(1956- ) US writer who began publishing sf with "Mudpuppies" as by Robert Touzalin for L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future (anth 1986) edited by Algis Budrys; the story gained the $5000 grand prize awarded in the Writers of the Future Contest for that year. Reed has since gradually become prolific and highly admired as an author of short fiction, assembling some of his more than 150 tales to date in The Dragons of Springplace (coll 1999) and The Cuckoo's Boys (coll 2005); "A Billion Eves" (October/November 2006 Asimov's) won the 2007 Hugo for best novella. These stories are technically very varied, and the more than one hundred tales published so far in the twenty-first century range from intimate vignettes to highly competent Space Opera; most are sf rather than fantasy; their protagonists are typically loners in worlds which are often unforgiving, though normally without malice. As with James Tiptree Jr, intimations of death (and Entropy) frequently tone his work. Overall his work has some of the dry-ice intensity of writers like Robert Silverberg and Gene Wolfe; the contemporary he most resembles may be Robert Charles Wilson.
Over the earlier part of his career, Reed was perhaps best known for his novels, beginning with The Leeshore (1987), a tale which combines adventure-sf plotting (a pair of twins, the sole humans left on the eponymous water-covered colony planet, must guide a task force in pursuit of the Computer-worshipping zealots who have killed everyone else) with an almost mystical sense for the genius of place, the intricacies of selfhood. The Hormone Jungle (1988) is set in an entirely different venue, a densely crowded Solar System drawn in Cyberpunk colours; but a similar attention to the mysterious depths of his distorted characters saves the book from Reed's early tendency to indulge in a sometimes choking virtuosity. Black Milk (1989) is set in yet another of sf's familiar 1980s venues, a Near-Future world threatened by uncontrolled and secret Genetic-Engineering experiments instigated by a late and movingly presented version of the inventor/entrepreneur who runs the world (> Edisonade); once again, the expertness of the writing and its knowing exploitation of current scientific speculations are balanced by an underlying quiet sanity about how to depict and to illumine human beings. In Down the Bright Way (1991) a group of sentient beings searches through an endless string of Parallel Worlds for the old gods – or sentient beings at the start of things – while fending off others intent on using the pathways for darker purposes. In The Remarkables (1992) a confrontation between the main stream of humanity – sequestrated in densely populated local space – and a lost colony leads to a complexly engaging rite of passage involving representatives of both human streams with the eponymous aliens; An Exaltation of Larks (1995) even more intensely focuses on a small group of humans on Earth within the frame of a dizzying Multiverse. Sister Alice (fixup 2003) is just as expansive, though the dimension here is time: the eponymous Alice Chamberlain – a human being so transfigured over the aeons of her (and her huge Family's) suzerainty over the galaxy-spanning human race that she is perhaps more AI than human (> Singularity) – returns to Earth to convey messages of Transcendence to a young Chamberlain (she is number twelve in the array; he is number 24,411). The original stories, published from 1993 in Asimov's, hint at but do not match the cumulative power of the tale.
Two sets of connected works have shaped Reed's later career. In the Veil of Stars sequence, comprising Beyond the Veil of Stars (1994) and Beneath the Gated Sky (1997), the sense of claustrophobia characteristic of Reed's work derives from an image of our Solar System as impacted upon – from beyond a fabricated and deceitful veil of stars – by innumerable similar inhabited systems. We live in a megalopolis of planets, and we communicate with each other by passing through dimensional barriers, which change our bodies so that we resemble natives of the visited world; which is also overcrowded. The more substantial Marrow sequence – comprising Marrow (fixup 2000), Mere (2005 chap), The Well of Stars (2005) and the title story of Eater-of-Bone and Other Novellas (2012) – is set on a World Ship, the reason for whose slow traversal of our home galaxy (and further afield in the sequel) remains undetermined by the Great Ship's divergent civilizations; so large and largely unknown is the ship that the discovery in the first volume that it is in fact built around a planet shocks its huge array of inhabitants. The cool architectonic delight of the overall concept, plus his unfailing capacity to focus his narrative through the lives of plausibly conceived protagonists, has brought Reed to a significantly wider readership. Given the habit of contemporary sf readers to expect a kind of brand identity from authors, Reed's increasing fame is very welcome. [JC]
see also: Androids.
Robert David Reed
born Omaha, Nebraska: 9 October 1956
Veil of Stars
collections and stories
Previous versions of this entry