Pawn’s Gambit and Other Stratagems by Timothy Zahn. ★★★
Pawn’s Gambit and Other Stratagems is a collection of short stories by science fiction author Timothy Zahn. Most of the short stories are science fiction, although a few were fantasy. Some are new, and some were familiar to me from reading one of his prior collections. I didn’t find any of the stories fantastic, but there were some I liked and some I didn’t like.
Two stories address contact between humans and aliens. In a “The Price of Survival,” an alien spaceship travels by scoping up matter from stars. Unfortunately, the ship is aimed straight at our sun and will obliterate life in our solar system if it continues on its course. “Pawn’s Gambit” posits an alien race who psychologically evaluate other species by capturing subjects and making them play board games.
“The Giftie Gie Us” was one of the weaker stories in the collection. It predates the fall of the Soviet Union and explores a post-apocalyptic future brought about by nuclear war.
“The Final Report on the Lifeline Experiment” documents an experiment by the only certified psychic that has unintended consequences.
In the Hugo award winning novella Cascade Point, space travel is accomplished by jumping from point to point. All passengers and non-essential crew members will be put asleep for the process so as few people as possible see visions of their alternate selves.
“Music Hath Charms” was a light hearted story about an alien instrument being incorporated into a local type of music. Similarly light hearted, “Trollbridge” was an urban fantasy story about a troll who’s a toll collector on a modern day highway.
“The President’s Doll” posits voodoo and acupuncture being combined for medical purposes. But what happens when the President’s doll is stolen?
A wizard in “Clean Slate” wanders the world but never arrives in time to actually use his magic. The twist here was interesting, but I think there were some questions that should have been answered with regards to the plot.
In “Hitmen – See Murderers” a paranoid man finds a strange copy of the yellow pages that lists out the addresses of different sorts of criminals.
“Protocol” takes place on a colony planet wracked by the path of giant creatures called Stryders, who kill any human who doesn’t follow a strict protocol of behavior.
“Old-Boy Network” imagines trillionaires who use surgically created telepathy to avoid the review of the authorities.
In “Proof,” a serial killer attempts to escape from her prison, which is partly an illusion created by a chip implanted in her brain.
A stock trader in “The Ring” buys a mysterious Germanic ring, only to find that it is both a gift and a curse.
“Chem Lab 301” builds up to a reveal and a pun. There’s not much else to this story.
It’d been a while since I’d read anything by Timothy Zahn – since middle school actually. At this point in my life I’m noticing that the ratio of male to female characters is substantially skewed. I particularly noted issues in gender dynamics with the story “The Giftie Gie Us”. I don’t think the treatment of female characters was horrible, but it certainly could be better.
Overall, I would say that the collection is about average. Cascade Point was probably the best out of the bunch.
I received a free ARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.