Geoffrey A. Landis,
Impact Parameter &
Other Quantum Realities

(Golden Gryphon, 2001)

I've long been a fan of science fiction short stories, novellas and novelettes. I think this is where much of the best work in the genre is done. Collections like the annual Best of the Year anthologies compiled by Gardner Dozois and David Hartwell are where a reader can discover talented new writers as they hone their skills before tackling that debut novel. And so, as a short story reader, I was already familiar with about half of the stories in Impact Parameter. However, my reading of Geoffrey Landis's fiction had been spread quite thinly over the past decade and a half, and this collection presented a wonderful opportunity to evaluate his work to date.

Impact Parameter is a collection of 16 stories and it is an absolute pleasure to read -- particularly since it was with great anticipation that I had launched into Landis's debut novel Mars Crossing last year. Mars Crossing was disappointing, stylistically flat, peopled by characters that didn't quite manage to involve me in the story. Perhaps my expectations were too high. After all, here was an author whose short fiction was tremendously impressive; he's been a Hugo and Nebula finalist numerous times; the opening story in this new collection, "A Walk in the Sun" is a Hugo winner (1992).

What I found most impressive as I moved through the varied landscapes Landis has created in Impact Parameter is the breadth of the work. There is the very short, bitingly sarcastic "What We Really Do Here at NASA." There's the SF/fantasy hybridization of "Elemental." There's the Arthur Conan Doyle pastiche, "The Singular Habits of Wasps." There are space explorations and future wars, aliens and alternate histories. There's something for everyone and an awful lot for anyone who appreciates a story well told.

Landis is a writer who has never shied away from telling a story from a female perspective. His female characters are refreshingly complex and varied. Even in the oldest story included here, "Elemental," first published in 1984, the character of Susan Robinette demonstrates that Landis is a writer who isn't content with the sort of two-dimensional buxom window dressing that too often shows up in hard science fiction by male authors. And by the time of stories like "Dark Lady" (1995) and "Winter Fire" (1997), Landis's command of the female viewpoint is impressive.

I also enjoyed the inclusion of Landis's comments on each of the stories. He claims to be uncomfortable discussing his own work but thankfully overcame his reluctance and included the notes found in the afterword. They make Impact Parameter a more complete experience. Now the hope is that Landis can take his considerable skill and do for the novel what he has already shown he can do for short fiction.

[ by Gregg Thurlbeck ]
Rambles: 14 September 2002

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