The Hugo Award winner of 1990's “hard” SF revival collects 17 of his shorter works—while recalling the editors who published them and how they shaped his career. In the late 1960s, when most SF writers were experimenting with literary techniques and flashy prose styles, Vinge (computer science/San Diego State) began writing a series of shorter works that clung to the pulp magazine traditions of the 1950s: stories soundly based on existing science that speculated on the social and political effects technology might have in the near future. His most famous piece, “True Names,” predicted the Internet, and is not included here, but the equally prescient “The Accomplice,” which in 1967 envisioned computer animation, is. Though Vinge self-effacingly dismisses it as a “most irritating combination of embarrassing gaffes and neat insights,” the story forms a subtext for others that follow, asking to what extent science fiction can be rooted in scientific truths (which Vinge believes lead to unpredictable paradoxes) and still soar with the thrills and adventure of romantic fantasy. Thus, we learn that Vinge learned to “turn extrapolations sideways” to invent the more fantastic zones of thought found in his Hugo-winning Across Realtime series, while he was writing “The Blabber,” a short, surreal traipse through American pop culture. Also included: “Peddler's Apprentice,” a collaboration with Vinge's ex-wife Joan; several salutes to editors John Campbell, Damon Knight, and Jim Frenkel; and a long chunk of a new, near-future novel (Fast Times at Fairmount High).
Satisfying back-of-the-house tour of a career of mostly well-thought-out meditations on technological innovation and political experimentation.