The newest edition of Patrick Nielsen Hayden's original anthology series _Starlight_ is a pretty solid book, certainly not hurting the reputation of this series as one to rival _Orbit_ or _New Dimensions_ or _Universe_ in quality and consistency, but it's vaguely disappointing: I guess because while there are a whole lot of really good stories, there are no superb stories, nothing like say "Story of Your Life" from the second issue.
I'll mention some highlights. Ted Chiang is back, with "Hell is the Absence of God", a rather intriguing and deadpan look at a world much like our own in which the existence of Heaven and Hell are objectively proven: indeed, the souls in Hell can be seen, and in which angels occasionally come to Earth, typically causing a mixture of miraculous events and capricious disasters. The story focuses on an unpious man whose beloved wife is killed and ascends to Heaven in one such angelic visitation, and who tries to find a way to love God and thus reach Heaven to rejoin her, against all his instincts. My favorite piece might have been Maureen McHugh's "Interview: On Any Given Day", about a teenaged girl who becomes infected with a potentially cancerous agent after an odd affair with a rejuvenated older man -- the story not only describes a near future teenage milieu quite well, but it's particularly good at what it's really about, in kind of a sideways fashion: the affect of this rejuvenation technology on people, particularly the sad older man who has the affair with the main character. This was a very real-seeming story -- McHugh at close to her best. Susan Palwick's "Gestella" takes a very simple (even silly) gimmick: what if werewolves share the 7/1 lifespan ratio with humans that real canids are said to have, and extrapolates it to a very scary conclusion in telling of the relationship of the title werewolf with a shallow professor. And it's a great example of effective, and, it seems to me, narratively essential, use of the second person. I'm a great fan of Susanna Clarke's stories, few as they have been. "Tom Brightwind, or, How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby" is a witty piece about Tom Brightwind, a fairy, and his human friend, the Jewish doctor David Montefiore, and said bridge, and the means and results of its building. Light-hearted, clever, fun stuff. Madeleine E. Robins' "La Vie en Ronde" is one of the more original stories I've read recently -- I can't say much more about it, but I found it intriguing if a bit hard to figure out. Alex Irvine's "The Sea Wind Offers Little Relief" is also intriguing, and hints at being a really special story, but didn't quite come together for me. Still, it was different: about a future in which the Assimilation has occurred: electronic communications and direct mind-computer uplinks have become so common that any communication that can be concealed, such as reading plain text, is illegal. After nearly 150 years of imprisonment for forbidden reading, a man is released in order to read and explain a poem. The poem encapsulates another mystery. I've had similar feelings about a couple of Irvine's stories: that there are really neat ideas behind them, and that I'm just barely missing some great point -- so they seem not successful, really, but very promising. (In a different way, this story reminded me of a story from _Starlight 1_: John Ford's "Erase/Record/Play".) The last story in the book is Terry Bisson in his most openly satirical mode, and pretty effective at it: a rapist and murderer becomes converted to Christianity, and some unsavory sorts decide to stage a crucifixion by convincing him that his conversion experience means that his death penalty must mimic Christ's. Bisson aims at a lot of targets in the story, which makes it seem a bit scattershot at times, but it's still pretty solid satire.