June 2004
2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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[Iterations cover art]Iterations by Robert Sawyer
Red Deer Press Trade: ISBN 0889953031 PubDate: 04/08/04
Review by Keith Lynch

306 pgs. List price $ 16.95
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Iterations is Canadian SF writer Robert Sawyer's only collection of short stories. It was published in Hardcover by Quarry Press in 2002, and in trade paperback by Red Deer Press in 2004. Needless to say, both publishers are Canadian firms, as are the printer and binder. Presumably the trees were also grown and processed into paper in that country.

All 22 stories are excellent. Some, however, touch on well-explored themes in ways that imply that Sawyer is not well-read in the field. The mystery story whose solution involves two people with identical DNA. The ideas that people were originally from Mars, and that Martians are deliberately destroying our Mars probes (though I'll admit I've never seen both ideas in one story before). The war, started for unclear reasons, that ends with the destruction, against incredible odds, of the enemy planet, and with the triumphant human general having to deal with the resulting guilt. The first cryosleep starship whose passengers find its destination has long since been colonized by faster starships which left Earth later. Intelligent dinosaurs.

The stories are a mixture of SF, fantasy, horror, and mystery. Sherlock Holmes makes an appearance. As do dinosaurs, and the asteroid that wiped them out. Not to mention vampires, alligators (or are they dinosaurs again?) in the New York City sewers, a Dyson Sphere, the multiple worlds theory, a domed city, Peking Man, collective consciousness, the Pope, and the Devil himself.

The mystery story with the DNA is a disappointment, as it only works because the culprit promptly confesses when confronted with the true theory of the crime. I know this is a common trope of mystery stories, but it never worked for me. Any halfway intelligent killer -- and the killers in these stories are always geniuses -- would refuse to say anything but "let's see you try and prove it in court".

That's not the Sherlock Holmes story. Sherlock is hired to solve the Fermi paradox (i.e. if there are so many planets in the galaxy, why haven't aliens visited here?), and finds a solution I admit I never would have thought of. One which doesn't require anyone to confess.

There weren't any stories that really made me think -- or to reach for my pocket calculator or CRC handbook. But then very few stories ever manage that.

In conclusion, the collection is an excellent light page turner, if you can put up with the constant implicit refrain of "look what a mere Canadian can do".

2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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