Summary: After Greg Bear’s death in November, I decided to honor his memory by (re-) reading “The Collected Stories of Greg Bear“, Tor 2002. My overall rating for the stories here is 3.67/5, or “Very good”. The great fiction included and the essays and story introductions make this a worthwhile retrospective of Bear’s short fiction. Recommended, with a minor quibble noted below.
The Full Story: I’ve been a fan of Greg Bear’s fiction for decades. I suspect “A Martian Ricorso (Analog February 1976) was the first work by him I read. Looking at my Book Database, I have 28 entries for books of his I have read and generally enjoyed, mostly novels with a few collections and anthologies. Although I have mostly read his science fiction, I read and enjoyed what I believe to be his last book published during his life, the fantasy/horror “The Unfinished Land” (2021, John Joseph Adams Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
I’ve been reading and enjoying his short fiction as I encountered it over the last few years as I have focused on reading short speculative fiction. Upon hearing of his death, I decided to revisit his short fiction in a more organized way as a tribute to him.
To the best of my knowledge, there is no “The Best of Greg Bear” collection.
There is a 3 volume “The Complete Short Fiction of Greg Bear” (2016 Open Road Integrated Media). I love Greg Bear, but that seemed a bit much for me. I did read the first volume, “Just Over The Horizon: The Complete Short Fiction of Greg Bear” about 5 years ago and loved it, but I did not feel the need to read Volumes Two or Three, and I have no interest in rereading Volume One.
When I checked my Book Database, I confirmed that I had read “The Collected Stories of Greg Bear” in 2016. I rated it at “Superlative” (right below my best rating, “A classic!” and my comments were “Great collection – what a resume!”.
I considered, and decided to reread “The Collected Stories of Greg Bear”. Luckily, my regional library consortium had it.
There is a lot to like about “The Collected Stories of Greg Bear”. It includes 24 stories, which I assume were selected by editor Beth Meacham and Greg Bear. Including essays and story introductions, it comes in at 653 pages.
I have not found any explicit statements by Meacham or Bear on how the stories were selected, but I assume they were both heavily involved.
I really liked the Introduction and the Appendix material by Bear; it’s definitely a plus. The story introductions are great also, with a fair amount of information about both the story and how it came to be written or published. These story introductions include “commentary and reminisces” as noted on the back flap which were both personal and interesting. The inclusion of this kind of material is essential for me to really feel a collection of this kind is top notch.
There were a number of great stories that I expected to see here, and did, such as:
- “Blood Music”, the 1983 novella.
- “Heads”, a 1990 novella.
- “Tangents”, a 1986 short story.
- “Hardfought”, a 1983 novella.
- “Schrödinger’s Plague”, a 1982 short story.
There were also quite a few great stories that I had read before but did not remember, including:
- “Sisters”, a 1989 novelette.
- “The Wind from a Burning Woman”, a 1978 “Thistledown” novelette.
- “The White Horse Child”, a 1979 short story.
- “Dead Run”, a 1985 short story.
- “Through Road, no Whither”, a 1985 short story.
- “Sleepside Story”, a 1988 novella.
- “The Way of all Ghosts”, a 1999 “Thistledown” novelette.
This is a very good collection, which does a good job of presenting Greg Bear’s short fiction. My overall rating is 3.67/5, or “Very good”. I am really glad I reread it, as there were a number of great stories by Bear I had forgotten I had read.
I recommend this book as a good collection of his best short fiction.
Regarding Greg Bear the person, I saw a lot more information about him that I was not very familiar with after he died, in various obituaries and such. Several things surprised me, including a) for all that he wrote a lot of “hard” science fiction, and did it very well, his degree was in English, and b) he was an artist and illustrator. I was also very impressed with the pretty uniform stories from people in the writing and SF arena about what a nice and helpful person he was. This does not have direct bearing on his published short fiction, but it does fill in the picture a bit about him and informed my recent reading.
I do have one minor niggle, of several stories that I did not care for and that could have been omitted without losing anything in my humble opinion.
This is not a “Best of”, or a complete short fiction series or volume, but rather something in between. Clearly, Greg Bear and editor Beth Meacham thought this was a good idea. Whoever wrote the front flap called it a “career retrospective”, which I think is fair description.
The choices of stories for inclusion are the business of Greg Bear and Beth Meacham, within whatever publishing constraints existed. At the same time, there were two stories that I “Did Not Finish” reading that I felt could have been omitted without losing anything, and one more that I was very underwhelmed by. For me, inclusion of these three stories knocked it out of a “Great” collection, but that is my personal opinion. You might love those stories.
- “A Plague of Conscience“, a novelette which is part of the group author novel/anthology “Murasaki”, 1978 Bantam Spectra. The characters did nothing for me, and I did not care enough to finish it. This might have been better in the novel.
- “Richie by the Sea“, published in “New Terrors Two”, Ramsey Campbell editor, 1980 Pan Books. This is probably a great horror story, but I am not a big fan of such, and I did not finish it.
- ” Webster“, published in “Alternities”, David Gerrold & Stephen Goldin editors, 1974 Dell. I was just not impressed.
I will note that I rated “Perihesperon” at 3.3, lower than I rated “Webster”, at 3.4. I’m listing “Webster” here as a story I felt could be omitted because I felt “Perihesperon” was closer to being a good story, despite it’s flaws. You could equally argue that “Perihesperon” should have been omitted as well.
Another way of looking at this collection is as functionally a great “The Best of Greg Bear” collection, with some bonus fiction. I am not making that argument, but it’s a legitimate thought.
This collection was published in 2002, with no stories written after 2000. Looking at Mark R. Kelly’s Science Fiction Awards Database for Greg Bear (Thanks, Mark!), there are two Greg Bear stories published after 2000 that were included in “Year’s Best” anthologies that would warrant consideration for a full career survey. These stories were:
- “The Machine Starts”, a novelette from the anthology “Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft“, edited by Jennifer Henshaw, Allison Linn (2015, Microsoft), reprinted in “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Ten“, Jonathan Strahan editor, Solaris 2016.
- “RAM Shift Phase 2 ”, a short story, from Nature Dec 15 2005, reprinted in “Year’s Best SF 11“, Kathryn Cramer/David G. Hartwell editors, 2006 Eos/HarperCollins.
I don’t think I have read these stories, but I need to. Without knowing any more, I wonder if “The Machine Starts” might be in conversation with E. M. Forster’s classic 1909 story, “The Machine Stops“?
My other question was whether this collection omitted any stories that I felt should be included from Bear’s career up to 2002. Looking at award nominations and reprints, the only other story I found that I feel I should read but did not see here is “Mandala”, a 1978 Bear novella, first published in “New Dimensions: Science Fiction: Number 8“, Robert Silverberg editor, Harper & Row.
A revised form of “Mandala” was later published as Book One in the Bear novel “Strength of Stones”. Being published in “New Dimensions” does not make it great, but it does get my attention. I don’t think I have read “Strength of Stones”, but my Book Database shows that I read the related Bear novel “Beyond Heavens River”. I had “Beyond Heavens River” as “Okay”, which is not very encouraging, and noted it as “An early Bear book, readable but not his best”. This does not change my mind about reading “Mandala” to see for myself, but I’ll see about that.
Detailed Reviews/Comments: SPOILERS GALORE!
- “Blood Music“, a novelette, Analog June 1983. A Hugo & Nebula Award winner, Locus Award finalist, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1984 Bluejay Books, and “The 1984 Annual World’s Best SF“, Arthur W. Saha and Donald A. Wollheim editors, 1984 DAW Books. A classic story, kind of an inside out Microcosmic God, where a biologist/genetic researcher develops cells and cell groups using his own blood that can think and evolve. He injects them into his own body. His only friend, an MD, kills him in an attempt to contain them. His friend has already been infected via a handshake, and he and his wife are taken over and changed. The end of human civilization is coming, perhaps. Rated 4.5/5, or “A Classic”, and perhaps my favorite story by Greg Bear. I’m not prepared to say if I prefer the novella or the novel.
- “Sisters“, a novelette, first published in Bear’s “Tangents” collection, 1989 Warner Books. A wonderful, sad yet strong story of a high schooler who has a natural, unmodified genome (or “NG”). She struggles with being the slow, ordinary one, in a school mostly full of PPCs (Pre-Planned Children) with genomes modified for good looks, intelligence, etc. After struggles, she befriends one of the PPCs while doing a play. A surge of PPC children deaths occur due to unforeseen challenges with genemods. Her PPC friend Reena dies. She delivers an amazing speech at the school’s ceremony. Locus and Nebula finalist. Rated 4.1/5, or “Superlative”.
- “A Martian Ricorso“, a short story, Analog February 1976. I am pretty sure this is the first Greg Bear fiction I read anywhere. I remember reading this story in the February 1976 Analog, but nothing else. Not quite great, but a very good story of a troubled Martian expedition and their encounters with a Martian species that may be intelligent, albeit it is unclear in what way they are intelligent. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
- “Schrödinger’s Plague“, a short story, Analog March 1982. An amazing story of a physicist’s qualms about quantum uncertainty, and a diabolical experiment he sets in motion with an experimental virus. Bear claims this is his only epistolary story. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
- “Heads“, from the Queen of Angels universe, a novella, Interzone, #37. This is a superlative story of science (the search for absolute zero), cryogenically frozen heads, politics, religion, obsession, ambition, and naiveite on the moon. Great characters, and it’s epistolary, as a memoir related by the protagonist 30 years later, so “Schrödinger’s Plague” is not the only epistolary story from Bear. Locus Award runner-up. Rated 4.1/5, or “Superlative”.
- “The Wind from a Burning Woman“, a Thistledown novelette, Analog October 1978. I read this first in the October 1978 Analog. It’s a great story of a Geshel (technical, science oriented person) who decides to get revenge against the ruling Naderites (anti-science, etc.) on Earth after she discovers that her grandfather was killed on the asteroid Psyche slated to be an interstellar ship by a Naderite plot. She hijacks and wakes up that asteroid ship, and threatens to impact Earth unless the Naderites admit what happened. She dies, but we don’t find out if Psyche hits the Earth or not. Bear states that this is part of his Thistledown series; I assume the outrage at the Naderites over the sabotage of Psyche leads to more space exploration and other science. It’s also fun that Bear had seen the 1964 Analog science fact article “Giant Meteor Impact”, which predated most thinking on that subject. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
- “The Venging“, a novelette, Galaxy June 1975. I like this story, but I don’t get to what Bear wrote in the intro or the afterword, and I’m too lazy to reread it and really think about it in depth. Humans have conducted scientific research that can be seen as attacking the religious beliefs of aliens. Pursuit occurs in a nebula full of black holes. The protagonist Anna Sigrid-Nestor survives, and some end up in a dead universe. I may need to read Bear’s connected books, “Beyond Heaven’s River” and “Strength of Stones”, or maybe not. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
- “Perihesperon“, a short story, first printed in “Tomorrow: New Worlds of Science Fiction“, Roger Elwood editor, 1977 M. Evans and Company. An interesting story of a young woman on an almost deserted space ship, and a man from another ship. All of the other passengers and crew are gone. We find out they are both going to die, as the ship is in a very dangerous orbit or course. He tells her that a meteoroid depressurized the ship and everyone else died. I am not sure this makes sense to me. We also find out that the man was a gigolo for Anna Nestor-Smith, the richest woman around, so this story is connected to “The Venging” . I liked some things about this, but I am troubled by the disappearance of the others – I am not convinced it makes sense. Rated 3.3/5, or “Good”.
- “Scattershot“, a novelette, first published in “Universe 8“, Terry Carr editor, 1978 Doubleday. This story refers to the Aighors, same aliens as in “The Venging”, as a race that uses “disrupters” to get rid of their enemies. The protagonist Geneva is “disrupted” into another universe, where she is in a ship that is in bits from different universes, and many alien races from them. Geneva struggles to survive and understand, with an unexpected outcome. Reprinted in “The 1979 Annual World’s Best SF“, Arthur W. Saha and Donald A. Wollheim editors, 1979 DAW Books. Rated 3.7, or “Very good”.
- “A Plague of Conscience“, a novelette, from “Murasaki”, an anthology edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Robert Silverberg, 1992 Bantam Spectra. I just could not maintain interest in the characters or the story. Bear notes that this is really an excerpt of a multi-author novel/anthology, “Murasaki“, that is all linked. He notes that it makes more sense with the rest of the novel for background, but I don’t care enough for that. Did not finish, or DNF. Rated 2/5, or “Did Not Finish”.
- “The White Horse Child“, a short story, first published in “Universe 9“, Terry Carr editor, 1979 Doubleday. A great story, of a young man who learns to tell stories despite religious opposition by his family. I agree that is is very Bradburyesque, as noted by Bear. For all that Bear says this is his most reprinted story, I don’t remember it. Rated 3.9, or “Great”.
- “Dead Run“, a short story, Omni April 1985. A man is a truck driver, taking dead souls to Hell. He has a revelation that some of the souls he takes to Hell do not belong there; he finds out that God (“the Boss”) has not been heard from in a while, and so a perhaps TV evangelist is doing the choosing. He is offered a promotion to the main office, but declines and starts to turn loose dead souls who don’t belong in Hell. For all that this story was not nominated for any awards and did not get into any “Year’s Best” anthologies, it’s one Hell of a story! It’s pretty well reprinted, so others agree. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
- “Petra“, a short story, Omni February 1982. A good theological fantasy, of the death of God and of the world resulting. It was a Nebula and World Fantasy Award finalist, and has been reprinted often, so perhaps others like it more than I do. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.
- “Webster“, a short story, first published in “Alternities“, David Gerrold and Stephen Goldin editors, 1974 Dell. A lonely woman creates a lover out of the dictionary and desire. Things do not end well. Rated 3.4/5, or “Good”.
- “Through Road, No Whither“, a short story, “Far Frontiers“, Jim Baen and Jerry Pournelle, 1985 Baen. A great short short, on Nazis and vengeance from across time and space. Rated 3.9, or “Great”.
- “Tangents“, a short story, Omni January 1986. A great and obvious homage to Alan Turing with Flatland thrown in. An aging, gay math genius encounters a young, adopted man with a genius for topology. The young man goes to the 4th dimension voluntarily, and the older man is rescued by the denizens there when Homeland Security is about to deport him or worse. Hugo and Nebula winner and Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Fourth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1987 St. Martin’s Press. For me, this would fall into “Superlative”, rated 4.1/5.
- “The Visitation“, a short story, Omni June 1987. A fun short short about our relationship with a God that is very different than many think. Rated 3.7, or “Very good”.
- “Richie by the Sea“, a short story, first published in “New Terrors Two“, Ramsey Campbell editor, 1980 Pan Books. A horror story that is just not my thing, so “Did Not Finish”. Rated 2/5.
- “Sleepside Story“, a novella, first published as a chap book, 1988 Cheap Street. A great fantasy of a young man with a challenging family, an ancient hooker (Miss Belle Parkhurst) with magic who needs help, and an ending and beginning. Reprinted in “Full Spectrum 2“, Lou Aronica, Pat LoBrutto, Shawna McCarthy, and Amy Stout editors, 1989 Doubleday Foundation, and the Datlow/Windling “The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Third Annual Collection“, 1990 St. Martin’s Press. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
- “Judgment Engine“, a novelette, first published in “Far Futures“, Gregory Benford editor, 1995 Tor. A very good tale of the far future, with artificial/virtual descendants of humans, living in group Libraries. The story revolves around the death of the universe and steps to perhaps influence the next one, and a conflict between Teachers and Students as the end approaches. A digital ancestor of a group mind is reconstituted to look at the impending end from a different perspective. He encounters the virtual descendant of the woman who divorced him after he was scanned. The universe still ends, but he has learned enough to not want to continue. Bear has some thoughtful ideas about the challenges of writing about the far future, as noted in the afterword. Rated 3.7/5, or “Great”.
- “The Fall of the House of Escher“, a novelette, first published in “David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination“, Janet Berliner and David Copperfield editors, 1996 HarperPrism. A very good horror/SF story of a man brought back to life by a “friend”. He is a magician, unparalleled with cards. He ends up as the horrific focus of 100 billion demanding experience and novelty, with no way out. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
- “The Way of All Ghosts“, a Thistledown novelette, first published in “Far Horizons: All New Tales from the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction“, Robert Silverberg editor, 1999 Avon Eos. One hell of a Thistledown story of the Way, of an illegal, unsanctioned action to ensure a universe is properly born. The protagonist, Ser Olmey, succeeds as a patsy or a stalking horse. Great characters, and a worthy Locus Finalist. I guess I need to reread the whole series. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
- “MDIO Ecosystems Increase Knowledge of DNA Languages (2215 C.E.)“, a short story, Nature January 13, 2000. A very good, fun story written in the form of a future scientific report on how exoplanets in the Oort zone have environments where early RNA/DNA systems are evolving as life. This definitely qualifies as epistolary, the third after Bear has noted he only wrote one. This might be a matter of semantics. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
- “Hardfought“, a novella, Asimov’s February 1983. One hell of a story of far future conflict, with lovers who will always be together, and two races in conflict that become more alike as time passes. A phenomenal story, Nebula winner, Hugo runner-up, Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1984 Bluejay Books, and “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #13“, Terry Carr editor, 1984 Baen. Rated 4.1/5, or “Superlative”.