Vampires and wizards and aliens, oh my! A splendid gathering, from the late lamented magazine, of modern science fiction and fantasy.
Like the best of the 1950s pulps, Subterranean magazine did not cavil much about genre distinctions: if a sci-fi story strayed into horror or swords and sorcery, that was fine, so long as the story in question was good. So it is with Daniel Abrahams’ “Balfour and Meriwether in the Vampire of Kabul,” which comes close to straight-out horror mixed up with witchery, and with a djinn thrown in for good measure, and done in Flashman-esque Victorian prose: “Britain is the heart of the world, but thankfully she is also an island. This wizard must not be permitted to escape, whatever it costs us in trade.” Huzzah! Horrific, too, in the best sense is Joe Hill’s haunting vision of a fellow who roams about adding to a collection of airtight, hermetically sealed glass jars with a very odd freight: “Each one contains someone’s dying breath.” Robert Silverberg and George R.R. Martin add their breath to the fantasy front, while the always excellent Ted Chiang pitches in with a brilliant, matter-of-fact yarn about the development of an AI engine that aims to take a significant place in our lives: “Whetstone is positioning Remem as more than a handy virtual assistant: they want it to take the place of your natural memory.” If machines are doing your remembering for you, what do we need you for? As for memory, Rachel Swirsky offers this passing thought in the face of an impending asteroid strike: “By the time the cataclysm strikes, more words have been forgotten over the course of human history than remain known.” Her story would do Asimov proud. There are many other highlights in this stout collection, many of which touch on the nature of storytelling and human nature itself, always a concern of classic sci-fi.
Fans of every stripe of speculative fiction will want this on their shelves.