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October 2002
2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
 
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Ebb Tides and Other Tales by Mary Soon Lee
Dark Regions Press, Trade Paperback 2002
: ISBN 1888993316 
Review by EJ McClure
204 pages List price $12.95  
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Mary Soon Lees second anthology offers a wide-angle view on the future that are sure to bemuse and beguile.  Four of the 20 stories in Ebb Tide are new, while the rest are reprints from an impressive range of magazines: Aboriginal Science Fiction, Amazing, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Interzone, to name a few.

Lees academic credentials (an M.A. in mathematics and a Diploma in computer science from Cambridge, along with an M.Sc. in astronautics and space engineering from Cranfield University) provide her a broad array of topics from which to knowledgeably and plausibly construct alternative futures. Her innate sympathy and delight in the vagaries of human nature infuse her characters with likeability.  She doesn't go in for long descriptions, but instead builds a conspiracy of understanding by sharing a few carefully selected details with her readers.

"Ebb Tides", the title story, is darker than most of the stories in the anthology.  Clarissa's mother loves her daughter just as she is.  To avoid the upgrades mandatory in America for all children afflicted by degenerative impaired mentation syndrome, she left security and luxury behind to devote herself to Clarissa's care and well-being.  She can't stand the thought of her daughter being turned into an expensive human robot.  But she could not have imagined what the alternative would cost.  What constitutes humanity, and what right or duty do we have to alter that programming?

"Luna Classifieds" is a droll pastiche of classified ads from folks on the Luna Colony.  At first they seem a random collection of offerings, but I gradually realized that they are jigsaw pieces of broken promises, lost hopes, and second chances.

"The Day Before They Came" celebrates the wonder of a mundane life controlled by routines.  All of us have had occasion to realize how precious normalcy is, after it is shattered.  So we can sympathize with Molly Harris, whose biggest decision is choosing the right kind of AI shoes for her son's birthday gift.  But what if my birthday doesn't come? Justin demanded . . .

Who hasn't suffered the frustration of getting stuck in a computer voice-menu that refuses to permit you human contact just to ask a simple question. "1-800-CLONE-ME" made me laugh aloud.  Though perhaps God's self-proclaimed messenger shouldn't have lost his temper with the AI program that was, after all, only doing its job.

"Plant Life" is a clever tale of greed and murder from a green perspective. Stuck-up Chloe, the pampered spider plant; Marshall, the aspidistra with military pretensions acquired during his youth in an army supply depot; the stubby cactus Maude--what motive could the murderer have?

Have you ever been stuck on a long plane flight with a cranky infant in the row behind you?  Ever wished you could somehow stop the howling, just for a minute?  Imagine being able to skip the Terrible Twos altogether!  And you can, in "PauseTime".  Pauline knows that having a child doesn't  have to be a life sentence; with the conveniences of modern technology, she can still have
a life of her own . . . and be a mother when she has the time and energy to cope with it.  But every decision has consequences.

With over 60 publications to her credit, Lee has clearly mastered the art of the short story.  Some of these tales are only a few pages long, but all have a crystal-clear central concept, robust characters, effortlessly natural dialogue, and a clever twist or hook at the end.  So go ahead; open Pandora's box!  Me, I'm looking for her earlier anthology, Winter Shadows and Other Tales, and eagerly awaiting her next collection.
 

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes) 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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