Sunday, 30 August 2009
Just finished ‘Phase Space’, a short story collection by science fiction author Stephen ‘The Time Ships’ Baxter. It loosely ties in with his ‘Manifold’ trilogy of books, consisting of the excellent, mind-expanding ‘Time’ and ‘Space’ and the bewilderingly dull ‘Origin’.
Looking back at the list of titles, the stories that have stuck with me most are two in the ‘Earth’ section; ‘Glass Earth Inc’, a story about a policeman investigating crime in a futuristic London where an overwhelming noise-to-signal ratio of advertising means that everyone has artificial-intelligence filters on their perception, and ‘Dante Dreams’, a strange tale of resurrected computer simulations and the Vatican suppressing Dante’s ideas about a God-like super-intelligence working four-dimensionally within human genes. And as you might guess from that explanation, I didn’t entirely understand it.
Another good one was ‘Huddle’, about humans having devolved into walrus-like creatures (I think Terry Nation did something similar for a Dalek annual once). Many of the stories pose potential solutions to the Fermi paradox – the contradiction between the supposed likelihood of intelligent alien races and their apparent absence – with a few stories about people discovering ways of ‘crashing’ the virtual-reality simulation in which they are living, like in Tomb Raider where you can mess up the game by standing on a certain ledge.
Less interesting for me were the numerous stories of alternative histories and futures for NASA exploration; there’s a good one about the Russians being blamed for an Apollo mission going wrong ‘War Birds’. And the ones which didn’t do so much for me were all about nebulous beings composed of living plasma or gas called things like Sunbeam or Naughtyglow. Apparently in the future that’s what humanity will become; swirling eddies of information whirling through a universe where the lights are slowing going out.