Group Read 27: The Big Book of Science Fiction
Story #90 of 107: “Vacuum States” by Geoffrey A. Landis
“Vacuum States” by Geoffrey A. Landis is a clever second-person tale that draws the reader into the story.
I suppose I should say more.
“Vucuum States” is full of concepts about physics and cosmology. The only trouble is I can’t tell the real physics from the mumbo-jumbo that Landis made up.
Like many of the stories in The Big Book of Science Fiction, I didn’t consider it a real short story, although it was. There are no constraints on what writers can call fiction. The VanderMeers like stories that feel intellectual, and this one feels like a fun lecture in physics. But as I read “Vacuum States” I was mildly annoyed that I was reading something so contrived, however, the ending put a smile on my face and redeemed my reading effort.
But why didn’t they use “Ripples in the Dirac Sea” which is also from 1988, and Asimov’s? It came in 2nd place instead of 10th in the readers’ awards that year. And it won the Nebula Award and came in 3rd in the Hugos. Maybe because the VanderMeers had already included Dirac in their giant anthology, The Time Traveler’s Almanac. I need to consider that all my whining about story choice in this volume is because the VanderMeers used the stories I would have chosen in other anthologies.
Then what about “A Walk in the Sun” from three years later? It won the Hugo and the Asimov’s Readers’ Award. It was a real story, even more so than Dirac. Of course, I have that story in three other anthologies, but could they have known that?
I doubt either of the VanderMeers are reading these reviews but if they did, they’re probably annoyed at my constant questioning of their story selection choices. But I keep wanting to know about the process and the issues to consider. Do the authors ever get a say? I see The Big Book of Science Fiction as the main anthology that young readers will know 20th science fiction short stories. Part of my grumpiness is they seldom picked the stories I remember as the best SF from the 20th century. I worry my favorites will be forgotten. But I also think about the authors. Is “Vacuum States” how we should judge Landis if we only have one story? It’s not a bad story, but there’s just not much to it.
James Wallace Harris, 2/14/22