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Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — Dark Corners by Barry B. Longyear “Surprising Dark SF: I've always thought of Barry Longyear as strictly SF, and all these stories ARE strictly SF, but they're also (except for a couple of humorous pieces) surprisingly dark explorations of the human soul. 'The Calling of Andy Rain,' a previously unpublished novella about second chances and childhood innocence (or not), is so raw it almost bleeds. Many other excellent pieces here, as well.”

Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson “It Fairly Glitters: There is more invention in the first chapters of this book than in whole series by authors who shall remain nameless. The rest of it doesn't disappoint, either, though it did slow down for me a bit about 2/3 of the way through. I probably recommend this book more than any other SF title for the writing, the story, and the wealth of glittering ideas.”

Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — They're Made Out of Meat by Terry Bisson “Is This The Funniest SF Story Ever Written?: Just possibly. I laugh my ass off every darned time.”

Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson “Audacious, Smart, and Sassy: Also deceptively brilliant, crammed with ideas, and just a kickass fun read. I sat down to read the first page, and was 50 pages into it before I realized I was still reading. Stephenson's intellect and ability are a gift to the field from generous gods of science fiction. On the downside I often felt slightly bogged down by the continuous onslaught of difficult concepts, but this was easy to chalk up to reading an author who's 'way smarter than I.”

Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — Drifting Off the Coast of New Mexico by Steven R. Boyett “Old Friends are the Best: How true is an old friend? How real is 'real?' And what DID happen to Ambrose Bierce? These burning questions and more are answered here. It's got love, friendship, adventure, gunfights, and dead authors, and that's just the warmup. If you don't love this story you just might not have a heart.”

Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — The Goddess Letters by Carol Orlock “Fantasy for Mythology Lovers: Here's mythology given a heart and a set of solid brass ovaries. The gods fight for survival in a world where mortals - though they're not aware of it - increasingly make the rules. A mother and daughter are cruelly separated by the machinations of Olympian politics, and everything is changed thereby. A really lovely book.”

Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — Orphans: The Best of Steven R. Boyett's Short Fiction by Steven R. Boyett “One Seriously Fine Writer: Steven R. Boyett is better known for having written Ariel and Architect of Sleep, but this book shows what he can do with a short story. Serious, funny, dark, sentimental, darker, he covers a lot of ground in 19 stories.”

Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson “Take a Hike!: Make no mistake: I couldn't care less about the Appalachian Trail, but Bill Bryson has got to be the best thing to happen to American travel writing in my lifetime. Having laughed (and learned) my way through previous Bryson volumes I picked up this one and was immediately regaled with tales of campers eaten by bears. There's something terribly WRONG with the fact that he can make these stories gut-bustingly funny, but he does. And he is. And what are the chances you won't love this book? Slim, is what.”

Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — Nearly People by Conrad Williams “Horror? Fantasy? SF?: This story slips and slithers between genres, or maybe just makes them irrelevant. A terrifying setting, great characters. Wonderful writing. I would read Conrad Williams' grocery lists if I could get my hands on them.”

Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith “A Deceptively Simple Tale: This is the story of how Precious Ramotswe sold the cattle she inherited from her father and opened Botswana's first female detective agency. The story is charming and simply told (though its layers go deep indeed), the sense of Africa and her people is palpable, and it's got a great big heart. What more could you ask? And it's only the first in a wonderful series.”

Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — Bumberboom by Avram Davidson “War as a Way of Life: This story is both a real hoot and a pretty serious look at war, told by one of sf's genuine geniuses.”

Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — First to Serve by Algis Budrys “The Ideal Soldier: A couple of government scientists learn to be careful what they ask for when they develop a prototype soldier who's smart enough to ask the wrong questions. The science may seem dated, but the meaning holds up nicely for our century.”

Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — In the Smoke by Howard V. Hendrix “Apocalypso Now: I guess post-apocalypse stories are out of date (I think this one dates back to the mid-80's), but 'In the Smoke' has some excellent writing going for it, among other things. Worth the read for sure.”

Reviewed on 12/14/2004 — Our Lady of American Sorrows by Jay Lake “Popes, Politics, and Magic: Jay Lake is a marvelously prolific writer, but what's really surprising is not the number of stories he writes, but the number of really good stories he writes. This is one of them, full of politics and magic, innocence lost and regained, love, and hope.”