Readers who either don’t read a lot of science fiction, or don’t read a wide breadth of science fiction, may look at Distant Early Warnings and wonder: “Canada has science fiction writers?” Then they’ll read down the list of the stories included in this collection by authors like Julie E. Czerneda, Nalo Hopkinson, and Robert Charles Wilson, and think to themselves: “They’re Canadian?” And finally they look and see that Distant Early Warnings is edited by Robert J. Sawyer, a brilliant science fiction writer who has won just about every award possible, and think: “He’s Canadian too?” Not only is science fiction alive and well and being skillfully created and written in the great country north of the United States, but it is in fact home to some of the best science fiction writers alive today.
In Sawyer’s wonderfully short and precise introduction – he knows to not bore the reader with a lengthy passage talking about what he thinks about Canadian science fiction, but lets the stories speak for themselves – he explains that the title comes from “a string of radar stations in Canada’s far north designed to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War.” The collection kicks off with the best story, “In Spirit,” where it is the near future and a new form of technology exists where it is possible to travel back in time as a holographic image to view events of the past. While still in its testing stages, a prisoner is chosen, giving him the opportunity of freedom if he goes through all the stages of traveling into the past. What is eventually discovered is that this man was involved in the September 11th attacks and he is being punished by traveling back to that catastrophic day and being made to experience action and reaction through the eyes of those who suffered. Then there are those strange people who seem to somehow recognize him during his travels, which should be impossible.
The collection features stories that work on many different levels, like “The Ray-Gun, A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner, as the reader wonders how far the character will go to protect his very special artifact. Then there is Robert Charles Wilson’s haunting and disturbing tale, “The Cartesian Theatre,” which explores the idea of cloning and what is the true meaning of life, living, and the idea of a soul.
Sawyer kicks it up a notch with his lightning round at the end of the book, featuring stories by himself and others in the collection that are only a couple of pages long. And when you’re done with this collection, Sawyer makes sure to point out if the authors have won awards, and what other works they’ve published, to give the readers ideas on what to read next. If anything, Distant Early Warnings will open the mind of any reader to some of the great work and literature being produced by some of today’s Canadian authors.
If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.
Originally written on October 13th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.