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Vinland the Dream and Other Stories

by Kim Stanley Robinson

(Voyager, £6.99, 410 pages, paperback, published 7 May 2002.)

Often collections of short stories are simply as good or bad as the individual stories. cover scanToo often this is so even when there is some theme to them, because the theme's welcome wears out by the time it has been played a dozen times in the reader's mind, particularly if it involves the same fictional world or characters. The theme here is the nature of history and of remembering. It is a rich theme and Kim Stanley Robinson approaches it from an amazing variety of angles including alternative history, straight first-person mainstream, space opera meets detective story and projection into the near future. The real accomplishment of the collection is that the strands of the theme are still apparent and, not only do the stories make you think, but the often implicit and tenuous links between them make you think too. This is serious SF at its best and it makes one appreciate that history and SF are not so far apart. If you like scantily clad shoot-n-stab muscular fast paced action, then read something else.

The high quality of the collection makes picking favourites pretty arbitrary, but the ones that stick out in my mind include 'A History of the Twentieth Century with Illustrations' (available elsewhere on this site) where a jaded and depressed historian who has been asked to write the coffee table book of the title finds solace from an ancient sense of place in the Orkneys, which somehow renews his feeling that people are basically good, despite the atrocities that form history. 'Venice Drowned' is in just that setting where Venetians survive on the tops of their old buildings and eke livings from tourism and such. Again, it is about the human spirit as a reverence for the past. 'Coming Back to Dixieland' is about a Dixieland jazz band composed of asteroid miners, who, as many have before them, see their music as an escape from harsh conditions and as a potential way to improve their material lot. It captures the joyful desperation of the music really well, while transposing it to a place entirely other than early 20th Century New Orleans. 'Black Air' is about a boy pressed on to the Spanish Armada, who survives its defeat and has experiences that seem as strange to him as science fiction would.

Review by Richard Hammersley.

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