January 31st, 2010

Summary: Original Anthology Series, 2009

Original Anthology Series, 2009

In recent years I was delighted to see something of a renaissance of the unthemed original anthology series -- so wonderfully pioneered in the 50s by Fred Pohl's Star books, and continued in the 60s and 70s by the landmark Orbit, New Dimensions, and Universe series. Alas, it appears the promising new set of books is coming to and end. Lou Anders's Fast Forward has died, as has George Mann's Solaris Book of New Science Fiction (though a last of these appeared in 2009). Ellen Datlow's Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy has not yet seen a second volume, though I am told that the door has not yet closed for that. Last man standing appears to be Jonathan Strahan's Eclipse, of which the third volume appeared in 2009, with at least a fourth volume planned (for 2010).

So, in 2009 I saw:
The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume 3; edited by George Mann; and
Eclipse Three, edited by Jonathan Strahan.

The two books between them contained 30 stories, 12 novelettes and 18 short stories (one a short-short), for a total of some 215,000 words of fiction. 11.5 of the 30 stories were by women (38%), and 20 were SF (67%).

They were both very strong books. From the Solaris book my favorites were John Meaney’s "Necroflux Day", with its fantastical setting: an underground city, powered by the dead, with magical creatures like remote viewing spiders made of blood, and a moving story of a boy on the cusp of discovering something important in his city’s history, and his lonely father, and his teacher, who doubts her faith, but loves her job. Also Daniel Abraham's "The Best Monkey", which intriguingly speculates on the nature of beauty, on its ties to sex, and on how those things might also affect our understanding of other "beautiful" things, like tech. And Tim Akers's "A Soul Stitched to Iron" (related to his first novel which also appeared in 2009 from Solaris, Heart of Veridon): somewhat steampunkish, about a young man from a high family who has turned to crime, and who is charged with learning the reasons behind a newly influential family's disturbing actions. And "One of Our Bastards is Missing", by Paul Cornell, a complicated political and romantic tale about an English Princess about to get married, and the Prussian plot to interfere with that -- all centering on the efforts of her former lover to protect her, even as he must lose her, and all set in a weirdly alternate history. There was also good work from Alastair Reynolds and Jennifer Pelland.

From Eclipse Three I liked Maureen McHugh’s "Useless Things", quietly powerful story set after a nearly complete economic meltdown, about a dollmaker trying to help other people in trouble -- with her dolls and with her resources -- and both those impulses betray her, suggesting a feeling of uselessness in the face of a collapsed world. "It Takes Two", by Nicola Griffith, is neat SFnal extrapolation about the biochemical roots of love -- true love. Maybe? And Paul Di Filippo’s "Yes We Have No Bananas", wacky but serious  economic extrapolation, plus advanced physics (involving branes and parallel worlds) and ocarina music. And Karen Joy Fowler's "The Pelican Bar", very odd -- and only by courtesy, it seems to me, fantastical -- about a spookily and horrifically abusive sort of boot camp to which a disobedient girl is sent. There was fine work as well from Pat Cadigan, and Peter S. Beagle -- among others, in a generally first rate book.