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Cyber-killers edited by Ric Alexander (Orion, 6.99, 540 pages, paperback. Published 4 May 1998.)

The best thing that can be said about Cyber-Killers is that its editor, Ric Alexander, has collected a wide range of excellent classic SF stories into a handy compendium which gives readers new to SF a chance to pick up on great stories by authors as diverse as Poul Anderson, Greg Bear, Iain Banks, Robert Silverberg, Philip K Dick, Alfred Bester, JG Ballard, William Gibson and Roger Zelazny, to name but a few of the twenty-four authors featured here.

The worst thing you can say about Cyber-Killers is that its basic remit, that it is a collection of stories combining technology and crime in some way, is stretched well beyond its nominal shape to include some very unlikely bedfellows. In presenting Arthur C Clarke's slight 1960 story "Crime on Mars" alongside, say, Bill Gibson's cyberpunk classic "Johnny Mnemonic", Alexander is almost begging critics to say he's picking name authors rather than stories truly representative of his title. Whatever else "Crime on Mars" is, it's certainly not "cyber" in any way.

Nevertheless (even discounting the excruciatingly amateurish cover), Cyber-Killers is definitely worth buying for younger SF fans who might have missed out on classics such as Alfred Bester's marvellous "Fondly Fahrenheit", or Roger Zelazny's haunting "Home is the Hangman", both worth the cover price on their own. Add in Poul Anderson's oddly prescient "Sam Hall" (written in 1953), Greg Bear's original short of "Blood Music" and Robert Silverberg's chilling "The Pardoner's Tale", plus a dozen others almost equally as good, and this anthology stacks up pretty well.

Alexander's short intros to the stories are of more debatable quality. I hardly think that it was the "spectacular movie adaptation" of Frank Herbert's Dune that "brought his work to international attention", for example (Dune was first published as a novel in 1965, the David Lynch film coming out nearly twenty years later, only two years before Herbert's death), and there are similarly strange pronouncements on a number of other authors. But no one buys books for their intros, and Alexander has put together a useful volume for younger fans to catch up on classic SF shorts, and for us old fogeys to be reminded of past glories.

Review by John D Owen.

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© John D Owen 4 July 1998