cover image The Forest of Time and Other Stories

The Forest of Time and Other Stories

Michael Flynn. Tor Books, $23.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85526-0

Ideas effervesce like splitting atoms in Flynn's debut collection, as each of the 10 stories here imaginatively correlates complex scientific concepts to emotionally engaging human behaviors or situations. In ""The Common Goal of Nature,"" a study of alien linguistics sheds light on the generalizations humans use to stereotype and demonize social outcasts. In ""Spark of Genius,"" an aspiring writer discovers that the random process by which an artificial intelligence experiment produces a novel is not unlike the unpredictable reader preferences that turn books into bestsellers. Flynn dexterously counterbalances hardware and software, finding ingenious new interfaces for exploring some of SF's most familiar themes. Three stories are concerned with time travel, but each employs a refreshingly different vehicle: the premature aging disease progeria in the previously unpublished novella ""Melodies of the Heart""; a mestizo trying to alter the outcome of Pizarro's bloody conquest of the Incas in ""On the Wings of a Butterfly""; and a paratime explorer who, in the title tale, creates alternate histories with each new jaunt. In his introduction and charming endnotes, Flynn reveals an impish sense of humor that leaches into the stories. ""On the High Frontier"" is the space opera to end all space operas, a wild western hardwired with the argot of cyberpunk that gleefully subverts every cliche of the subgenre. Any author who can nudge readers in the ribs with a line such as, ""Many a spacer has come to grief with his ship tuckered out megaclicks from the nearest gas cloud,"" and make them envision a Gary Cooper type saying it with a straight face, is worth his weight in cybercash, and then some. (Apr.)