Reviews of "Ebb Tides and Other Tales"

The Skeptic Tank, Review #93, by Jim Lee, Scavenger's Newsletter #227, January 2003

This review appears by the kind permission of Jim Lee.

Yes, it's another gorgeous single author collection from Dark Regions -- and yet another opportunity for me to sing the praises of one of the finest writers around, Mary Soon Lee. This time you get 20 previously uncollected SF stories.

Following a pleasant introductory essary, the title story opens the book in heartbreakingly brilliant fashion. Clarissa is a child of an increasingly dehumanized, bio-tech-driven future. She's afflicted with a new mind-wasting condition -- imagine Alzheimer's Disease for 5-year-olds. Watching the progressive decline of her daughter (like the outflow of an ebbing tide) would be burden enough for Clarissa's mother to bear. But technology offers a cruel alternative and now the US Congress has made 'upgrading' such children the law of the land. It's a process leaving the child physically healthy and useful, yet apparently mindless -- a mere flesh robot, a thing to be bought and sold, and used however the owner sees fit. Instead, Clarissa's mother returns them to her native England -- a comparatively backward, yet perhaps more humane society. But is it better to let the disease destroy Clarissa bit by bit, physically as well as mentally? There are no easy or pat answers, with guilt and pain for the conflicted yet loving mother at every turn. Lee plays fair with the nightmare scenario she's created, with devastatingly moving results.

After that beginning, "Luna Classifieds" is a welcome change of pace. It's just what you imagine -- a fluffy, playfully inventive series of classified ads from the denizens of a future moon colony. Other playful takes on the future include an alien AI's love note to an Earthly drink mixing macine, a clone-by-phone offer and the amusingly diabolical machinations of a mind-enhanced house plamt. These pieces add welcome dollops of fun to the mostly serious stories that follow.

"Universal Grammar" and its two sequels form an arc that could almost represent the evolution of SF storytelling themes from sunny confidence to guarded optimism and on to ever-darker, conspiratorial possibilities. Janna and her boss are linguists -- keys to humanity's contact with a new alien species in the first story. It's traditional problem solving type SF (how do different species learn to communicate?) and interesting as such. The second tale is darker, as they face and overcome human isolationists whose prejudice threatens Earth's place in an interstellar alliance. Darker still is the third piece, where Janna and Holman learn the alliance's hidden agenda and take the only option open to them.

Elsewhere, "The Day Before They Came" offers a quietly fond appreciation of ordinary life infused with an amazingly subtle sense of approaching doom. We're left wondering exactly what the aliens did upon arrival on Earth -- but clearly nothing would ever be the same.

"Murder Absolute" takes place in a society where people legally sell themselves to performance artists for use in 'artful' scenes of carnage. Technically these people aren't suicidal -- being cloned (complete with mind transfer) is part of the deal. But what if someone kills off the clone as well as the original, destroying that individual permanently? That's a crime, and a world-weary detective must solve it in this involving future whodunit.

That's just a sampling of the fine and varied fiction in this volume -- another outstanding effort from this immensely skilled writer.

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Last updated 5 January 2003 Mary Soon Lee