Another collection of original short fiction commissioned by the Science Fiction Book Club, Down These Dark Spaceways brings together half a dozen authors to spin tales of science fiction mystery, murder, and intrigue. They combine the fine art of the classic mystery with the fantastic trappings of science fiction, and the resulting blend is quite well-done.
In Mike Resnick’s “Guardian Angel,” a private detective is hired to track down and retrieve a teenage runaway who has, in the time-honored tradition of things, gone to join the circus. It’s a world-hopping adventure as our hero follows the traveling carnival in search of his target, dodging all manner of hostile people along the way. But the more he pursues this case, the more questions arise: why did the kid run away? What secrets are his estranged parents (one an interstellar criminal kingpin) hiding? And who’s trying to kill the runaway? The answers are there for the taking, if our hero can live long enough.
David Gerrold gives us an intriguing story of time travel and crime prevention in “In The Quake Zone.” An operative who travels the time-torn streets of Los Angeles over a variety of decades, acting to prevent various crimes before they can happen again for the first time, the protagonist finds himself inexplicably affected on an emotional level by his latest case: protecting the future victims of a serial killer. However, there’s something even stranger going on, and the answers lie in the future, or do they? This story is fascinating on a great many levels, not the least of which is its unusual setting, a Los Angeles where time has become fluid and changeable over the course of a century.
Robert Reed’s “Camouflage” takes place aboard the world-sized, galaxy-traveling ship of his Marrow setting. Here, a former Captain, long since resigned, disgraced, and gone into hiding, is pulled out of his centuries-long retirement to help solve a strange murder. In a ship where many different species and faiths coexist, and where immortality is commonplace, it takes a very special sort of desire to see someone dead and make it happen. The man known as Panir has spent a very long time staying hidden; should he refuse this job, the life he’s built for himself for be destroyed. As a result, he’s compelled to dig deep into the sordid secrets of a woman and her various interspecies marriages, until he discovers who’s been killing her past husbands, and why. Full of twists and turns and wild technology, this story takes full advantage of its setting to tell an unpredictable, fascinating tale.
In “The Big Downtown,” by Jack McDevitt, a female P.I. is hired to navigate her way through a tangled series of lies, cover-ups, and murder, to get to the bottom of a boating accident in which an up-and-coming artist died. Strongly reminiscent of Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer stories (in my opinion), this one’s a classic tale of greed and betrayal, right down to the thugs who come to beat up our hero and scare her off the trail. However, the inclusion of high-tech elements such as AIs and holograms makes for even more fun.
Robert Sawyer’s “Identity Theft” is set on Mars, where it’s become common to have an entirely new, artificial body created, and one’s mind transferred into it. Just as common are the people who take advantage of the technology to go and hunt for ancient artifacts out on Mars’ surface, as part of a lucrative (if hazardous and unpredictable) industry. And of course, there are those driven to murder by what they find. When our hero is hired to find a missing husband, he quickly finds a dead body, and a bizarre mystery involving stolen identities, hidden artifacts, and plenty of lies to go around. It’s an interesting take on the nature of the human consciousness, and what makes a person truly alive and unique.
Add to this Catherine Asaro’s “The City of Cries,” about a runaway prince, and you have a thoroughly solid collection of science fiction mysteries for your pleasure. I was very happy with this collection, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys this sort of crossover fiction.