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Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce
Edge of Infinity is not especially concerned about Earth, but it cares deeply about humanity. It’s not blindly optimistic, but neither is it depressingly morbid. It cares about the little things and the big, it’s got romance and death, and lots and lots of adventure, set within our solar system but not on Earth. Also, space ships. Read the rest of this entry »
Reviewed by Tehani Wessely (this review was first published in January 2008)
I am not a huge fan of science fiction. Let’s get this out right at the start. The reason I don’t often like it is because I’ve found that science fiction can easily become bogged down in jargon and, well, science, at the expense of engaging characters and comprehensible plot, both of which are very important to me. Lately however, I have found myself absorbed by a number of science fiction books and stories that have flat out appealed to me, and a great percentage of stories in The New Space Opera certainly met the high bar.
In The New Space Opera, two highly regarded editors, Gardner Dozois and local boy Jonathan Strahan, have drawn together a deeply satisfying collection of stories that meet the space opera criteria. As laid out in the introduction to the book, space opera is “…romantic adventure set in space and told on a grand scale.” Impressively, the majority of the stories in the collection presented believable possible futures combined with realistic and finely drawn characters participating in action-packed and emotion-charged exploits that did not overwhelm this reader with technobabble or bog her down in science. To me, the lay reader of science fiction, the highly refined craftsmanship of the stories – drawing these worlds and characters with such elegance and style but not failing to entertain and provoke – meant that I devoured each story and raced on to the next, often pausing to digest the depth of theme and message, but always keen to taste the next piece. Equally powerful was the ability of each author to write in such a way that the depth and breadth of story contained in the word length was such that most authors could not develop or contain in even a full length novel. I will not attempt to itemize the contents individually, but will remark on a few stories that stood out to me, for various reasons. Read the rest of this entry »
Eidolon Books (2006)
Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce (this review was first published in February 2006)
I had not heard of Eidolon before I read this anthology. When I read the Introduction and the reminiscing about what “the old days” were like, I felt just a little bit cheated that I hadn’t been in on it. And it made me look forward to reading the collection even more.
Tim Pratt’s “The Third-Quarter King” was an excellent start – always a good omen. From the title I expected it to be about football, or some other sport; thankfully, I was wrong. Instead, it’s about Autumn – the personification thereof – and his attitudes towards the other seasons. There’s also a human involved, basically as a pawn paying a price for trying to turn Autumn into her pawn. Silly idea, trying to play with anthropomorphised forces of nature.
I loved Hal Duncan’s “The Angel of Gamblers” (I only realised, as I wrote this, that the narrator’s name is Hal). I know nothing about Texas Hold ‘Em, but this story just about convinced me that I’d like to play (that, and late-night Celebrity Poker; but I know I would be a terrible player). This story takes place during just one game. Guy Fox, one of the players, starts telling a long and convoluted story just as the game is dealt, with the provocative statement that there are no gamblers in Hell. The other players are Fast Puck, Joey Narcosis, Jack Flash, and the narrator. These reprobates listen to the story, interject their own wry comments, and play the game with great skill (I think – as I said, I know nothing about the game). The tale he tells is, of course, the point of this story. Fox describes his experiences meeting a being he calls the Angel of Gamblers – apparently one of a third group of angels, not pro-God nor pro-Devil but neutral, walking the earth. Of course, Fox played the angel at poker – and the stake, of course, was Fox’s soul. Fox is an incredibly frustrating yet consummate storyteller, knowing exactly when to stop talking in order to address the game at hand. At 25 pages, it’s a long short story, but it’s really worthwhile. Read the rest of this entry »
Reviewed by Jason Nahrung
Engineering Infinity is a rare beast in the land of anthologies: it takes its theme and it nails it. Themes can be nebulous things, reliant on perspective, but here the award-winning Australian editor Jonathan Strahan collects fourteen stories that take his vision and run with it: they examine, as Strahan says in his introduction, “the point where the practical application of science meets … our sense of wonder”. The anthology succeeds on another, more important, level, too: there’s very little to fault on a story-telling level. It’s a joy to find such a consistently high standard.
Peter Watts begins brilliantly with ‘Malak’, in which war machines develop conscience from algorithms and decide how best to balance their military commands with their nascent sense of morality. David Moles furthers the military complex with a story of interstellar war, tinged with futility and tragedy.
Strahan remarks that the realm of hard science fiction has moved on from being a predominantly white man’s playground – he admits this anthology suggests that ‘hard’ is a more malleable material now than in its classic form – and this collection chips away at that gender reign with four women represented. Kristine Kathryn Rusch takes the trope of the over-ambitious parent and adds technology to the family in crisis; Kathleen Ann Goonan starts in Hawaii and ends up somewhere else entirely in one of the more fantastical, and probably the least thematically appropriate, of the stories. Gwyneth Jones goes off-world to find a family reunion under tragic circumstances while Barbara Lamar joins with Damien Broderick to produce some engaging time tunnelling.
Harper Voyager (2010)
ISBN 978 0 7322 8848 8
Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce
The premise behind this anthology seems essentially to have been that Australian authors would contribute short stories set in worlds they had already created, which would fill in certain plot elements or backstory, though there’s one story that doesn’t fit this mould. The difficulty with such a premise is that, if you are not familiar with every single author’s work, you might find that you only read or enjoy a handful of the stories. Of course, the other possibility is that it could act as a gateway to work you’ve not previously encountered. Happily, the latter case was largely how this anthology worked for me. I only knew the worlds of three stories in this anthology: those created by Garth Nix, Isobelle Carmody, and D M Cornish. I’d read some works by Sean Williams, Jennifer Fallon, Juliet Marillier and Cecilia Dart-Thornton, but not from the worlds represented here.
The first story is contributed by Garth Nix, and is set in his Old Kingdom where Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen were all set. “To Hold the Bridge” is set in the Old Kingdom, where magic is real and nasty critters might come get you if you don’t know the right Charter mark (enchantment). Morghan is a young man, down on his luck, hoping to join the Bridge Company and thereby find both gainful employment and a secure bed (and food). Morghan himself is a likeable fellow – it was enjoyable to follow his discovering about the Company, and his fellows. Some of the other characters were also amusing – none too similar to another – and it’s clear Nix has a wealth of stories about this land just bubbling away inside his head. I don’t know whether it would be as engaging to someone without knowledge of the Charter and its magic from the novels, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Night Shade (2009)
Reviewed by Simon Petrie, May 2010
Though they share the same brief – to present an overview of some of the year’s best short speculative fiction, in an anthology without stated limitations of theme – Eclipse Three is a distinctly different beast than Eclipse Two. Probably the most obvious point of variance is in the gender distribution of the authors, with a definite preponderance of female authors in E3, whereas E2 was distinctly male-heavy. It’s difficult to see this as other than a conscious choice by Strahan to redress previous gender imbalances, but if so the strategy receives no acknowledgement in the anthology’s introduction or elsewhere. Nor is it, in the end, a cause for any complaint: whatever one’s personal perspective on affirmative action, the result is an anthology which, for whatever reason, is more cohesive, more fulfilling, stronger than its predecessor.
“The Pelican Bar,” by Karen Joy Fowler has Norah, the archetypal renegade teen, receive a rather unusual gift for her fifteenth birthday: incarceration, in an isolated camp run by mysterious, pitiless adults. Norah’s travails are portrayed unflinchingly, but with compassion. “Pelican Bar” gets the anthology off to an excellent start, with a coming-of-age tale in which the underlying message is left deliberately muddy.
Night Shade (2008)
Reviewed by Simon Petrie, May 2010
The stated aim of Strahan’s Eclipse annuals is to emulate the unthemed anthology series of decades past, such as Orbit and Universe. Eclipse is intended to provide a selection of stories exploring the gamut of topics within SF and fantasy, by some of the best writers in the business. How does it measure up?
“The Hero,” by Karl Schroeder, has some startling worldbuilding on its side – Jessie is a young, quietly-desperate drifter who, within the story’s brief span, participates in a misguided assault on a truly massive insect, makes a promise he cannot afford to keep, and journeys to the perilous heart of the vast, hollow habitat in which his family ekes out its living. It’s a story that’s big on sense-of-wonder, but it didn’t particularly move me.
Stephen Baxter’s “Turing’s Apples” concerns itself with one of the staples of space-based SF: the discovery of a signal from an advanced alien intelligence, and contemporary society’s reaction to the resultant upheaval. Baxter presents two brothers, both gifted, both of whom agree that the briefly-detected signal has ramifications not apparent to the general populace, but disagree on the appropriate response to the signal’s existence. I must confess that there’s a tendency for Baxter’s stories to rub me up the wrong way, and this one’s no exception: it’s undeniably well done, and those who like their SF underpinned by solid physics (a category into which I generally fall) should find it enjoyable. I didn’t, and I wish I knew why.