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. Continue reading

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume 3

The outside project has been sent off to an editor, so the new reviews should be more frequent. There’s certainly a backlog of titles I’ve read.

For now, though, you get another retro review.

This one is from May 6, 2010.

Review: The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume 3, ed. George Mann, 2009.Solaris Book of New Science Fiction

The third and final in this artistically, if perhaps not commercially, successful series doesn’t disappoint. There are no truly bad stories, just a few that didn’t do much for me. Most I found good and one truly memorable. Mann lives up to his writ of widely varied stories that diverge from near future dystopianism.

Curiously, many of the stories seem twinned, thematically or in images or feel, with other stories. The “gothic suspense” of John Meaney’s “Necroflux Day” with its story of family secrets in a world where fuel and information are stored in bones is also conveyed, better, in the gothic “A Soul Stitched in Iron” by Tim Akers. The latter story has an aristocrat, fallen on hard times, tracking down a putative murderer that’s upsetting a crime lord’s plans. That murderer happens to be an old friend of the protagonist, and the killer’s motives involve subterranean secrets that underlie the status of a noveau riche clan. Meaney’s story didn’t do much for me. Akers interests me enough to that I’m going to seek out his Heart of Veridon set in the same city.

Alastair Reynolds’ “The Fixation” and Paul Cornell’s “One of Our Bastards Is Missing” are both, loosely defined, alternate history. Reynolds’ story has a scientist restoring the Mechanism, very much like our Antikythera Mechanism – an ancient clockwork computer. In her world, while the Romans found no practical use for the Mechanism, the Persians did and founded the predominant power of the world. However, other universes are also interested in their versions of the Mechanism and prepared to vampirically leach its information structure from other universes to facilitate a complete restoration. The central idea is interesting, but the alternate history speculation is at a bare minimum. Not even really alternate history but an annoying, distracting mélange of medieval European, Renaissance, and 19th century politics, Cornell’s story features personal teleportation, so called “Impossible Grace”, that binds the solar system together and greatly complicates the balance of power in the royal houses of Europe. For me, its plot of political intrigue was ruined by the story’s capricious use of history. Stephen Baxter’s “Artifacts” is Baxter in his deep cosmological mode. Its scientist hero, provoked by the religious ideas of his father and early death of his wife, ponders why our brane (if I understand the concept correctly, a cluster of universes) has time flowing in one direction and the consequence of death. His discovery oddly echoes the theme of Reynolds’ story, but I also liked the story’s near future Britain noticeably not affected by any Singularity and poor enough to have to recycle computers for rare metals. Continue reading