Review: Past Lives, Present Tense edited by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

Past Lives Present TenseThis book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

If you could live your life as anyone in history, who would you choose? A scientist, a religious figure, a politician?

And what would happen if that personality didn’t get along with yours?

The outstanding anthology Past Lives, Present Tense explores this premise with a series of linked short stories, contributed by 15 prominent science fiction authors.

Scarborough sets up the storyline with “Soulmates,” the volume’s first offering. It explains the Tsering procedure, which allows a personality to be placed into a willing mind. The person acquires memories, skills and emotions… along with darker aspects. Subsequent stories explore the procedure’s various consequences.

The volume does miss occasionally. Janet Berliner’s “Eye of the Day” is well-written, the tale set in Jamaica and evoking a tropical feel. But it does little to explore the implanted personality of Mata Hari, the famed courtesan.

Despite the few lapses, this book has much to recommend. One of the best stories is Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Voyage of Discovery,” in which 16-year-old Paige, paralyzed in an accident, receives Meriwether Lewis’s personality. Due to the apparent brain damage, Paige’s own personality doesn’t resurface. Instead, she’s taken over by Lewis’s memories and ambitions. Linda, Paige’s mother, finds herself living with a daughter she no longer knows or likes. The complex cycle of her guilt and anger plays strongly throughout the entire story.

Another standout, Jerry Oltion’s “Renaissance Man,” playfully blends Leonardo da Vinci with an obsessed inventor. Nathan Hoskins, who takes da Vinci’s memories, is attempting to create a perpetual motion machine, long thought an impossibility. Whether or not it can be done, Nathan discovers that the long-dead artist has more to teach him than just science. After experiencing sunsets and good food and wine under da Vinci’s influence, can Nathan return to his isolated lab? Oltion deftly shows Nathan’s new appreciation for life and its joys.

By turns amusing and thought-provoking, Past Lives, Present Tense is an engrossing read.