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Insistence of Vision by David Brin
Review by Sam Lubell
Story Plant Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781611882209
Date: 22 March 2016 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Read a sample / Show Official Info /

While David Brin has not been a prolific novelist lately, with only two novels this century, he has continued to write short stories. Insistence of Vision collects some of his recent stories into a volume grouped thematically with illuminating afterwords. The stories are excellent examples of hard science fiction and sufficiently varied to keep the book interesting. There is even a novella in his famous Uplift universe. The essays are very thought-provoking about science fiction, science, and the universe.

The book opens with an introduction by Vernor Vinge and an essay, "The Heresy of Science Fiction" in which Brin tries to define science fiction. He contrasts science fiction as thought experiments about change with fantasies in which lords, priests, and wizards continue to rule. The book ends with another essay "Waging War with Reality" on logic and imagination.

The first section What We May Become has stories on transformation.

"Insistence of Vision" is an interesting story on how technology affects crime, punishment, and what we choose to see and un-see.
"Transition Generation" shows how quickly one generation takes for granted what an earlier generation sees as a miracle. The characterization here is especially strong.
"Chrysalis" starts out as an old-fashioned Analog-style story about scientists working on a way to enable bodies to build their own replacement organs, tapping into ancient genetic mechanisms mammals lost millions of years ago.
"Stones of Significance" considers the nature of reality with a first person narrator asked to stop a political movement to give simulated beings (created from fiction) civil rights. The narration is unusual as it is filled with comments from different parts of his brain.
How We'll Endure has a set of related stories in which humanity has been conquered by the Coss aliens.
In "The Logs" the wife and daughters of a man imprisoned for being an Enemy of the Czar (and of the Coss) work as part of a logging crew on a planetoid lumberyard. The theme here is the Russian capacity to endure hardship.
In "The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss", human bubble colonies are becoming unmoored from the bottom of the seas of Venus, where the surface is poison to humans.
"Eloquent Elepents Pine Away for the Moon's Crystal Forests" considers the motivations of the alien Coss rulers of humanity, although the story is weakened by its lack of resolution.
The stories in When We Overcome are more positive.
In "Mars Opposition", Martians come to Earth to murder Bill Nye, Joe Haldeman, and others on a list. This is a puzzle story that turns into an examination of pragmatism.
"A Professor at Harvard" presents an alternate history of how one man in the 1600s led to a more scientifically advanced world.
On the surface, "I Could've Done Better", written with Gregory Benford, seems like time-travel wish fulfillment, but the story is elevated by a couple of twists.
"Paris Conquers All", a collaboration with Benford in the voice of Jules Verne, tells how Verne fought the War of the Worlds Martians when they attacked Paris.
In Who We'll Meet, the story "Fortitude", about aliens who refuse to deal with humanity until we prove our genealogy, has a humorous inversion of his Uplift premise. "An Ever-Reddening Glow" has a science fiction twist on "the tragedy of the commons" when Earthlings' FTL space drive contributes, ever so slightly, to the expansion of the universe. "The Diplomacy Guild" looks at how aliens would view humanity's use of robots. "The Other Side of the Hill", the oldest story here, plays on the idea that humanity can always find another planet when we have used up Earth's resources.

Where We Will Go has a long Uplift novella, "Temptation", about the dolphins left behind when Streak left Jijo in Heaven's Reach. Both Makanee, the caregiver for the dolphins losing their sapience, and Peepoe, a captive of dolphins reverting to primitive behaviors, are well-drawn characters. There are also a few short pieces including a collection of six word stories and a "Reality Check" in the second person.

Overall Brin is strongest in creating intriguing situations and working philosophical ideas into his plots. He writes idea driven science fiction with mostly straightforward prose. Nearly all of the stories have little characterization beyond what is needed for the plot. Brin's writing comes from his head, not his heart.

Readers who like traditional hard science fiction, who enjoy Analog magazine, and who like stories that make the reader think will enjoy Insistence of Vision.

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