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Swift Thoughts by George Zebrowski

Swift Thoughts

by George Zebrowski

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Rating: 2.5* of five

The Book Report: Twenty-four short fictions from philosophical scientist Zebrowski. All the stories in the collection are centered around Big Ideas...what if Gödel's incompleteness theorem can be disproved by artificial intelligence? What if Lenin's assassination by Sidney Reilly succeeded in 1918?...and are, in the finest sense of the word, speculative masterworks rendered in prose.

My Review: What they aren't is any fun at all to read. The characters are wooden, the dialogue is sermonific (as sleep-inducing as a sermon, with all a sermon's stiffness that induces the neck's looseness and the eyelids' heaviness), but the concepts are stellar.

There are two stories that I like: “The Eichmann Variations,” which explores the nature of revenge, forgiveness, selfhood, and evil, all in about 3200 words. It's compact, it's eerie, it has as a background a fascinating alternative to our own history, which is simply put out there and assumed that the reader got it, processed it, and took in the implications of it. I found this story compelling while reading it, and still think about it days later. I appreciate being treated this respectfully by an author.

And “Lenin in Odessa,” an alternative to the events as played out in our own world surrounding a British-backed attempt to rid the world of Lenin in 1918. It's nothing short of superb. The narrative voice is Stalin's, and that seems to make the chunkiness of the dialogue okay to me; I can imagine with ease that the voice of the real Stalin would sound this windbaggy swaggering way.

The other twenty-two were not fun for me to read. I found “Gödel's Doom” unpleasantly reminiscent of a workshop piece that didn't quite make it; I liked “Swift Thoughts,” the title piece, so little that I was outraged to read Zebrowski's self-assessment of the piece as like Elgar's or Mahler's music. The others passed by my eyes, doing little enough damage to them, but offering little reward for the effort.

I read fairly frequently in reviewers' comments reported to us by Zebrowski himself comparisons of his writing to that of Olaf Stapledon ([Last and First Men]). Yes. Exactly. Agreed. Wooden, awkward, overweeningly self-congratulatory stuff by a minor talent.

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1 vote richardderus | May 5, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
George Zebrowskiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Benford, GregoryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Condellone, LynneCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eggleton, BobCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Like the writers Olaf Stapledon, Arthur C. Clarke, and Stanislaw Lem, Zebrowski explores the "big questions"-the expansion of human horizons, and the growth of power over our lives and the world in which we live. In the title story, scientists push the boundaries of human mentality to keep pace with ever-evolving AIs. In "The Eichmann Variations," a finalist for the Nebula Award, exact copies of captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann stand trial for his crimes against humanity, while in "The Word Sweep," all speech must be rationed because spoken words take on physical form. In "Wound the Wind," another Nebula Award finalist, unchanged humans roam freely until captured by those who know what's best for them, and in "Stooges," a visiting alien hijacks the persona of Curly Howard. From hard science fiction ("Gdel's Doom") to alternate history ("Lenin in Odessa") to first alien contact ("Bridge of Silence"), and with an introduction by renowned physicist/writer Gregory Benford, this collection presents one of the most distinctive voices writing in the field of science fiction today.… (more)

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