Dark Currents

I’m off composing new stuff, so you get this retro review from October 27, 2012.

I got a review copy of this book through LibraryThing.

Retro reviews are useful to see what stories remain unconsumed by the flames of time smoldering away in my brain.

Basically, in this collection, it was the Nevill story. Though I see I thought highly of the Nina Allan work. Megan over at From Couch to Moon has favorably reviewed some of her work.

Review: Dark Currents, ed. Ian Whates, 2012.Dark Currents

Soliciting stories built around a cover is an old pulp tradition, and editor Whates continued the tradition by approaching authors at Eastercon 2011. And a surprising number of authors faithfully alluded, literally or metaphorically, to the titular illustration.

But did they produce good stories?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The quality here varies wildly and a lot of sub-genres of the fantastic are represented. “Name” authors rub shoulders with newcomers.

I’ll forgo any groupings based on genre taxonomy or quality and just take them in order.

I certainly recognize the name of Adrian Tchaikovsky, but, since “The Fall of Lady Sealight” is the first story of his I’ve read, I can’t say how representative it is. In its elements of extra-dimensional adventure and conflict and alternate Earths, it reminded me a bit of Michael Moorcock. The titular character is an Abyssonaut. Raised up from childhood for her job, she fights for the Crown against the Commonwealth in an English Civil War in an alternate timeline. Lady Sealight finds meaning in the Void where others are driven mad. It is there she combats Icarus, an Abyssonaut for the Commonwealth. The story alternates between that combat and her flitting from timeline to timeline, where her mere presence often upsets the political order. Thrown in the mix is her love for Isender, a fellow fighter for the Crown. I rather liked this one.

However, Adam Nevill’s “The Age of Entitlement” was by far my favorite story of the collection. It extrapolates the current world economic woes to show a France and Britain in the grip of an even worse downturn. The narrator, along with hanger-on Toby who ungratefully sponges off him, explores the historic ruins of France. The story has rather Lovecraftian imagery — “black infinite depths above the earth” which may not be entirely metaphorical. And a sudden revelation pushes the story into a Poe-like track of vengeance with an ending that perhaps invests the title with a moral observation or, perhaps, irony.

Tricia Sullivan’s “Electrify Me” starts out with some interesting imagery about an artificial woman – modeled on her maker’s dead sister and given “Barbie genitalia”. But this vignette, seemingly about a sexual tropism towards electricity, offers little besides sexual puns, and the five concluding paragraphs are obscure.

Rod Rees’ “Alternate Currents” is something of a failure too. It can be conceived as a parody of the detective story and steampunk. However, detective Nikola Tesla, a much respected man in this alternate 1895 New York City, has such freakish powers of deduction and observation that there is no sense of danger or conflict in this story, and the parodic elements – some involving H. G. The War of the Worlds – are not funny.

However, I did enjoy Nina Allan’s subtle “The Barricade” about a woman in an unhappy marriage realizing truths about her nature on a seaside holiday.

Things That Are Here Now, Things That Were There Then” from Andrew Hook is mostly filled with flashy imagery and metaphors that run amok, often clot the prose, and don’t make much sense as images or metaphor. Two are “shotgun-shattered bullets of rain” and “lightning split the clouds like a rip in a dark pillowcase, revealing white feathers”. The single point of interest is the mania of artist Constance for taking Polaroids of every single one of her actions and pasting them up all over the surfaces of her house. And, to be fair, Hook does work in an interesting bit about the use of the term “dark currents” in analytic chemistry.

The members of the future English society of Finn Clarke’s “Loose Connections” mandatorily undergoes, via machine inducing experiences in their brain, cathartic treatment to reduce their criminality. Clarke is to be commended for taking the anthology’s title seriously, but the concept isn’t worked out too well in its execution or the political resistance to it well explained. The idea of the connections between the three main characters being loose forms the emotional pivot and is the story’s other strong point.

Since I liked Lavie Tidhar’s “One Day, Soon“, a Lovecraft inspired tale, I really wanted to like his “Sleepless in R’lyeh” here. However, I’m afraid this combination of the movie Sleepless in Seattle mixed with elements of Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” and Lovecraft’s life left me, apart from some nice repetitions of moody phrases, cold. Perhaps if I had more familiarity with the movie and its central relationship, I would get more out of the story. This story did nothing to contradict my opinion that these sort of mashups are artistically decadent.

Damnation Seize My Soul” from Jan Edwards bored me with its warrior babe story seemingly inspired by C. L. Moore. Its titular character goes through several incarnations: Viking raider, buccaneer in the Golden Age of Piracy, and space pirate. And, in each case, she fights an incarnation of the same foe.

Emma Coleman’s “Home” was the low point of the anthology. It’s a pointless story full of imagery about a woman constantly being grabbed by some entity.

Rebecca J. Payne’s “A Change in the Weather” was another pointless story. I suppose I was to infer, from the meteorological descriptions, a protagonist named Cassandra, and descriptions of plants growing up from the sea bottom, a coming doom.

However, the anthology’s enjoyment picked up again with “Bells Ringing Under the Sea” from Sophia McDougall. It’s sort of a less horrific version of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and some clever things are done with the final revelation of whom the narrator is telling his story. It was my second favorite story here.

In Tauris” from Una McCormack seems to be some story of female anger after the apocalypse, but, while the narrator may claim the rage of her group towards some male refugees is “rational and righteous” that case is definitely not made in a story lacking too many details about its setting and history.

Neil Williamson’s “Lost Sheep” is a somewhat clever space opera and also explicitly recycles a cliché from old movies — the loyal, wisecracking female sidekick to a loveable rogue. Here the sidekick is an artificial intelligence, and the rogue’s charms are wearing a bit thin. Things come to a head when a “lost” generation starship is found, and the rogue tries to obtain their “cultural rights” for resale.

The Bleeding Man” from Aliette de Bodard isn’t full of sympathetic people and certainly its world is disturbing. But its plot of how a torturer-executioner tries to shield her daughter from the realities of her job rings disturbingly true. I wouldn’t say it’s one of the most enjoyable stories in the anthology, but it may be one of the most memorable.

And the anthology closes off with a poem from V. C. Linde.

All in all, the ratio of good to bad or so-so stories gets this story an average rating, but the Neville, de Bodard, Allen, and McDougall stories are high points.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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