This original anthology of 15 stories and an essaya collection that, Bear hopes, amounts to "science fiction with a great soul"is divided into six sections: "Choices," "Growing Up," "Them and Us," "Win, Lose, or Draw," "Redemption," and "Ciphers,"all themes familiar from Bear's own fiction (Moving Mars, 1993, etc.). Ursula K. Le Guin's fine "Coming of Age in Karhide," set on the planet Gethen (Winter), echoes her magnificent novel The Left Hand of Darkness. In Paul J. McAuley's stunning tale of the remote future ("Recording Angel"), a humanity gene-engineered into a multiplicity of forms dwells on a flat world midway between an ancient galaxy and a colossal black hole. A failed archaeologist is tempted to swap places with a being from the end of time in Robert Silverberg's fascinating "The Red Blaze is the Morning." And physicist and author Gregory Benford's fascinating essay, "Old Legends," tracks the influences science fiction has had on the real world since the 1940s. Nonpareil.