Another collection of speculative fiction from Swanwick (Chasing the Phoenix, 2015, etc.), one of a handful of writers whose short pieces are as impressive as their novels.
Versatility, craftsmanship, a dollop of weird, and a delightfully askew sense of humor are key to the 17 pieces here, all of which appeared between 2008 and 2014, together with an introduction that illuminates the contents without revealing too much. Certain themes, of course, are authorial favorites, such as time travel, aliens, and artificial intelligence. There's a man who, having suffered a crushing loss, finds solace after accidental contact with a time traveler; a group of time travelers hunkered down at the end of the Cretaceous period—where, oddly, nobody’s interested in the dinosaurs; and a scientist who finds a partner worthy of her genius. We also get a fascinating glimpse (which feels like a novel fragment) of a far future populated by humans and centipedelike aliens, narrated by the intelligent space suit of a woman who’s dead as the story begins; and another future where human lives resemble those in fairy tales while advanced, hidden AIs battle for supremacy. Elsewhere, in a literary-games vein, the characters in a fairy tale discuss whether they prefer to remain in books, and immortal, or enter history; there's a famous Gene Wolfe story stripped down, turned inside out, and rebuilt to perfection; and, in a marvelous conceit, the writer Alexander Pushkin appears as he may have been—in an alternative universe. To round out the collection, we meet a dutiful young woman who, entering hell to challenge the devil to return her father, discovers that things are not as she assumed; Darger and Surplus, those good-hearted rogues with a propensity to shoot themselves in the foot, make an appearance, as does "The House of Dreams," an entry from Swanwick’s splendid Mongolian Wizard e-book series.
Tales that, through their extraordinary clarity of thought and expression, showcase precisely why this multiaward-winning author is held in such high regard.