Tony Daniel, The Robot's Twilight Companion (Golden Gryphon 0-9655901-5-1, $24.95, 320pp, hc) August 1999. Cover by J.K. Potter.
Tony Daniel's first collection brings together nine short stories from one of the best new writers to appear during the '90s.
The collection opens strongly with Hugo-nominated "Life on the Moon," the story of a poet, married to the brilliant and ambitious architect who will design the first permanent city to be built on the moon, who must choose between his love of Earth's biosphere and his love for her. It's a gentle, elegiac, and wise tale that sets the tone for much of the rest of the book.
"A Dry Quiet War" is an ambitious Western that John Ford or Sergio Leone would have recognized. A soldier returns from a war at the end of time looking to settle down in his old home town, but it's denied to him when soldiers looking for a little rest and recreation visit, terrorizing the locals. The soldier is faced with the decision of taking a stand, knowing it will mean he must return to the front, or letting the woman he loves become a victim of the war.
"Radio Free Praha" is a doomed love story set in the smoky bars of Prague. Peter Eastaboga tells of an Eastern bloc program to take the next step in vacuum technology, developing a way to create "bubbles" in time using enormous, near perfect vacuum tubes. However, when this marvelous steampunkish experiment goes awry the woman he loves becomes trapped forever, lost in the ether.
There are other strong stories: in "Aconcagua" a climber struggles to survive on the slopes of a South American mountain; in "Black Canoes" a man accompanies a friend into a mysterious cave to re-enact a solstice ritual that seems shocking in the eyes of modern Western society; in "Death of Reason" a cyborg cop returns to his home town to face down the mob boss who wanted him dead and the woman who left him in order to jack into the city mainframe and fulfill her own destiny; and in "Grist" and "Mystery Box" we get a foretaste of Daniels's forthcoming novel Metaplanetary.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the collection, though, is "The Robot's Twilight Companion." It's the story of a mining robot that sat abandoned in a field for years, never turned off, that slowly developed a personality and awareness, and is then put to work on a project to dig to the Earth's core. "The Robot's Twilight Companion" was described as a "tough, moving and visionary tone poem on themes of geology, ecology and mind" by one of my Locus colleagues, and I couldn't hope to do better.
There's always the potential for any short story collection to be uneven in quality, and The Robot's Twilight Companion does have one or two weak spots, but overall it's a strong and worthwhile collection that belongs on the shelves of any serious SF reader.
—Jonathan Strahan, Locus, February 2000