An easily absorbed, if none-too-challenging, batch of five long stories from the creator of the Hyperion series. As Simmons (“Fall of Hyperion”) explains it, the volume should be considered a Zen garden, with all the elements in balance and plenty of room for reflection. It doesn’t bode well if you’re on the lookout for absorbing fiction, but fortunately the pieces here are more dramatic than his somewhat (as even Simmons admits) pretentious pronouncement would suggest. Falling more into the vein of an adventure tale is “On K2 with Kanakaredes,” in which a team of hard-core mountaineers make a deal to stay out of jail by agreeing to bring the son of an alien visitor with them on their treacherous K2 ascent. The climb is intricately detailed and wrenchingly dramatic, even if the climax comes out of left field. The most engaging and confusing entry is “The Ninth of Av,” set in the year 3001 and populated by a seemingly small band of humans and a mysterious race of “post-humans” who can be teleported around the world by a process referred to as “faxing.” The humans are getting ready for the “final fax,” a Rapture-like event that will send their beings whirling into the ether for 10,000 years while the posts fix the damaged Earth for their return. There’s a grimly poetic On the Beach feel to the tale that carries through its baffling and chilling denouement. Of lesser interest are the bland “The End of Gravity,” about a millionaire American who buys his way on to a Russian rocket, and “Orphans of the Helix,” a spin-off set in Simmons’s Hyperion universe that is too slight a construction to be of interest to most non-Hyperion fans. “Looking for Kelly Dahl,” in which a schoolteacher hunts through a world created by a crazed ex-student of his, has an old-fashioned tinge to its simple story that keeps it interesting without being especially memorable.
Like a book by Stephen King, whom Simmons references, this is an uneven if always readable collection highlighted by his charmingly chatty introductions to each story.