Superior collection of 16 quirky, highly imaginative speculative short fictions, ranging from comic fantasy to hard science. Angels fly, fall, wound, kill, and mate with humans in many of the stories here, the strongest being Ted Chiang’s brilliant “Hell is the Absence of God,” which shows the perverse redemption fantasies of fundamentalist Christian sects being realized in all their grotesque cruelty. A group of aging Norse gods tweak their own mythology so they can get it right the next time in Greg van Eekhout’s “Wolves Till The World Goes Down.” Maureen F. McHugh’s scathing “Interview: On Any Given Day” examines a teenaged girl who loses more than her innocence when she has sex with a medically rejuvenated 70-year-old baby boomer. “In Which Avu Giddy Tries to Stop Dancing” has septuagenarian grandmaster D.G. Compton arguing that society should let some people stop dancing: that is, die with dignity. Andy Duncan reimagines Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins as a blustering “Senator Bilbo.” A convicted child-killer demands to be crucified, as Jesus was—with comic results—in Terry Bisson’s cheerfully crass “The Old Rugged Cross.” Only Stephen Baxter’s alien adventure, “Sun-Cloud,” might have played better in the pulp mags; when “a mass of corpora, sub-corpora and shoals of trained impeller-corpuscles rose from the Deep in a great ring,” you want to call a plumber.
Editor Hayden (Starlight 2, 1999, etc.) deserves a medal: there hasn’t been an original anthology series so consistently satisfying since Damon Knight’s Orbit.