteration and jargon and other word games; I initially found this irritating, but by the time I finished it, it felt quite a lot like a Cordwainer Smith story in both style and subject.

"The Barefoot Mule" by Frank O. Dodge is a likable story about the search for a prospector who disappeared into thin air in Death Valley. I'd like to read more of Dodge's stuff.

"Working For Mister Chicago" by Allen Steele is a depressing but stylish story about a 20th century man working as a house slave in a rich man's personal asteroid a hundred years in the future.

Shariann Lewitt's "Mice" is about how New Yorkers have adapted to survive after diseases wipe out most of the Earth's population.

This collection is worth reading for those stories. There were also a few stories that weren't particularly bad, but weren't particularly original or memorable either; surprisingly, Barry Longyear's "The Dance of the Hunting Sun" falls into this category. There were also a handful of stories that I disliked because they were too dry, too dull, too amateurish, or just not worth the time it took to read them.

Absolute Magnitude is more uneven in quality than the various Best of the Year anthologies, but it's full of solid, mostly unpretentious stories that are unlikely to be collected elsewhere.

-- Christina Schulman.
Reviewed in
June 1997

hardcover edition
Publisher: Tor
Date: May 1997
ISBN: 0-312-86335-7
Binding: hardcover
Pages: 320
Price: US $23.95, Canada $34.95

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