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Distant Early Warnings

Anthology edited by Robert J Sawyer

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Canada's best collects Canada's best

  • Feb 27, 2011

Distant Early Warings - Canada's Best Science Fiction

Edited by Robert J Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer Books $22.95

308 Pages - fiction & poetry


Robert J. Sawyer,
Karl Schroeder,
, and
plus the poetry of .

Author bios courtesy of Robert J Sawyer Books

When I learned that Robert Sawyer would be in attendance at Readercon this year and that he would be bringing copies of the DEW anthology with him for early release, and that its actual permiere would be at Worldcon, I was determined to get a hold of a copy and give it the review treatment in between the two cons.

Alas.  All good plans of Mitke Mouse and all such rot. (Sorry, Robert.)

The book has been very well received so far and I have finally managed to work my way through it, with not a bit of disappointment and a lot of enthusiasm.

As I've previously related I'm playing catchup (not mustard) with the field.  There is a large post mid-1990s gap in my regular reading of SF and I consider it a must to fill that gap in if I am going to speak knowledgeably about the field - especially when in comparison to what I know and like (early to mid-80s SF).

I did manage to ask Robert one question about the book in passing before the ebb and flow of Readercon took us our separate ways: I was curious to see if there had been any consideration given to the order in which the stories were presented - a deliberate attempt to give the anthology some kind of flow. Robert answered in the affirmative, and my reading experience has confirmed this.  Though there is no reason not to pick and choose which stories and what order you read them in, a little bit more can be gotten out of the experience by reading them in their planned order.

This is a collection of award winning and award-nominated author's stories all, every one a Canadian and as such it fulfilled two purposes for me: it gave me an introductory experience to many authors who are at the top of their craft - most of whom I was previously unfamiliar with.  It also served to illustrate that Canadian SF is a very vibrant community these days and well worth paying attention to.

You could almost call this anthology a primer of Canadian SF;  if you were to use the author's list as your reading list, you'll have acquired a very nice library of some very fine works by the time you reach the end.

You won't have to go far to find that library either; Sawyer has thoughtfully provided a brief introductory bio and bibliography in the front piece to each story.

The book also has an appended 'lightning round' in which Sawyer has selected several SF stories by authors represented in the book that have previously appeared in Nature - the British Nature - one of the world's top scientific journals.

Several of the stories affected me viscerally in a squicky kind of way - The Eyes of God by Peter Watts (when is a pervert not a pervert?), A Raggy, Shaggy Dog by Nalo Hopkinson which I can only describe as 'wrong' in all the right ways - a very disturbing vision- and Sawyer's own Shed Skin which wrestles with those problematic singularity-type questions and comes up a draw.  Not in the sense that it was just an ok story, but by illustrating in a very informative manner that we really DO have a lot of thinking left to do about our future.

The last story - The Cartesian Theatre (note the British spelling, lol) by Robert Charles Wilson was truly and utterly disturbing - and a fitting end to the collection.

I even have to give props to Spider Robinson's You Don't Know My Heart; I didn't think there was ever any way I'd be able to forgive him after Variable Star, but this story went a long way towards getting him back into my good graces.

The other stories not mentioned by title were equally good representations of Canadian science fiction, just not as standoutish as the ones I mentioned.

Sawyer has done a very good job here of collecting not just the top of the Canadian SF line, but, I am sure, truly representative works of each author's craft; I know I've been inspired to look for works by each of these folks.

So far as SF is concerned, Canada is no longer just the attic for US science fiction.  In fact, it's probably a bit more vibrant, alive, experimental and challenging than stuff being published in the States right now, a situation due, in no small part, to Sawyer's efforts. (See the Robert J Sawyer Books site for more information on that score.)

I strongly recommend this book - top quality SF, an intro to SF by Canadians and an excellent review of where the contemporary field is today.

RJ Sawyer Books's site states that they print "only science fiction".  The cover illustration of DEW by James Beverige is certainly evocative of SF in all its wonderful glory.

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Steve Davidson ()
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