- Posted by Johanna on June 23, 2013 at 5:08 pm
- Category: Books and Prose
- CREDITS: by Connie Willis
- PUBLISHER: Del Rey; $28 US
One of my favorite science fiction authors (and one of the best of all time), Connie Willis, has a new short story collection coming out early next month.
The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories contains 10 stories, all winning either a Hugo or Nebula (or both). They’re her best-known works, obviously, but to make this collection attractive even to long-time fans, each has a new one- or two-page afterword by the author. Willis also provides a new introduction (about her discovery of science fiction) and reprints three speeches: her 2006 WorldCon Guest of Honor speech, about her love of books; her 2012 Nebula Awards speech, where she was named Grand Master; and a third, additional to the Nebula, not previously delivered, about wanting so much to know how things turn out.
The stories reprinted here are:
- A Letter From the Clearys — a 1982 piece about survivors of a nuclear war in the Colorado mountains. The fear and “what if” it expresses isn’t so close to the top of our consciousnesses now, but at the time, it did seem like we might all have to worry about the situation at some point.
- At the Rialto — one of Willis’ funnier pieces. Her ability to write modern screwball is unsurpassed. This one wraps together an annual meeting of physicists in Hollywood, an uncooperative desk clerk, movie history, quantum theory, and romance with a lot of humor. (Although I prefer “Blued Moon”, about language generation, but this one echoes her love of film and entertainment seen in novels like Remake.)
- Death on the Nile — in which a woman narrates the observations of the demise of her marriage on a three-couple trip to Egypt. It’s an unusual story, where the reader is left wondering what’s going on throughout, a horror told through suggestion.
- The Soul Selects Her Own Society — a faux paper on Emily Dickinson combining her work with H.G. Wells’ martians and satirizing doctoral dissertations.
- Fire Watch — the first of the stories involving academic time travelers out of Oxford, which also includes the novels Doomsday Book, the hilarious and highly recommended To Say Nothing of the Dog, and her most recent, the two-part Blackout and All Clear.
- Inside Job — previously published as a novella, this one takes on scammers, channelers, and skeptics with the spirit of H.L. Mencken.
- Even the Queen — mind-blowing, in that it is a classic science fiction story that takes on a question every woman has wondered about: what would life be like if you didn’t have to menstruate?
- The Winds of Marble Arch — a nostalgic piece about a couple returning to London 20 years after their last visit and the nature of aging and change.
- All Seated on the Ground — a hopeful tale of Christmas carols and trying to communicate with alien arrivals.
- The Last of the Winnebagos — which is really about the last dog on earth.
Fans will notice that this book is something of a mass-market version of the limited-edition 2007 anthology The Winds of Marble Arch, which contained the previously-uncollected fourth and eighth stories listed above. The Best of Connie Willis doesn’t include “All My Darling Daughters”, which is her story that will always haunt me, about what the desire to carry on names and genes might do to trust-fund babies of the future. But that just gives readers a reason to seek out her other short story collections. All the pieces here are still transportive, taking the reader to other times and moods and possibilities. This is the best kind of science fiction, literature of ideas, not machines and spaceships.
I’m glad this book exists, because I like to tell friends how great her work is, and this provides a wonderful introduction to it. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)