Two men hit a woman’s bicycle. Another woman undergoes reconstructive surgery. A freezing man stumbles into a remote cabin. These are stories we know, more or less. The characters make sense, the plot is logical.
Science fiction collections are tricky beasts. You have to build a world, a situation, and you don’t have a whole novel to do it. You’re writing a short story, so you don’t have the luxury of inspiring too much disbelief from a reader.
Swanwick is a master storyteller, and his solution to the problem of the scifi short story was to make the characters, and their stories, real even as the setting became more strange. The men hitting the women are driving a truck through a radiation zone, and the woman’s bags hold a terrible secret about just how far the zone extends. The woman’s face and body are fine: it is her mind and soul that are being reconstructed, into something beyond understanding. And the freezing man is running from the consequences of his actions, into the arms of a woman whose hands work by pulley system.
It all makes sense, and yet it should be utterly mad. With stories like these, as far away as you are from what is normal, you always know exactly where you stand.