Four new stories and an essay: a rather skimpy entry in what has so far been an impressive series. Ian Watson's intriguing and thoughtful essay examines the subject of torture in sf, in particular the notion of transcendence through pain; the motif crops up in surprising places. Gregory Benford and Paul A. Carter's long story takes pride of place in the fiction: a voyage to Pluto, the discovery of two intelligent lifeforms there (possible colonizers from the Oort cometary cloud), and the political ramifications back on Earth--it eries out to be expanded into a novel. The rest of the fiction, however, pales by comparison. Fruma Klass' so-so fantasy about Noah, his Ark, and his family doesn't translate too well (are we in an alternate world, or on an alien planet, or what?). Paul Di Filippo's tale about humans redesigned as parasites to survive inside huge space-going alien hosts tries too much with too little. And Bruce Clemanace's yarn about the last human survivor of an alien invasion swirls in macabre confusion and ends up nowhere. Welcome, original work, but sometimes not up to previous standards.