PAST LIVES, PRESENT TENSE
edited by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Ace, ISBN 0-441-00649-3, 1999, 336pp, US$13
A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 2000 Evelyn C. Leeper
This is a "shared-world anthology," for which Scarborough has provided the premise (in "Soulmates"): Tsering manages to implant the personality of his dead mate, Chime, into himself without destroying his own, creating "Dr. Chimera." The other authors then develop this idea independently of each other, each choosing a different past life to "resurrect," with Dr. Chimera and his technique running as a thread throughout.
My main problem with this book is that I have difficulty with the premise that all our personality and memories are stored in our DNA. (Jerry Oltion's story says MRNA, but Scarborough specifically says DNA, so Oltion must have gotten it wrong.) First of all, there is a bandwidth problem. Second of all, this smacks too much of Lamarckian genetics.
Given that, some of the stories are mildly entertaining. "A Rose with All Its Thorns" by Lillian Stewart Carl puts the personality of Anne Boleyn in a (female) Tudor historian at an academic conference which reminds one of Connie Willis's academic settings and characters- -and performs admirably in that genre.
Not surprisingly, Nina Kiriki Hoffman produces a very strong story in "Voyage of Discovery," in which the personality of Meriwether Lewis is implanted in a young woman who has become completely uncommunicative after an accident. And Carole Nelson Douglas's "Night Owl" treats the idea a bit differently than the others.
There are, naturally, a couple of stories dealing with holy relics. And depending on your interests, you might like the Civil War themed story, or the sports one, or the author one, or one of the others. But on the whole, most of the stories seemed merely repetitive. This, of course, is a problem with commissioned anthologies, but this topic is even more restrictive than most. The best stories would stand alone, and even most of the weaker stories might pass muster if it were the only one of its premise. But putting them all together takes away any claim of originality, and just emphasizes their weaknesses.
%B Past Lives, Present Tense %E Elizabeth Ann Scarborough %C New York %D November 1, 1999 %I Ace %O trade paperback, US$13 %G ISBN 0-441-00649-3 %P 336pp
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