The 24 highly regarded stories of this brilliant collection span 30 years of John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner Zebrowski's (Brute Orbits) career in fundamentally philosophical hard SF. Convinced that the genre best "rehearses possible futures," Zebrowski succinctly exhibits a wide range of gritty, postmodern, impeccably disciplined glimpses into futures far and near, as well as alternative histories, like the intriguing "Number of the Sand" and "Let Time Shape" from the History Machine series he began in the early 1970s. All probe the innermost reaches of human frailty. Like Kafka, Zebrowski follows each wrenching "what if" opener with remorseless logic to a closing as stark and inevitable as the utter cold of outer space, often a direct result of humanity's violent and spiritually fatal pursuit of power. Most disturbing are Nebula Award nominee "The Eichmann Variations," which questions whether that murderer is capable of remorse and redemption; "Bridge of Silence," an alien contact that cuts to the essense of human hubris; and the shattering "Lesser Beasts," which lays bare the tragic delusional aftermath of the Vietnam War. Humanity's saving grace of humor, which the author sees as a weapon against totalitarianism, dominates "Stooges," an alien encounter via a comedy jam session. Though Zebrowski notes that several of his stories "got away" from him, all demonstrate impressive discipline, logic and mastery of his craft; as his conclusion, "Holdouts," suggests, there is a human need to "rewrite reality itself." Few SF writers have done so with such mathematical elegance. (Apr.)
Forecast: Possibly too demanding for some, especially younger readers, this quality collection should nonetheless quickly sell out its first printing.
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