Letter From The Editor - Issue 55 - February 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Another Dimension
  Book Reviews by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
November 2014

Title: Solaris Rising 3: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction
Editor: Ian Whates
Publisher: Solaris

We live in a Golden Age -- or, perhaps, as Arthur C. Clarke once suggested, a Gilded Age -- of SF/F short fiction, with themed anthologies that cater to just about every sub-genre or trope. But these anthologies are confined by the very themes that unify them. Sometimes, as a reader, I prefer to be surprised. That's why I love un-themed, original SF anthologies, like Terry Carr's Universe (1971-1987; 17 volumes), Robert Silverberg's New Dimensions (1971-1981; 12 volumes) and Jonathan Strahan's Eclipse/Eclipse Online (2007-2013; 6 installments).

The Solaris anthologies (George Mann's The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction 1-3, 2007-2009; and Ian Whates' Solaris Rising, 1, 1.5, 2 and 3, 2011-2014) now join this roster.

The most recent installment amply fulfils Whates' ambition, as stated in his introduction, to "showcase the rich variety that science fiction has to offer." Its eighteen stories, by writers such as Chris Beckett, Ken Liu, Julie E. Czerneda, Aliette de Bodard, Ian Watson, and Nina Allan, not only illustrate a broad range of themes, but also varied aesthetic approaches, which I applaud.

On the whole, the anthology tends to be dark. Benjanun Sriduangkaew's gripping opener, "When We Harvested the Nacre-Rice," plunges us into a fully-realized future "un-war" that is waged by "ballistic allegory" and "trojan-fire aimed at collective memory." Against this finely imagined backdrop, the protagonist's decision to trust a stranger has far-reaching effects. "The Howl," by Ian R. MacLeod and Martin Sketchley, uses familial reconciliation -- or the lack thereof -- to similarly explore notions of trust, and the narratives we use to remember the past. Though less explicitly SF-nal, it is equally compelling, and its alternating of past tense, third person with present tense, second person is particularly effective.

Tony Ballantyne's visceral "Double Blind" takes us into the chilling future of human-based drug trials. In Laura Lam's "They Swim Through Sunset Seas," a human attempt to investigate the alien Nyxi goes horribly wrong. Lam's thoughtful, heart-rending story is an agonizing study in the consequences of carelessness. Getting inside foreign minds is also the subject of Rachel Swirsky's gut-punching "Endless," a perfect anthology finale. In this short, sharp shock of a story, Swirsky's urgent, tightly coiled sentences depict post-Singularity entities reliving the gruesome deaths of "meat flesh" (us) as a means of repaying a debt to the past. "Endless" packs three punches: emotional, conceptual, and stylistic.

Finally, I'd like to single out Adam Roberts' "Thing and Sick" and Benjamin Rosenbaum's "Fift & Shria." In the former, two characters engaged in SETI research in 1980s Antarctica experience a truly uncanny encounter with the unknown/able. Roberts gradually darkens the tone with masterful control, but the narrative is powered by pure philosophy; if you'll pardon the pun, I Kant think of a better example of a philosophy-driven SF narrative. Rosenbaum's tale, written in an uncomplicated manner, is nevertheless intellectually demanding; its world is one of Staids and Bails, whose personalities can extend across several bodies, with all the societal and technological complexities that might entail. What do identity and gender mean in this context? The story is well worth the effort.

I hope these brief comments have piqued your interest. These Solaris anthologies need readers, after all, to help them "rise," and thus live up to their title -- readers like you.

Title: Time Travel: Recent Trips
Editor: Paula Guran
Publisher: Prime Books

This time-travel anthology also happens to boast eighteen outings, though here (save for one story by Kristine Kathryn Rusch) we are dealing with reprints, from 2005 to 2014. The two anthologies actually complement each other well, as there is only one duplicate author, Ken Liu. Speaking of authors, Duran has assembled an impressive lineup: Kage Baker, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Howard Waldrop, Michael Moorcock, Eileen Gunn, and many others. In fact, it's the work of these no-less accomplished "others" that I'm going to focus on.

Vandana Singh's "With Fate Conspire" offers the intriguing first-person story of an illiterate woman from Old Kolkata who is forced to use a time-viewing Machine to spy on an exiled ruler from 1856. Here are two of several memorable lines: "In any life, I think, there are apparently unimportant moments that turn out to matter most," and "Poetry can save the world." But can it, really? Read it to find out.

Strained relationships inform both Steve Rasnic Tem's mournful "Twember" and Dale Bailey's haunting "Mating Habits of the Late Cretaceous." Tem's tale is an exquisitely descriptive and thought-provoking look at the consequences of one man's late arrival to pick up his son from school, in a world strewn with time-destabilizing alien "escarpments." Bailey's chrono-nautical journey involves a marriage at the breaking point, and the wife's belief that seeing terrifying dinosaurs up close may somehow open a doorway between her and her increasingly estranged husband.

The second paragraph of Yoon Ha Lee's arresting "Blue Ink" begins like this: "Blue stands for many things at the end of time; for the forgotten, blazing blue stars of aeons past; the antithesis of redshift; the color of uncut veins beneath your skin." The rest of the story beautifully evokes future devastation and the fate of a young girl named Jenny Chang who may just be able to stop it. The story's last line of dialogue is a stunner. Genevieve Valentine's "Bespoke" is similarly artful and beguiling, but more oblique; Petra works in a clothing shop for people requiring period attire for their time jumps, in a present that has been altered by time-voyagers whose actions have led to an over-run of butterflies.

"The Mists of Time" by Tom Purdom is the closest the anthology comes to rip-roaring adventure. But Purdom is too skilled a storyteller just to focus on the thrills, and portrays the historical events of a British patrol engaged in West African antislavery through the lens of a complicated relationship between a future artist and one of the patrol ship's descendants, the artist's employer. Their differing agendas, and perceptions of the past, clash just as intensely as the story's two ships.

Lastly, Charlie Jane Anders's delightful "The Time Travel Club" presents an endearing cast of misfits and loners who start a wish-fulfillment Time Travel Club that turns real. Snarky and chock-full of witticisms, but nevertheless poignant, this novelette managed to make me chuckle several times while making me emotionally invested in the fates of the characters. I wish Anders would turn this into a novel, so I could prolong the experience . . .

As I hope to have made clear, there's much high-quality fiction in this temporally themed anthology. Needless to say, it's well worth your time.

Read more by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro


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