John Gribbin is one of the most accomplished science-fiction novelists of his generation, melding visionary storytelling with an assured grasp of real-world science. But he also writes short stories and twenty-three of them are featured in this interesting if hit-and-miss collection.
There are stories about time travel and doomsday devices, alien Princes and the cultivation of new Edens. Two of the best are a time shifting tale that will have a huge resonance for anybody who has read Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, and a story about the disasters that happen when a future music fan decides to travel back in time to record Buddy Holly’s last concert. A too-brief story about a dwarf who believes that a library of books can create a wormhole is a lot of fun as well, and throughout the anthology there are several prescient nods towards the subject of climate change. There are also two very cool science-fact articles included in the mix – DIY instructions about how to build your own time machine, and a hypothesis that the Moon is actually a Babel Fish.
But even though most of the stories only run to a handful of pages, quite a few of them do manage to outstay their welcome. Many of these tales were written for magazines like Analog, so don’t expect carefully crafted prose. Gribbin has some fantastic ideas and is so eager to share them with his audience that the words in-between those ideas are just a means to an end, a kind of perfunctory shorthand that makes some of his stories quite uncomfortable to read. His characters, more often than not, are cyphers. His dialogue, more often than not, is emotionless tech-speak. And that makes reading Don’t Look Back in its entirety quite frustrating, despite the fact that there is a wonderful imagination at play within these pages. This is an anthology that should be dipped into from time-to-time, when you are more in the mood for mind-expanding ideas than style and characterisation.
But, where mind-expanding ideas are concerned, Gribbin certainly delivers.
DON’T LOOK BACK / AUTHOR: JOHN GRIBBIN / PUBLISHER: ELSEWHERE PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW