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Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Tales of Hard…
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Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Tales of Hard Science Fiction

by Ben Bova (Editor), Eric Choi (Editor)

Other authors: Doug Beason (Contributor), Gregory Benford (Contributor), Ben Bova (Contributor), Eric Choi (Contributor), Liu Cixin (Contributor)14 more, Aliette de Bodard (Contributor), David DeGraff (Contributor), Carl Frederick (Contributor), Nancy Fulda (Contributor), Gabrielle Harbowy (Contributor), Howard Hendrix (Contributor), Ken Liu (Translator), Jack McDevitt (Contributor), Leah Petersen (Contributor), Robert Reed (Contributor), Kate Story (Contributor), Dirk Strasser (Contributor), Jean-Louis Trudel (Contributor), Daniel H. Wilson (Contributor)

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**** “The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever” by Daniel H. Wilson
This one could almost be a companion piece to Ben H. Winters' 'Last Policeman' series... OK, the specifics of the disaster are different, but I thought it was similar in feel. Some might find it too sentimental, but it worked for me.
A socially-challenged but brilliant physicist is struggling with the minutiae of life... from the fallout of divorce to the struggles of being a single father. He's the only one who realizes what's happening when a strange phenomenon is seen in the sky...

**** “A Slow Unfurling of Truth” by Aliette de Bodard
One thing de Bodard is very good at is really giving the reader a sense of a full and complex world around her stories. This one shares a theme I've seen in other of her stories: exploring the feelings of members of a minority culture that's been decimated by contact with a more powerful civilisation. The main character here is both surprised and suspicious when a man purporting to be someone who was important to her in the past turns up. He says he has something to give her. But is it really him, or is it a trap? In a world where switching bodies is common, even a professional verifier of identity can have trouble ferreting out the truth.

* “Thunderwell” by Doug Beason
OK, this guy has a PhD in physics, and works at Los Alamos, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that the unlikely scenarios involving nuclear launches in this story may be more theory-based than they seem to a casual reader. However, this is still just not a good story. The writing is terribly awkward, full of strange word choices and tortured grammar. The characterization (what there is of it) was unconvincing. The dialogue was stilted. I was genuinely surprised that the author has published novels to his name.
After a supply ship fails to deliver its payload of necessary supplies to Mars, one of the stranded astronaut's wives (who just happens to be highly placed in the government's nuclear energy division) is convinced to implement a dangerous plan. If all goes well, her husband and his colleagues could be saved. But the cost of failure could be much higher.

*** “The Circle” by Liu Cixin (translated by Ken Liu)
Credited as an 'adaptation' of an excerpt from Liu Cixin's recently-translated 'The Three-Body Problem.' I recently read the novel, so I was slightly taken aback when, after a different set-up, I suddenly found myself re-reading some very, very familiar passages.
The author is enamored of the idea of creating a non-electronic 'computer' using binary rules. After all, it's just math, and not technically dependent on technology. The iteration of the idea found here may actually be stronger than the one in the novel.

** “Old Timer’s Game” by Ben Bova
If advances in anti-aging technology are made, enabling men of sixty (or even older) to maintain the vigor of twenty-year-olds, how would this affect professional sports? That's the question Bova asks here, through the device of a Sports Commission's interview with an aging (or, not-aging) athlete. I'm not generally a fan of sports stories, but my problems here weren't with the theme. I just didn't feel there was enough to the piece, and I found the portrayal of the athlete to be more condescending than humorous.

*** “The Snows of Yesteryear” by Jean-Louis Trudel
A couple of scientists doing climate-change-related investigations in Greenland accidentally uncover a corporate-terrorist plot. OK, but not particularly memorable.

**** “Skin Deep” by Leah Petersen & Gabrielle Harbowy
Medical advances have allowed for many ailments to be treated by specially-programmed cells, which are 'tattooed' into a client's skin and are triggered into appropriate response when needed - when all goes well. As with any new and delicate technology, all does not always go well. Indi is a talented lawyer who's made her reputation protecting the victims of tattoo treatments gone wrong. She's the bane of the medical company that's patented these treatments. Until now, Indi has strictly avoided becoming a tattoo client herself due to a potential conflict of interest. But circumstances may make her stance untenable.
Really nicely done. Great characterization, meaty ethical issues.

*** “Lady with Fox” by Gregory Benford
If Anais Nin had been in a time and place to write a cyberpunk story, it might've come out something like this. An enigmatic femme fatale and the two men (and the hints of many more) caught in her web. However, the weirdly alluring promise here is one centered on neurological research and the new technology that allows two dreaming minds a kind of telepathic communication - the 'konn.' The scientific reality has quickly acquired illicit overtones of both sex and spirituality. Strange and interesting.

** “Habilis” by Howard V. Hendrix
Some time ago, a soldier captured by the alien enemy was given an artificial replacement hand - and then, inexplicably, let go. Now, he's working an unglamorous job as a fish hatchery manager on a frontier planet. This 'story' is his philosophical rambling to his co-worker about human consciousness and its relation to left- or right-handedness.
It feels very unfinished.

*** “The Play’s the Thing” by Jack McDevitt
Slight shades of Connie Willis here, I thought. A researcher programs an AI simulation of William Shakespeare - which ends up exceeding its creator's expectations significantly. There's ironic humor in how the programmer handles the situation.

*** “Every Hill Ends With Sky” by Robert Reed
A researcher's computer simulations emulating the development of life in the solar system come up with some surprising results.
These results have no effect on humanity's self-destructive spiral into collapse. A generation later, a young woman in a post-apocalyptic landscape looks to those simulations for a hope that is less than a wisp of a prayer...

** “She Just Looks That Way” by Eric Choi
Most young people know what it's like to have that unrequited love that you just can't get over. The young man here is willing to go to desperate measure to 'wash that girl right out of his head' - he wants to undergo an experimental treatment intended to treat body dysmorphia to make him unable to love the object of his affections. There are some serious logical holes in his assumptions, and unfortunately I felt that the story's end was a bit of a cop-out as far as dealing with some of the issues it brings up.

***** “SIREN of Titan” by David DeGraff
I'm awarding an extra star here, just because it's so refreshing to see a sometimes-pernicious trope turned on its head. There are so very many, many stories that trade on the fear of technology escaping human control. From 'Frankenstein' to '2001' and beyond, in fiction our creations have run amok. In this story of a robotic space probe and its human control team, it happens again - but the real danger is shown to be our fear, not our technology. Thought-provoking - and heartbreaking.

** “The Yoke of Inauspicious Stars” by Kate Story
There have been enough re-tellings of Romeo and Juliet. I don't think we need any more, especially not ones as self-consciously meta- as this one.
This tale places the familiar story in an outer space mining station, tenanted by two rival corporations. There are some original twists and entertaining details, but I wasn't fully won over.

* “Ambiguous Nature” by Carl Frederick
Sorry, but this was just a string of stereotypes. The Regular White Guy scientist protagonist. The aboriginal Australian physicist sidekick who talks about the Dreamtime and goes by a demeaning-sounding nickname. The wife and mother who exists to act nurturing, say she doesn't really understand all that difficult physics stuff, and to freak out protectively about her child. The child who says stuff like, "Gosh!" Stilted dialogue, and a not-too-mind-blowing concept about how SETI researchers might be looking in the wrong places.

*** “The Mandelbrot Bet” by Dirk Strasser
One of those that conflates the understanding of mathematical concepts with the application of those concepts. I know this idea has its adherents, but I'm not one of them. A paralysed physicist figures out some equations and finds himself at the end of the universe.

**** “Recollection” by Nancy Fulda
I didn't think this would be up my alley, but I ended up finding it very touching. A new treatment has been developed for Alzheimer's. Unfortunately, while it arrests the progress of the disease, it is unable to restore lost memories. The story explores one family's - specifically, one couple's - wrestling with the new reality that the treatment has given them. Very realistic, and something that could be a real issue within our lifetimes.

Many thanks to Tor Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this anthology. As always, my opinions are my own. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
This review originally appeared at GnomeReviews.ca.

I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley.

Carbide Tipped Pens is a collection of hard science fiction stories. Hard science fiction attempts to be as scientifically accurate as possible, and most of the authors have science backgrounds. Readers who don’t have a similar background may find some of these stories hard to follow, but most are very accessible.

The standout story in this collection is “The Blue Afternoon that Lasted Forever,” written by Daniel H. Wilson, where a black hole forms above the Earth. The story is scientific, but at its core, it’s really about a father and his daughter.

“Skin Deep” by Leah Petersen and Gabrielle Harbowy is another standout. High tech medical tattoos have replaced most forms of traditional medical treatment (including epi pens), and the writers take this concept in a very unexpected direction.

Some of these stories are heavy on scientific theories and light on plot and character development. These are still interesting, but they read more like dry articles in scientific journals rather than short science fiction. Fortunately, these stories are in the minority.

The gnomes don’t know much about science (gardening is more their forte), but they liked this collection a lot, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys short science fiction.

Rating: 4 Gnomes out of 5 ( )
  gnomereviews | Dec 7, 2014 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bova, BenEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Choi, EricEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Beason, DougContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Benford, GregoryContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bova, BenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Choi, EricContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cixin, LiuContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
de Bodard, AlietteContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
DeGraff, DavidContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Frederick, CarlContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fulda, NancyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harbowy, GabrielleContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hendrix, HowardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Liu, KenTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McDevitt, JackContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Petersen, LeahContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Reed, RobertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Story, KateContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Strasser, DirkContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Trudel, Jean-LouisContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wilson, Daniel H.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0765334305, Hardcover)

Seventeen hard science fiction tales by today’s top authors

Hard science fiction is the literature of change, rigorously examining the impact—both beneficial and dangerous—of science and technology on humanity, the future, and the cosmos. As science advances, expanding our knowledge of the universe, astounding new frontiers in storytelling open up as well.

In Carbide Tipped Pens, over a dozen of today’s most creative imaginations explore these frontiers, carrying on the grand tradition of such legendary masters as Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and John W. Campbell, while bringing hard science fiction into the 21st century by extrapolating from the latest scientific developments and discoveries. Ranging from ancient China to the outer reaches of the solar system, this outstanding collection of original stories, written by an international roster of authors, finds wonder, terror, and gripping human drama in topics as diverse as space exploration, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, climate change, alternate history, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, interplanetary war, and even the future of baseball.

From tattoos that treat allergies to hazardous missions to Mars and beyond, from the end of the world to the farthest limits of human invention, Carbide Tipped Pens turns startling new ideas into state-of-the art science fiction.

Includes stories by Ben Bova, Gregory Benford, Robert Reed, Aliette de Bodard, Jack McDevitt, Howard Hendrix, Daniel H. Wilson, and many others!

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:41 -0400)

Presents a collection of hard science fiction tales that examines both the benefits and detriments of science and technology on humanity, the future, and the cosmos, and includes tales from Gregory Benford, Robert Reed, Aliette de Bodard, and Jack McDevitt.… (more)

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