The Best of Walter Jon Williams by Walter Jon Williams
The Best of Walter Jon Williams (2021) is a 663-page tome containing, as its name implies, twelve of Walter Jon Williams’ best stories spanning four decades of his writing career. Fans will appreciate Subterranean Press’s beautiful hardcover edition of this collection (there’s also an audio edition). And for readers who aren’t familiar with this prolific writer, The Best of Walter Jon Williams is a good place to start getting to know him.
The book begins with an endearing introduction by fellow author Daniel Abraham who credits Williams with teaching him more about writing than “any other single source” in his career. After describing the breadth of Walter Jon Williams’ work and how it defies categorization into any specific genre or form, Abraham nevertheless offers three common threads readers will find; all of Williams’ stories are “smart,” “deeply felt,” and “crafted by a master.”
The twelve stories you’ll find in The Best of Walter Jon Williams are:
“Daddy’s World” – A little boy named Jamie seems to have an idyllic life but, as he notices his sister aging faster than him, he realizes something isn’t right. This smart and creepy story about virtual reality was one of my favorites in the collection. It won a Nebula Award.
“The Golden Age” – This Weird West / pirate / steampunk / mad scientist / superhero mash-up is a hilarious alternate history about a masked vigilante who pursues law and order so doggedly that he creates the lawless disorder that he’s trying to prevent.
“Dinosaurs” – In this bizarre, funny, and uncomfortable story set in the far future, a human ambassador is sent to negotiate with aliens. The aliens aren’t impressed. In the afterword, Williams explains that this story is about his fear of senility and is his most reprinted story.
“Surfacing” – A researcher who studies the communication patterns of large underwater aliens seems to feel more comfortable with them than with his fellow humans. At first I was mesmerized by this story, which is set in the same world as Williams’ novel Night Moves, but later it became too disturbing for me.
“Video Star” – This sleek and stylish cyberpunk story about a gangster was a cut scene from Williams’ novel Voice of the Whirlwind. It has some great visuals but was too violent for me.
“The Millennium Party” – In the far future, a man prepares a gift for his wife on their thousandth wedding anniversary. A very short, sweet story about memories.
“The Bad Twin” – Readers who, like me, enjoy time travel paradoxes, will probably have fun with this story about a bounty hunter who accidentally duplicates himself while trying to catch a time-traveling art thief.
“The Green Leopard Plague” – This novella, which won the 2004 Nebula Award, is about an archivist in the far future who discovers how the photosynthesis virus, and illegal piece of biotech, was released into the world. I enjoyed the discussion of the political and economic consequences of such a virus.
“Diamonds from Tequila” – Related to Williams’ DAGMAR SHAW series, this story is about a washed-up former child actor who hopes to resurrect his career with a new movie set in Mexico. Drug use, and then a murder on set, threatens his plans.
“Margaux ” – I believe this is related to Williams’ DREAD EMPIRE’S FALL series. Gredel, who’s 17, lives on a ring station with her guardian’s abusive boyfriend. When, at a party, Gredel meets a rich girl who looks a lot like her, she hatches a plan to get a new life. It’s easy to see where this one is going.
“Prayers on the Wind” – In the far future, a human civilization that practices Buddhism is threatened by a group of warmongering aliens who accuse the humans of breaking some treaty. Unfortunately, the humans’ new bodhisattva is unstable and possibly not up to the task of negotiating with aggressive aliens.
“Wall, Stone, Craft” – As some readers might guess by the title, this piece of historical fiction is about Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein, and her intimate friends such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. It’s full of drama, tragedy, romance, and discussions of the political, economic, and ethical philosophies of Wollstonecraft’s famous parents.
The Best of Walter Jon Williams ends with an afterword by the author in which, for each story, he gives us information such as inspiration, publishing history, and critical response.
Tantor Audio has released an audio version of The Best of Walter Jon Williams which is 22.5 hours long and narrated by Joel Richards. He does a great job handling all the diverse styles and characters in this collection.