DONALD WOLLHEIM, Editor, with Arthur W. Saha – The 1989 Annual World’s Best SF. Daw #783, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1989. Cover art by Jim Burns.

#3. JOHN SHIRLEY “Shaman.” Novelette. First published in Asimov’s SF, November 1988. Not reprinted elsewhere.

   John Shirley’s science fiction falls largely in the cyberpunk genre, but he’s also written award-winning horror fiction, movie tie-in’s (Alien, Batman) and as John Cutter, many books in the long running men’s adventure series “The Specialist.”

   “Shaman” takes place in a very dystopian future Manhattan, as four young adventurers, Quinn, Chico, Bowler and Zizz, decide to take on the impossible task of rescuing their friend Deirdre from the Fridge, a “wall-to-wall biomonitoring facility” in which the prisoners are completely restrained “on IV medifeeds and spinebox.”

   Their path, as it happens, must go through the area controlled by the Funs (Muslim Fundamentalists), a tricky venture at best, and success is far from guaranteed. Along the way, many strange things happen, and Quinn in particular learns a lot about himself and the world he lives in. (The word ‘strange’ is an understatement here.)

   This bare-bones outline of the plot does not do justice to its colorful if not outright mystical telling. If words fail me, they certainly don’t John Shirley. Even if I don’t follow all of the foursome’s adventures completely, I certainly enjoyed the ride.

   “The buildings were picked out with a little starlight, and with the soft edges of firelight from clearings in the rubble: smudges of red on the black-pocked wall of night. Fragments of Arabic and Farsi and Lebanese reached them and faded away as they moved through Lower East Manhattan.”

   What follows is a brilliant melange of psycho-drugs, pseudoskins capable of transmitting continuous porno shows on one’s body, and the basic setting of people all around the world in a panicked search for a sense of community through basic tribalism.

   And there is the moral to the tale. “… there were a thousand million people using all of civilization’s technology without understanding it; the children of the new illiteracy, living electronics the way a Cro Magnon had used fire; assuming it was magic.”

   It’s difficult to imagine Donald Wollheim, whom I think of as being a staunch defender of traditional science fiction, picking this over-the-top cyberpunk tale as one of the Year’s Best, but I’m glad he did.


Previously from the Wollheim anthology:   STEVEN GOULD “Peaches for Mad Molly.”