Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Birthday Review: Short Fiction of Gregory Benford

Gregory Benford turns 78 today. It shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose, that the writers who were coming into prominence when I started reading in the field are getting on a bit now -- I'm getting on a bit myself! But somehow it still surprises me a bit. I still remember being particularly impressed with stories like "Doing Lennon" and "White Creatures" and "Cambridge, 1:58 AM" and "If the Stars Are Gods" (with Gordon Eklund), and "Time Shards" back in the '70s. So I'm happy to still be able to put together a selection of reviews of his short fiction from my time at Locus (with one look back at his second published story). Most of these review are from early in my time at Locus, but I should note that the current (January 2019) issue includes a review of "A Waltz in Eternity", a new Greg Benford story that I really liked, from the November Galaxy's Edge.

Retro Review of F&SF, January 1966

And finally Greg Benford's "Representative from Earth" is another humans vs. aliens sort of thing, in which a spaceman is subjected to a series of trials, which he assumes are to evaluate humanity's worthiness for membership in the local interstellar empire -- but it turns out the local ruler has something else in mind for him. This was Benford's second sale -- his first had been the winner of an F&SF contest the year before.

Locus, July 2002

A fairly common theme in an Analog story is the stupidity of technophobes.  I confess this message appeals to me – I basically agree.  So in some ways I was eagerly cheering along with Gregory Benford and Kevin J. Anderson, authors of "Mammoth Dawn", as their hero, a plucky entrepreneur who has over decades managed to recreate several extinct species (dodoes, passenger pigeons, and mammoths, among others) deals with evil ecoterrorists intent on slaughtering the "unnatural" new creatures.  But at another level I cringed from the strident and one-dimensional characterization of the story's villains, and with the way the authors use the trick of having the main bad guy be a clear cut idiot and failure to reinforce their message.  I applaud the basic thrust of the story, but I think the story suffers from the unsubtle deck-stacking characterization.

Locus, September 2003

The Janis Ian/Mike Resnick anthology Stars features a topnotch list of writers riffing on Ian's songs. There's some fine work here -- though maybe a couple too many obvious and earnest takes on "Society's Child". ... Gregory Benford's "On the Edge", a mild revision of his 2001 Sci Fiction story "Brink", is a fine near future fantasia featuring Emma Goldman, Lenin, Jefferson, Franklin, and other founding fathers both Soviet and American as they yearn for a revolution in the soulless consumerist 21st Century world.

Locus, November 2003

In Gregory Benford's "The Hydrogen Wall" (Asimov's, October-November) an impending encounter with a denser region of the Galaxy threatens Earth. A trainee Librarian deals with a frustrating alien AI which, it turns out, may be able to help protect the Solar System from this disaster. But there is a price -- one that rather raised my eyebrows! Some really nice SFnal ideas,

Locus, January 2004

Interzone is now officially bimonthly, leaving the field with no magazines that actually publish 12 issues per year. September leads off with a fine far-future story by Gregory Benford, "Naturals". Dawn is a child of an enclave of "Naturals", humans unconnected to external intelligences, in a world of mostly very enhanced humans, or Supras. We follow her early life, and especially her love affair with a Supra, then a life-changing disaster that leads to a new understanding of her position in this new world.

Locus, April 2005

It was a pleasant surprise to find Cosmic Tales: Adventures in Far Futures so enjoyable. The book includes six stories of substantial length: three novelettes and three novellas. The stories are all adventure-oriented, and all but one set in other solar systems. Sometimes the protagonists have things a bit too easy, sometimes the plot doesn't quite hold together, but each story qualifies – put simply – fun. The most SFnally intriguing is Gregory Benford's "Beyond Pluto", in which human explorers encounter energy beings at the edge of the Solar System.

Locus, May 2006

I thought the best stories in the first issue of Jim Baen's Universe were two longer novelettes. ...Gregory Benford’s “Bow Shock” is in his “realistic depiction of science” mode, concerning a young astrophysicist struggling for tenure, dealing with an ambitious rival, problems getting observation time, an impatient girlfriend, and, of course, a controversial discovery. The story follows a fairly predictable path, but it’s still enjoyable and SFnally interesting.

Locus, June 2013

April at Tor is pretty impressive, with a wide range of mode and tone. First we get a fine pure hard SF piece from Gregory Benford, “Backscatter”. No surprises here, but solid deployment of a traditional set of tropes and plot elements: the asteroid explorer crashed and needing an imaginative way to be rescued, her snarky AI companion, and the cool and scientifically plausible discovery.

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