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The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning StoriesThis is an awesome book from several perspectives. Firstly, it’s by Connie Willis, multi-award winning Grand Dame (or, should we rather say, Grand Master) of SF, inducted to the SF Hall of Fame; and with more books, collections, and stories to her name than I care to count. Secondly, this is a collection of her short fiction which has won a Hugo or a Nebula award (and in some cases both!), which is not something which many writers can do. What’s more, as far as I can tell it’s actually a selection from those, ie it’s not even all of her short fiction which won one of those awards!

And thirdly, as you would have guessed given the pedigree of those, the stories are great.

The book contains of an Introduction (by Connie), the stories (with a new afterword by Connie to each of them), a short introduction by her Executive Editor, the speech she gave as Guest of Honor at the 2006 SF Worldcon, a speech she wrote but has not given at all, and finally the speech she gave in 2012 at the Nebula Awards when she received the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award.

The stories in the book were initially written (or, rather, published) between 1982 and 2007. 

The collection was published in the US in July 2013 (this is the edition I read), and will be published in the UK by Gollancz under a variant title (Time Is the Fire: The Best of Connie Willis) in August 2013 as part of their SF Masterworks series.

Below is a short run-down of the stories, and my impressions upon (re)reading them.

 

A Letter from the Clearys

A story about an isolated family, showing how humans cope (badly) with the aftermath of a nuclear war and the subsequent breakdown of civilisation. It’s suitably bleak, it’s well written, but I somehow found this to be the least engaging of the stories in the collection (it’s also the oldest one).

 

At the Rialto

A messy, side-splitting, and very very clever blow-by-blow account of the International Congress on Quantum Physics, narrated by a participant. Great Stuff.

 

Death on the Nile

A homage to the Agatha Christie book and film of the same name and to the film “Between Two Worlds”, with nothing being as it seems; but, despite this, with a rather predictable ending which left me ever so slightly dissatisfied after greatly enjoying the build-up.

 

The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective

A cracking effort, written as a faux Academic Paper, complete with excessive footnotes and references to phony sources; showing how 2 newly-found poems were written by Emily Dickinson after her death during the events described in HG Wells “War of the Worlds”.

Just too good. Evil cackle…

 

Fire Watch

This is part of the Oxford Time Travel series; with a history student being sent back to the 1940s Blitz, to join the Fire Watch volunteers extinguishing incendiaries on St. Paul’s Cathedral. He is ill prepared, and rather lost in this world; the story seen through his eyes is very intense, and fascinating. There are some loose threads within the story, but these might make more sense if seen as part of the bigger picture of the series.

 

Inside Job

“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American People” (H.L. Mencken)

A skeptic, editor/owner of a skeptic publication, and professional debunker crosses paths with a Channeller chanelling, of all people, H.L. Mencken, THE famous skeptic and debunker. Hilarious, if feeling slightly long.

 

Even the Queen

Story of a family crisis, as the daughter wants to join/has joined the Cyclists (no, that’s not what you think it is). This is a world/time where a drug has been invented which eliminates menstruation, and frees women from the male control/expectations over their bodies, emotions, reactions; and never mind the religious right, the church, and the tampon manufacturers opposing this. But to the Cyclists the famle cycle is something to be celebrated, and which frees women from the male take-over of the female body and emotions, and by extension their identities by the patriarchal regime (via said drug).

Delicious fun, and ever so reminiscent of any feminist discussion I’ve ever had the good luck to follow.

 

The Winds of Marble Arch

A love story to the London Tube, and a paean to both decay and death as well as hope and love. Gorgeous, a stand-out even here.

 

All Seated on the Ground

The newest story in this collection – a wonderful farce about how the aliens have arrived, and don’t correspond to any of the tropes we have come to expect (especially not the Hollywood ones). A great story full of pot-shots at Hollywood and SF in general, never mind humanity and its ability to pull together. With added Christmas Carols.

 

The Last of the Winnebagos

Set in a rather claustrophobic, dystopian future, and a time in the near future when there’s a water crisis, with fleets of tankers roaming the multi-lane roads; where privacy is barely a word anymore, and where all dogs have died out. Compelling, if uncomfortable reading.

 

 

More Connie Willis

 

Title: The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories

Author: Connie Willis

Reviewer: Markus

Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net

Publisher:  Del Rey/Ballantine

Publisher URL: http://www.delreybooks.com

Publication Date: July 2013

Review Date: 130726

ISBN: 9780345540645

Price: USD 27

Pages: 350

Format: ePub

Topic: SF

Topic: Short Stories

 

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

 

 

Thomas Pynchon - Slow Learner

 

S.P. Somtow – I Wake from a Dream of a Drowned Star City

 

Sydney Padua - The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

 

Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me

 

Iain Sinclair - Radon Daughters

 

Doris Lessing – The Sirian Experiments

 

Ken MacLeod - Cosmonaut Keep

 

Peter Watts - Blindsight

 

Peter Watts – Maelstrom

 

Ian Sales – Adrift on the Sea of Rains

 

Thomas Pynchon – Gravity’s Rainbow

 

Aliette de Bodard – In the Vanishers’ Palace

 

Liz Williams - Empire of Bones

 

Charles Stross - The Atrocity Archives


Andy Weir - The Martian

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