Side Quest: from The Cold Step Beyond to Digital Rites


The next 10 stories in my side quest:

The Cold Step Beyond by Ian MacLeod.  A warrior-monk-girl-thing is sent on her latest monster-killing quest.  The thing she’s sent to kill turns out to be herself in the past.  Also, she’s the imaginary friend of a dead girl who took over the dead girl’s body.  Possibly the imaginary friend was actually an AI programmed by the dead girl’s parents.  You guys think I just make this stuff up, don’t you?

A Militant Peace by David Klecha and Tobias Buckell.  The UN decides to invade North Korea using all this whiz-bang tech that allows them to establish impregnable refugee camps without killing any North Korean soldiers.  They don’t do anything about those soldiers massacring civilians who try to reach the camps, for some vague political reason.  A camp’s anti-artillery defenses are sabotaged, and a big self-propelled gun is about to blast it.  One of the soldiers takes out the SP gun, killing 2 of its crew.  She is threatened with prison and expelled from the military.  I can’t tell if this story is satire about ridiculous policies and rules of engagement, or if the authors think it makes sense somehow.

The Ants of Flanders by Robert Reed.  As stated by the anthology’s editor, this is the second story in the collection where aliens battle each other, with humans being inconsequential onlookers.

The Vicar of Mars.  An alien atheist priest is the main character in a ghost story.  Don’t ask me what an atheist priest is.

The Smell of Orange Groves by Lavie Tidhar.  A perfect example of a story that a literature professor would give you an A+ for, while any other reader would be bored into a deep sleep, or possibly a coma.

The Iron Shirts by Michael Flynn.  In this alternate history, some American Indians, who advanced technologically after absorbing the Newfoundland viking colonies, visit Ireland.

Cody by Pat Cadigan.  A guy is a data courier, carrying the information in his body.  Didn’t they make a movie of this, called Johnny Mnemonic?

For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I’ll not be Back Again by Michael Swanwick.  An Irish woman uses sex and mind-control music to get an American to smuggle explosives to an alien starport.  He sabotages the explosives.

Ghostweight by Yoon Ha Lee.  A girl on a revenge mission steals a soul-eating, origami-style spaceship.

Digital Rites by Jim Hawkins.  A story of murders and corporate espionage between competing movie studio/tech firms, with a weak ending which says that the whole story was a movie.  There’s a line that says something like “consumers don’t care about the special effects, just the art”, which I felt should have been followed by “said no one, ever.”

My average rating (5 star system) of the above stories:  2.60

Suggested use for this collection:  enhanced interrogation technique not specifically proscribed by the Geneva Convention.


  1. Johnny M was first a short story by Dick…

  2. Johnny Mnemonic was a short story by William Gibson, actually. It’s in his collection “Burning Chrome”.

    1. like *

      Sorry about the misinformation above.

    2. I’m thinking about adding a “classic quest” where I read some (slightly) older science fiction collections. That sounds like one I should look into.

      1. I think “Burning Chrome” is a classic collection. Not only are the stories very good, but his introduction is one of the better essays on SF short fiction I’ve ever read.

        I’d also suggest Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles”, Orson Scott Card’s “Unaccompanied Sonata”, something by Harlan Ellison (he’s had so many good ones. Maybe “Deathbird Stories”? Or “Reaping The Whirlwind”?) George Alec Effinger’s “Irrational Numbers”.

        You know, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone put together a series of reviews for classic single author collections. I think it would be a very worthwhile project.

        Zelazny’s “Last Defender Of Camelot”. is another.

        1. Oh, and Tannith Lee’s “Red As Blood”, Larry Niven’s “Convergent Series”, Robert Heinlein’s “The Unpleasant Profession Of Jonathan Hoag”, Clive Barker’s “Books Of Blood”, Stephen King’s “Night Shift”, Robert McCammon’s “Blue World”, Robert Sheckley’s “Do You Feel Anything When I Do This”.

          I’m sure I’ll come up with more.

          1. I am planning to do the classic short story quest, once I finish my others. I’m hoping to only do stories that are new to me, which will probably exclude Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke and possibly Niven and Zelazny. I’ll have to think about which of your other suggestions I might have already read. I know I read Night Shift, because it had Children of the Corn.

            I haven’t read Burning Chrome, so I’ll add it for sure, and I think I have a Sheckley collection I’ve been meaning to read. I think I also have a Harry Harrison collection on the shelf.

  3. And, uh, “ouch”. When you defend the planet from bad SF, you bring out the big guns.

    1. Somebody needed to do it!

  4. J. D. Brink · · Reply

    Wow. What a great collection of uninteresting entertainment.

    Okay, maybe I shouldn’t judge since I didn’t read it, just your little blurbs, but I think we can learn something valuable from this: Remember this stuff next time you feel like shit because your stories keep getting rejected. THIS is the kind of stuff that the big magazines are buying. THIS is what the (for lack of better term) publishing establishment considers “the best of the year.”

    So don’t kick yourself quite so hard or get to thinking your writing must suck just because it wasn’t in an anthology between AIs dreaming of ghost girls with imaginary friends and self-propelled giant guns killing North Korean death camps that are already killing themselves.


    Thanks for diving on this grenade for us, though! You saved us all a lot of trouble!

    1. Exactly, I’ll do some follow-up posts when I finish my side quests and magazines quest. I’ve read another collection already, and it’s of similar quality. I have a third one to go, but don’t have high hopes.

      The stories mostly aren’t entertaining and don’t have interesting sci-fi ideas. I don’t know if they were chosen based on author reputation/fanbase or if there is some “literary” quality to them that I’m not picking up on.

  5. Ha ha, tell us how you really feel.

    1. I’ll get around to that soon!

  6. […] quests.  I’ve already covered the first ten stories in this collection, then ten more and ten more.  I’ll cover the last five stories here, then have some final thoughts on the collection […]

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