Pawn's Gambit: And Other Stratagems

Pawn's Gambit: And Other Stratagems - Timothy Zahn
(I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

3.5 stars. Overall a decent collection of short stories, mostly science fiction, with some fantasy mixed in. I didn’t find any excellent, but none was really bad either, which makes for a good book to borrow, for want of actually buying it.

Some notes about the stories:

“The Price of Survival”: An interesting enough conundrum about how far two species are ready to go to survive. But while their representatives mourn about similar facts, the reasons that brought them to that point are different enough that it makes you reconsider the price to pay.

“The Giftie Gie Us”: I liked the idea behind the blind character. Still, it wasn’t my favourite story, probably because of the post-apocalyptic setting with its defined boundaries (Man hunts, Woman stays home… meh).

“The Final Report of the Lifeline Experiment”: Kind of a loaded topic here, however the experiment’s results may not be the ones you’d expect…

“Cascade Point”: One of my favourites. It deals with space travel/space bending/alternate realities gone wrong, as well as with the matter of one person’s happiness vs. the greater good. When the one person to be sacrificed will go back to a less than happy state, yet ignoring that choice will strip someone of their dignity, what should a captain choose?

“Music Hath Charms”: A bit of dark comedy here, that also raises the question of life’s worth in a different way. An alien artefact might actually kill thousands… or not?

“The President’s Doll”: Good idea (reverse voodoo, used to heal instead of harming), less thrilling execution. I’m not sure why. It just came out as flat for me.

“Clean Slate”: One of the fantasy stories, about a wizard who never got a chance to actually use his power to do good, and is ready to pay the price to do so at least once in his life, no matter what that price will be. Interestingly, the story made me think of Orson Scott Card’s writings about plot and world-building, and the author’s note confirmed why I had this feeling.

“Hitmen – See Murderers”: Another good idea that fell flat. What it posits gave me matter to think about, but the short story format didn’t leave room for more when it came to the flow of events, and I think a bit “more” would’ve been needed here to make this piece shine.

“Protocol”: In a colony where people live in fear of the mysterious Stryders, only very specific protocols allow them to survive encounters with those beings. However, what if the protocol were to fail, or if a yet undiscovered protocol was needed?

“Old-Boy Network”: Ethics and telepathy in a solar system where the wealthiest exploit whoever they want, in horrible ways. A bit heavy-handed in its criticism of ugly capitalism, though still another story that will make you think.

“Proof”: I could sense the ending coming. Still, it was a good game of cat and mouse, with reflections about whether we can trust what we see or not.

“The Ring”: A classical approach on the theme of boons and curses, of what price a man is ready to pay to get what he desires… but is it *truly* his heart’s desire?

“Trollbridge”: Urban fantasy story, about a lone troll desperately trying to protect “his” bridge, but up until now he hasn’t really bothered to wonder about other fae-like creatures. A somewhat light-hearted tale of survival in a modern world that will not leave any room to creatures of old… unless those very same creatures find another way.

“Chem Lab 301”: Not the most original plot ever, but a cute twist at the end.

“Pawn’s Gambit”: A study, through an alien-led experiment about gaming, of what would make another race dangerous or not in those aliens’ eyes… And Humans’ resourcefulness may be both an asset and a downfall here. Quite interesting, in part because the aliens’ point of view is somewhat valid, and in part because there’s still hope for humans to put their resources to witty uses.

In general, most of these stories tended to spin one or another aspect of what it means to be human, whether “a means to an end” is an appropriate way of living one’s life, about decisions and consequences, and how sometimes you may not have a choice--or may have to bend your thought processes to find another way. On the downside, some had less than stellar characters, who acted more like plot devices than real people, and weren’t very interesting.