Sunday, March 19, 2017

Book Review: Tangents

Book Review: 'Tangents' by Greg Bear

2 / 5 Stars

'Tangents' (260 pp) first was published in hardback in 1989; this mass market paperback version was published by Questar / Popular Library in August, 1990. The cover illustration is by Jim Burns.

Most of the stories in this anthology first were published in the 1980s in magazines like Omni, while others are appearing in print for the first time in this volume.

'Tangents' leads off with an Introduction in which Bear states his thoughts on the popularity of sf, why he has chosen to write in this genre, and some brief background remarks about the stories in this collection.

My capsule summaries of the contents:

Blood Music: Misfit genius Virgil Ulam is doing very interesting things with white blood cells., such as merging them with microscopic logic circuits. The problem is, Virgil is doing this without Proper Oversight..... 

This story first saw print in Analog in 1983, and it was a touchstone story in what was then the emergent genre of Cyberpunk. Bear later expanded the story into a novel. It's one of the two best entries in this anthology.

Sleepside Story: A competent tale about a young man forced to confront the mysterious Miss Belle Parkhurst, who lives in an elegant - and very dangerous - part of the city. When this first saw print in 1988, the genre of 'urban fantasy' didn't really exist, making this a forerunner in that genre. 

Webster: lonely spinster Abigail Coates looks to a dictionary for advice on finding a boyfriend. An offbeat take on the 'Pygmalion' fable.

A Martian Ricorso: a trio of astronauts stranded on Mars are witnesses to an unusual event involving the planet's long-dormant life. 

Dead Run: John the truck driver transports souls to Hell, taking roads not known to you and I. An overly labored, unconvincing attempt at imparting humanism to the themes of Evil and Redemption.

Schrodinger's Plague: a faculty member decides to play out a real life version of the famous physicist's thought-experiment. 

Through Road No Wither: two Nazi officers find themselves lost on a foggy back road in France; they approach a dilapidated hut for directions from an elderly woman who is not as she seems. This is one of the worst tales in the anthology, too vague to be successful.

Tangents: Pal the latchkey boy meets the eccentric mathematician Peter Tuthy. The result will change the nature of reality.........This story stands alongside 'Blood Music' as an example of Bear at his best in the 1980s, as well as being another touchstone entry in the Cyberpunk canon.

Sisters: A very earnest effort at showcasing humanism's worth in the face of disruptive technology; in this instance, it's in the near future, when genetically enhanced super-children are the norm. Letitia, the main character, is cursed (so to speak) with being 'normal'.

The Machineries of Joy: this is an essay that Bear wrote for Omni magazine, which never published it. In the Fall of 1983, Bear toured the country to cover the emerging field of computer graphics. Anyone who was into sf cinema in the early 80s will find nostalgia in Bear's encounters with the teams working on graphics for The Last Starfighter; descriptions of pixels, wireframes, vector animation, rasterization, and anti-aliasing; and predictions of Virtual Reality in the opening decades of the 21st century.  

The verdict ? In my opinion, while there aren't enough outstanding entries in 'Tangents' to make it as rewarding as similar anthologies for other Cyberpunks, the presence of 'Blood Music' and 'Tangents' arguably makes this volume worth picking up.

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