Shared-world anthology (of Harlan Ellison's 1985 Medea), using a scenario created by two veteran writers, Poul Anderson and Frederik Pohl (the inspiration here is, of course, the poet Lady Murasaki's famous 11th-century Tale of Genji), and featuring stories by them and the stellar lineup of David Brin, Gregory Benford, Greg Bear, and Nancy Kress. Murasaki is a red dwarf sun whose double planets, Genji and Chujo, orbit each other. Planet Genji is large, warm, and wet, with a thick atmosphere and high gravity, and boasts at least one intelligent life-form. Chujo is small, cool, and dry, with a thin atmosphere and light gravity, and possesses another intelligent species. The first two expeditions to reach Murasaki are: a ship from Earth's space colonies, which observes briefly and returns; and a Japanese ship, with colonists aboard. Leading off, Pohl's tale involves the first ship and the natives of Chujo; one human, lost and believed dead, is left behind. Brin describes the natural cycles by which native civilizations rise and fall on Genji. Anderson investigates a second, seagoing, intelligent species on Genji. Japanese colonists confront the alien-contact conundrums epitomized by Chujo's intelligent autochthones in Benford's contribution. Bear explores the fate of the human left behind on Chujo in Pohl's tale. In the rearguard, Kress makes a valiant attempt to pull the whole project together. And, in two appendices, Anderson and Pohl set out the details of their creation, down to structures, life-forms, and ideas that were never taken up. Readers not taken by the very idea of the shared-world anthology will find little reassurance here. The scenario itself is consistently intriguing, but the minute inaugural detail provided by the creators seems to have inhibited the other contributors; at least, the individual stories, while solid and worthy, fail to rise much above the average. Still, if you liked Medea, you'll certainly like this.
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