Browsing the dealer’s room at WisCon, Absolute Uncertainty (2006) by Lucy Sussex jumped off the shelf at me; I remembered enjoying the title story a number of years back. I found it a thought-provoking, if not entirely satisfying, collection. Its seven stories blend speculative elements with historical interests, sometimes rather eclectic ones — an approach Sussex discusses in a closing interview.
“Absolute Uncertainty” held up as a favorite, a wholly engaging thought experiment mixing past, present, and future. It opens like a time travel investigation of the wartime years of famous German scientist Werner Heisenberg. But it’s not exactly time travel: rather, it’s a VR simulation of the era as programmed by a classroom full of future students. The story interrogates Heisenberg’s work on the German atomic bomb program, and colors its recreations with amusing contemporary flourishes, while paralleling Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle with the mysteries of his life. It’s an entertaining and clever invention.
The other stories also examine the past. In “Frozen Charlottes,” a couple that can’t have children throw themselves into work as a distraction: renovating a house. But in the process, they unearth something chilling and disturbing, in a fantasy that confronts mortality head-on. “Kay and Phil” is a bit indulgent, but folks interested in Katherine Burdekin and Philip K. Dick will probably enjoy this imagining of an encounter between them, discussing their differing visions on Nazi fascism. Other premises stir up the past: a seventeenth-century duchess possesses a modern fashionista, a woman at a party encounters a ghost and solves the mystery of his death, a rocker in the 1970s has a bizarre sexual encounter with a strange woman from the future. The writing is inventive and diverse, filled with unique ideas. On the other hand, they aren’t particularly plotty stories, and some of them left me craving more propulsive narrative. Still, glad I checked this one out.