A collection of 5 "long short-stories" by Simmons, with introductions by the author.
* "Looking for Kelly Dahl"
I'd read this one before, I think in a "Year's Best SF" collection for 1996.
It's a surreal but memorable story of a burned-out, alcoholic teacher, who's emotionally suffering from the death of his son and his subsequent divorce. In an all-too-real dreamworld(?), he's being hunted down by Kelly Dahl, a former student whom, he believes, he failed to help - he didn't see the clues that she came from an abusive home situation. Through violence and anger, is there a hope of redemption?
* "Orphans of the Helix"
Inspired by Simmons' being asked to write an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, but set in his world of Hyperion/Endymion. It does have a very Star-Trek-like plot. A far-voyaging colony ship intercepts a distress call, far from human space. The locals have settled on a giant tree-helix around their sun - which was already there when they arrived. Their problem? Every 57 years a giant harvester-ship arrives, and munches up part of their settlements. They ask the well-armed colony ship to destroy this destructive threat. But ethical issues come into play - does the harvester belong to anyone? Does another civilisation depend on it for their survival? Only days remain before the next disaster strikes... Although it sounds simple, the background of the story is complex and rich, informed by Simmons' previous world-building.
* "The Ninth of Av"
This is a weird story. In the intro, Simmons complains that most people don't like it and/or don't "get it." Sadly, I might have to go down as on of those people. In 3001, humans are nearly extinct, wiped out by a disease. A seemingly benevolent race of aliens has helped the remnants of humanity (who are all descended from ethnic Jews) survive, giving them extended life spans - but they are infertile. The aliens have also given humanity teleportation ("faxing"). But the day of the Final Fax is approaching. The aliens have told humans that they are going put them "on hold" for 10,000 years, while they renovate the earth. But are they really planning to bring humans back? Or is it a mysterious plot to wipe out the Jews once and for all?
* "On K2 with Kanakaredes"
Mantis-like aliens have sent a delegation to Earth. But they live quietly in the Antarctic, and communication is virtually nil. When a young alien pulls some strings to be allowed to join a trio of human climbers who are planning an expedition to the famously treacherous mountain peak known as K2, the State Department looks on it as an unprecedented chance to find out more about the race. But facing adversity and Nature together, a more significant event that the Secretary of State might have hoped for happens - from being ultimate strangers, the climbers, human and alien, truly become a team.
* "The End of Gravity"
Probably the weakest of these stories, but still an interesting piece. An aging writer, in ill-health, is sent to Russia to interview cosmonauts regarding the Russian space program. He meets a woman who's hit the "glass ceiling" in the program due to her gender, and some philosophical thoughts ensue.