Review: Dangerous Games, Edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois
Ace Science Fiction, 2007
288 pages, ISBN 9780441014903
GUD doesn't normally review larger-press works, which is partially by choice (they tend to get enough press) and partially by convenience. I wound up with a copy of "Dangerous Games", however, via Jason Stoddard, who contributed "Moments of Brilliance" to Issue 0, and has been making waves both talking about the state of short fiction (he keeps stirring the pot over at his blog) and by appearing in a number of anthologies (latest is Ellen Datlow's "The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy").
The tagline for "Dangerous Games" is "In the reality shows of the future, people will literally be dying to win." And that's not too uncommon of a concept in science fiction, but it's funny how far back it goes. Eleven stories span from 1958 through 2005 (the majority of them being from the late 90's). Science fiction is most often looking forward, and if it's not blatantly obvious from the title of the book (I didn't think about it until reading the preface--slim, but thought-inspiring), the collection is focused on the future of games. A society can be pretty well defined by the games it plays, and at the heart of any game is conflict, so it's a great sandbox for speculative fiction of all sorts.
All of the stories are top-notch science fiction well within the bounds of the genre. Most of them deal with television or virtual reality. One of my favorites of the collection is Vernor Vinge's "Synthetic Serendipity", which only touches on VR tangentially--it's actually rather tough to classify, which is part of what makes it stand out for me. The world envisioned is today's pushed hyper--data mining a skill learned in school, future shock an undeniable social problem, and strange half-virtual theme parks where anyone can contribute content. Not all is what it seems, but that's not because the author is hiding something behind an "is it real or not" digital curtain.
Alistair Reynold's "Stroboscopic" reads as an instant classic--the heroic Everyman character up against impossible odds--and I was somewhat surprised that it was published as recently as 1998. Conversely, Robert Sheckley's "The Prize of Peril", and Kate Wilhelm's "Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Your Crisis! could very well be contemporary fiction as opposed to science fiction, their being written in 1958 and 1976 respectively. Cory Doctorow's "Anda's Game" is timely with the strange social and economic things going on with MMORPGs, and while the story is rather straight forward it's still a fun read; and if you're not familiar with the strange and social and economic things going on with MMORPGs it might be a good jumping off point for you.
Terri Dowling's "The Ichneumon and the Dormeuse" is another favorite--it's a medium- to far-future piece with the feel of a fable and some beautiful layering, touching on tomb-robbing, history/legacies, and identity; the characters are very real, as is the sense of time.
Jason's "Winning Mars" end-caps the collection; my introduction to his writing was this very story from its original publication in Interzone--but then I skimmed a few pages and wasn't very interested. Reading it without Interzone's high-gloss format, I dropped into the story quickly. It's a fun and clever take on one thing that could possibly get us to Mars: advertising. Jason knows his marketing, and the "meta" of the execs building the show and trying to manage the show while various teams compete for the prize adds depth to what is on the surface yet another game show story.
All told, it's a lot of story (and a lot of stories) for your buck, and none of them are duds. If you want some entertaining and occasionally informative or enlightening science fiction, this is a great collection.
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