Tangents (C) (1989)
So you heard that Greg Bear was reputed to be a hard SF writer, sort of, and you picked up this book to get an idea of his work? In that case you are in for a surprise. In Tangents, Bear's writing spans a much broader range and frequently defies genre conventions.
The book collects two Award-winning stories. In "Blood Music" (Hugo and Nebula for best novellette in 1984 and 1983) a scientist injects himself with cell-sized organic computers that develop intelligence, civilization, and eventually transform him. The title story, "Tangents" (Hugo and Nebula for best novelette in 1987 and 1986), is a fantasy about a mathematician, whose unfortunate life story is obviously modeled on that of Alan Turing, and a boy prodigy, who together discover an extra spacial dimension.
Several of the stories, like "Webster" which sees an unhappy woman creating a golem from a dictionary to fulfill her wishes, ultimately failing, I can only characterize as unusual. Or plain weird. Perhaps the most successful of those is "Sleepside Story", an urban fairy tale as Bear calls it in his introduction, very sweet, and very different.
In the hard SF vein, there is "Schrödinger's Plague" which extends the famous Schrödinger's Cat paradoxon to all of mankind. "Sisters" is set at a high school in a not so distant future, where the great majority of children are pre-planned, i.e. genetically designed according to the wishes of their parents, and only a few throwbacks still have natural genomes. Over the course of the story the status of who are the outcasts flips, which adds some depth to the conciliatory ending.
The closing piece, "The Machineries of Joy", starts out as a non-fiction article about the rising art of computer-generated images and animation. Probably it was already starting to look dated at the time of inclusion in this collection, and not quite two decades later it has become a nostalgic look into the past. Towards the end the author's imagination gets carried away to a future we haven't caught up with. Yet.
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