cover image In Alien Flesh

In Alien Flesh

Gregory Benford. Tor Books, $14.95 (280pp) ISBN 978-0-312-93344-9

The award-winning author (If the Stars Are Gods, Timescape has a reputation for bridging the often hostile camps of hard-science SF and the more literary, humanist variety. In this collection of stories from the past decade, however, his contentious afterwords show a typical SF disdain for mainstream writing that emphasizes characters. Benford's own characters exist solely as functions of his themes, which often deal with humanity's diminutive stature in relation to aliens, astronomy, or humankind's inventions, from modern medicine to nuclear weapons. The ideas are intriguing but often difficult to decipher, and the brief afterwords are necessary to clarify Benford's intentions. Not surprisingly, his machines have more personality than his people, and the best entries (""Me/Days'' and ``Snatching the Bot'') show artificial intelligences emerging. A weak collection from a celebrated writer. (March 3)