From the award-winning author of The Red-Stained Wings (2019, etc.), a collection of 27 tales published between 2005 and 2019, spanning most of Bear's career.
Readers familiar with Bear's novels soon learn to expect the unexpected, with characters, worlds, and ideas eyed from drastically skewed perspectives. Who else would dream up a lactating vampire to whom the sun is no enemy, as Bear did in "Needles"? Or imagine a mortal Loki, banished from the Norse pantheon, as a god of rock music, as in "Hobnoblin Blues"? Mark Twain makes a guest appearance in a chewy murder mystery, "The Body of the Nation," set in the author's remarkable New Amsterdam universe and featuring the splendid Detective Crown Investigator Abigail Irene Garrett. We're offered an early yet highly effective glimpse of the universe that will evolve into the stunning Steles of the Sky series, "Love Among the Talus," while "Okay, Glory" shows us a reclusive, solipsistic genius forced to reinvent himself and the AI that's imprisoning him. Elsewhere, "The Bone War," Bear's wry commentary on the real-world Bone Wars between 19th-century paleontologists O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope, evokes a wide grin. Two tales would wring tears from a stone: "Tideline," about a dying battle machine whose last purpose is to memorialize her dead crew members, and "Orm the Beautiful," an exquisitely fashioned fable of the last dragon—that's also, possibly, a genuflection to Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea tales. Not everything here is a howling success, though. Even Bear's formidable talents can't always rescue creaky ideas from banality: Tubercular dentist Doc Holliday investigates a crashed alien spaceship ("Faster Gun"); gigantic Zeppelin-like Jovians rescue foolhardy human scientists ("The Deeps of the Sky"); and an amoral mercenary gets his comeuppance ("Perfect Gun"). A handful of others are more effect than story or strain to make a point. While Bear doesn't preach or hector, there's a message implicit in much of the work here: As individuals and as a species, we adapt, or we die.
Eclectic and insightful, mostly, and well worth dipping into.