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Book cover art by Tom Kidd.
Review © 1999 by Thomas M. Wagner.

One of a zillion Anderson short fiction collections released by Tor throughout the '80's, this may well be one of the most solid, as it contains a few of Anderson's very best novellas. Put this one near the top of your list the next time you go hunting at a second-hand bookstore.

This superb novella is a sobering examination of human frailty and the desperation of faith. As the world heads pell-mell towards global armageddon, a simple man appears on television asking people to pray for some sign of proof that perhaps there really is a God that cares about humanity enough to save us. When what seems to be an actual miracle does in fact take place, however, it opens up a Pandora's box of both hope and turmoil all on its own. Anderson wisely leaves the miraculous event totally unexplained, focusing instead upon people's myriad reactions the world over to what may, or may not, be divine intervention. Thus the story is neither an endorsement nor condemnation of supernaturalism, but merely a speculation upon what might happen if we as a species were confronted by an inexplicable event on a global scale. The real-life demise of the USSR and apartheid has not dulled this tale's relevance since it first appeared in the 1972 anthology The Day the Sun Stood Still. Chilling, fast paced, consummately believable, this is Anderson in full battle dress.

Sure, this old story (1959) has been scientifically overtaken by discoveries: we know that Venus is not covered by a "vast ocean" supporting sentient life. But so what? Taken for what it is, a story, "Sister Planet" is chilling and unforgettable, even if it seems like it owes a bit too much to Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. A scientist aboard a floating research station upon the Venusian ocean discovers that the dolphin-like lifeforms they call "cetoids" are far more intelligent than they previously realized. When a colleague proposes a colonization plan that threatens the entire Venusian ecosystem, he takes matters into his own hands to save Venus from the Earthmen. Finale is a punch to the solar plexus in this startling study of obsession taken past reason.

Interesting early take on the theme of deep-space odyssey that Anderson later honed to near-perfection inthe novel Tau Zero. A team aboard a spacecraft heading towards Tau Ceti discovers that the time distortion experienced by approaching light speed is going to have a possibly very damaging effect upon their minds.

Suitably grim Twilight Zone-ish tale about a 20th-century man who has himself placed in a stasis machine, freezing him in time until a cure can be found for his cancer. When he is eventually awakened after 900 years, naturally, he finds it a bit hard to fit in.

Really good hard SF set in a future in which the earth's magnetic field is dropping precipitously, and where east/west political conflicts threaten to hamper any means to solve the problem. Nifty plot complications, smart characterizations, and a mean ironic ending.

Very brief, wry satire about a spacecraft that returns to Earth after 300 years of discovery to find that Earth's population has drastically shrunk, and society has become shallow, self-absorbed, hedonistic, and no one could care less about their return. When you think about it, a sad reflection of how many people in today's society view space exploration.

Interesting — but dubiously successful — story that attempts to mix two well-worn premises: first contact and the love triangle. Admirably complex plotting for a novelette, but fairly contrived and improbable despite good characterization.

Most worthwhile novelette set in a distant future in which Earth, having had radio contact with several alien species for years, is attempting to pull itself out of the rubble of hundreds of years of devastating war. The Communicators are an order of specially trained men who decipher the alien messages; story deals with the conflict between two of the order and an enemy colonel as they venture to a moonbase to recover alien messages left undeciphered for 200 years. Astute characterizations that refuse to lapse into the expected black hat/white hat camps make this a rewarding effort. In some ways, it's a slightly more complex and uplifting take on themes Anderson would explore a year later in "SOS."