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John O'Neill. . . one of the best books I read last year, and the most original short fiction collection I've stumbled across in a long time.
The Robot's Twilight Companion is a collection of nine stories and novellas, all originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction magazine between 1992 and 1999. They include the Hugo nominee "Life on the Moon," the title story and the basis for the novel Earthling and the near-masterpiece "A Dry Quiet War," a tale of warfare and loss at the end of time.
The book opens with "Life on the Moon," the tale of Henry Colterman, a poet who loses his wife to the moon when she accepts the position of chief lunar architect. Like "Aconcagua," the story of a die-hard mountain climber who discovers more than he bargained for in a near-disastrous solo expedition, "Life on the Moon" is only peripherally science fiction, dealing more with relationships -- and the sudden end of relationships -- than with the usual trappings of SF. There's a similar theme in "Radio Praha," in which a KGB agent in Prague discovers the skilled artisans of a dying profession -- vacuum tube manufacturers -- have transcended not only their art, but quite possibly the laws of physics; and in "Black Canoes," where a woman who can traverse dimensions discovers that her role in the universe has changed dramatically.
As enjoyable as these tidbits are, for me the jewels of the collection are the longer pieces, including especially "A Dry, Quiet War," "Mystery Box," and the dense and enigmatic "Grist." While they're not all linked, most share a powerful connecting vision of a gradually transformed humanity -- an ambitious, baffling, and (how to say this delicately?) only partially comprehensible vision of a human race radically changed by nanotechnology and collective consciousness. This is what a trip to the future should feel like: packed with strange wonders, only a handful of which are easily grasped, but all of which hint at a vast, unfolding destiny for the human race.—SFsite.com
Copyright © 2000 by John O'Neill