Robinson as a person is a great conversationalist, witty, intelligent, well educated, well traveled.
I grew to enjoy even more of his fine speculative fiction, beginning with the appearance of “A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions” (from Author’s Choice Monthly 20, Pulphouse Publishing, 1990). Wow, did he throw away the tropes!
Here are some descriptions of what I consider the best of this bunch in this great single-author collection:
“Venice Drowned.” Venetian Gondolier and tour guide Carlo Tafur has been tasked with delivering Japanese visitors to Torcello. There, the tourists are to scuba-drive to see an underwater church bearing the famed Teotaca Madonna, a tile mosaic the Japanese want to salvage and relocate. In his disgust at their lack of veneration, Carlo drives away from the site, only to get lost at sea – almost – where he finds a strangely workable campanile, a bell tower signaling safe port at a building. There, Carlo learns a lesson in not only physical but spiritual survival of a city slowly drowning, slowly being “salvaged,” by circumstance or by human self-interests.
“Ridge Running.” Three men – three ridge runners – make a go of it, battling the elements (lots of cold, tons of snow) and themselves, recollecting their thoughts and deeds at a snow camp. The exploration of spaces traversed by those who come before makes a remarkable tale.
“The Lucky Strike.” World War II Army/Air Corps Captain Frank January serves as bombardier aboard the flying fortress Lucky Strike, delivering the world’s atomic bomb to the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Military leaders had prepared the crew well – all except for the tormenting dreams January experiences of the aftermath of the bomb on the civilian population, the horrid, hellish destruction. January believes only a “safe” demonstration is necessary to force Japan’s surrender – not the annihilation of thousands of innocent people. What does he do? What is the outcome?
Sort of a follow-up to the “Lucky Strike” story is “A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions,” a story of quantum mechanics, behavior, and the decision-making of us all – including Captain January from “The Lucky Strike.”
“The Blind Geometer” is a tale of conspiracy and strange math, in which a George Washington University mathematics professor named Carlos Nevsky, blind at birth, must use his skills in ways he never thought possible to not only save a loved one but to thwart a plot of staggering criminal dimensions.
“The Translator.” Owen Rumford, Rannoch Station town general manager on the planet Rannoch, also serves as translator – or the man who operates the translator box, anyway. He must also serve as diplomat extraordinaire between two warring species, the Ba’arni and the Iggglas, who are hell-bent on restarting a war. What skills does Rumford have to prevent open hostilities?
“Glacier.” A family in New England lives with the brunt effects of a glacier in the new Ice Age. Even in another Ice Age, family matters STILL matter, even if townships and boroughs believe they can use technology to stop the glacier’s relentless advance.
“Zurich.” A vignette, of sorts, about the encounter one man has in the city with a Latin American man playing a gourd-like instrument, to the delight of many – and showing how truly unpredictable city folk can be.
“Vinland the Dream.” Did Vikings discover America? Well, one theory believed had many people convinced and drew a lot of followers – until the “evidence” for a Viking discovery was the work of a fraud. The fraud’s perpetrator was so shadowy, so mysterious, that the real question of the story of a Canadian dig is, why did the perpetrator do it? Why try to “create” history, especially one that couldn’t hold up to closer inspection?
“A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations.” A historian/writer gets the chance to compile a coffee-table book on the 20th century. What a bloody mess the century turned out to be! Wars and destruction and insanity! Well, it was a mess, at least compared to the LAST coffee-table book on the history of the 19th century, when the 20th century ahead looked so beautiful and so promising. A trip to Scotland and the Scottish Isles provides a strange sort of inspiration.
“Muir on Shasta.” Mountain climbers get stuck on a dangerous and cold volcanic mountain. To survive, they have to immerse themselves in volcanic mud, where they could survive or be burned and/or frozen to death. What do they endure to survive?
“Sexual Dimorphism.” DNA researchers, microbiologists, learning about junk DNA, also have to live in a world in which there are FEW differences between men and women yet, at the same time, many.
“Discovering Life.” Simple bacterial life has been discovered on Mars by Jet Propulsion Lab scientists. Is this the beginning of the quest to colonize Mars, or the end?
“The Timpanist of the Berlin Philharmonic, 1942.” Defiant musical conductors, a rebellious timpanist, and an unexpected creative surge accompanies a March 1942 performance of the Berlin Philharmonic. And you thought demonstrations started in the U.S. years later, regarding some other war?