Fiction Reviews

Matter's End

(1996) Gregory Benford (ed), Victor Gollancz, 16.99, hrdbk, 294pp. ISBN 0 575 06298 3

Gregory Benford is one of those contemporary Californian SF writers whose novels began to make an impact this side of the pond in the 1980s, though he has been writing since the 1960s. He writes fairly hard SF, though interestingly occasionally tinges it with fantasy (something difficult to do convincingly (i.e. without having to suspend disbelief too much) but he does it on the whole well)). Gregory Benford is also an accomplished physicist, which helps put pay to the myth that scientists cannot write.

Matter's End is a collection of Benford's earlier shorts and novellas from the '60s through to the '80s. To say they are all 'good reads' is a bit dismissive, but they are; few shine incandescently on their own. If however you can read them in the context of when they were written, and where SF was at that time, then you distinctly perceive the flashes of insight that come with an enquiring and discerning mind. I say this because you really have to adopt this perspective to get the best out of these stories and, in fairness, to do Benford justice. For instance one short story is in effect a re-hash of Jurassic Park except that it is not, Benford wrote his short story first! The title story to the collection, Matter's End, itself is in effect a completely fresh approach to the theme Clarke explored in The Nine Billion Names of God: a sort of cross between that and Egan's Quarantine. A must for Benford philes, those whose book collection represents the genre's development, and long train journeys.

Jonathan Cowie

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