(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to In the Distance, by Sarah Modene (Spotify, YouTube).
Despite his having published more than twenty novels and several dozens of short stories, George Zebrowski is almost unknown to the SF readers in Spain. Only a handful of his stories have been translated into Spanish and I thought he was mainly an editor, for my only previous contact with his work was the two Nebula Awards anthologies that were published by Ediciones B in the 80s.
Thus, I was intrigued when, a couple of months ago, I read in an online forum about his story "Gödel's Doom" which is devoted to the famous Gödel's Theorem. Mathematical logic is a favorite topic of mine, so I was instantly interested and bought Swift Thoughts, a collection that includes "Gödel's Doom" among other stories. Then, a few weeks later, I had the chance of getting an ARC of the new edition of In the Distance, and Ahead in Time and I jumped at it.
I was expecting to find stories with a strong speculative and rational component, something that was further reinforced by Zebrowski's own words in the introduction to the collection:
In addition to the voices of its characters, a science fiction story should also voice thoughts, and so requires a thoughtful reader; or at least one open to the seductions of thinking, to the beauties of an idea or a rounded bit of reasoning, as much as to the trills of emotion and the thrills of action. A science fiction story without thought must surely be a lesser science fiction story—or perhaps not a science fiction story at all.
However, it seems that my expectations were a bit off. Many of the stories have a philosophical element, but they usually appeal more to feelings than to cold logic. For instance, the first three tales, which share a common protagonist, focus on creating atmosphere (approaching topics such as climate change and the collapse of Earth civilization), with lyric descriptions, with plot being a secondary concern. In fact, these stories are fairly short and I think would have benefited from a longer extension.
More interesting to me was another set of connected stories which includes the one that gives title to the collection as well as "Wayside World", "Transfigured Night" and "Between the Winds". These stories, in turn, are also related to Zebrowski's novel Macrolife and raise important questions regarding the role of humanity in the bigger Universe and the conflict between progress and the so-called "natural way of life". This idea of the "mission" of humans, the goal of our civilization as a whole, is also approached in other stories of the collection, such as the remarkable "Heathen God" and the a little bit dry "The Sea of Evening".
All in all, In the Distance, and Ahead of Time is a book that has left with mixed feelings, mainly because I was expecting a different kind of story. However, I did enjoy reading most of the stories ("In the Distance, and Ahead in Time" is probably my favorite) and, more importantly, now I'm even more interested in reading further stories by George Zebrowski and especially his novel Macrolife since I found the setting and the topics addressed in those tales related to it really compelling.