Digital Science Fiction is a publisher of sci-fi anthologies. Their latest volume, Heir Apparent, is an eclectic assemblage of stories that would fully have deserved its alternative considered title of Smorgasboard. Ultimately this works to the good of the whole anthology. Varying as it does in tone and style, it contains something for everyone. If this is the quality of work that all of Digital Science Fiction’s anthologies contain, I look forward to sampling the other three volumes, as well as their future efforts.
My personal favorite type of story is always the high-concept tale…the one that absolutely hinges for its effect on examining the everyday implications of some bizarre phenomenon. Fortunately for me, this volume has several winners in that department. The best of these, in my estimation, is “To Titan on the Daily,” which follows a private investigator tasked with tracking down a man who recently won a lottery where the winner gets one wish granted…and wished to become incredibly smart. The story takes so many left turns from there that I would be depriving you of the pleasure of discovery by revealing any more. Others in this category, also very good, are “Persistence of Memory” (what if soldiers could sign contracts that extend well beyond their lifetime?) and the alternatively hilarious and slightly creepy entry “Ghostbook” (what if the dead could sign on to social networks?)
Of course, there’s also something to be said for stories that simply want to drop you into the action and let you follow along. Heir Apparent starts with one of these, “Floaters,” in which a security agent is sent on an expedition to bring back the body of an old comrade. There’s only one problem: the body’s identity has been forged. “In the Arms of Lachiga” similarly deals with old comrades, but this time in a tale of intrigue and assassination that seems like something out of a Neuromancer-style universe. My personal favorite here, though, is “Philosophy,” in which a life-or-death struggle against both some very old-fashioned aliens and a hostile environment resolves itself in an exchange that is as sharp as it is inspiring.
Speaking of old-fashioned stories, anyone who appreciates more traditional science-fiction avenues should find something for them as well. “A Lincoln in Time” builds itself around a well-constructed timestream problem…more than one, actually…and as you might expect, the sixteenth president is the key to everything. This category also includes the story I loved the most in the entire volume, “Father-Daughter Outing.” The problem is simple – an accident on the lunar surface puts the life of our heroine’s father at risk – and the story is just about working that problem. It feels like a tale that could have been told in the fifties, and I mean that as a high compliment.
There are also two stories in the volume that are a little more non-traditional. “Hooked” has a great central concept…a sentient machine that manipulates the stock market. But it is content to tell its narrative as a character-examination piece, looking at the all-too-human motivations of its three central players, one of whom isn’t even human. The only story that I didn’t really appreciate, I’m sad to report, is “My Silent Slayer.” Having said that, I hasten to add that the story is well-told, and involves a plethora of fun concepts for the right audience: werewolves, airships, and an alternate-history Europe. I simply don’t believe that I’m a member of that audience.
Sometimes you’d rather not get lost in the length and breadth of a novel, but just want to dip into the strange waters of an unfamiliar narrative. These tales should leave you feeling refreshed.