Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL
Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.
One thing about Peter Watts - he has one of the most distinctive voices in scifi since Theodore Sturgeon. Despite the depth and breadth of topic, setting and POV this collection of shorts reads like a cohesive whole. All of these stories are worthwhile, which is unfortunately more than I expect from an anthology, though naturally I felt a few were stronger than most and the weakest are easy to pick out.
First of all, there are two shorts from the Rifters world: "Home" and "A Niche". These are among my favorites if only because I like the Rifters world so much. Other stories that stood out for me are "A Word for Heathens", a morality play in a world where Jerry Falwell and Farenheit 451 intersect. It took a few pages for me to warm up to "The Island", but by the end I was completely hooked and it's message of humility and the limitations of the human scope stick deeply with me.
I wasn't such a big fan of "Repeating the Past"; I felt like I've read that story a number of times before and I'm not sure it adds anything to the canon. I felt much the same for "Flesh Made Word", actually. The first story "The Things" only makes sense when you realize it's a first person account of the alien's perspective from the movie "The Thing". A cynical part of me feels that a story that needs an introduction like that has fundamentally failed to set it's scene properly; but it would be hard to know if it's possible to set the scene in-story without plaigerising the movie. Perhaps I'm asking too much?
This is a great set of short stories. None of them are long enough to need more than a single sitting to read, but nearly all of them contain ideas and emotions with subtle barbs that have sat with me long after I finished the book.
The outro - wherein Mr. Watts talks about his infamous detention at the hands of the US Border Patrol and his feelings about his canon being labeled "unrelentingly dark, "misanthropic" or "savage" is some of the best discourse on the nature of horror and how "bad things" is an entirely relative term that's entirely dependant on scope. Worth the price of admission just for that essay, actually.