February 27th, 2010

Summary: Kaleidotrope, 2009

Summary: Kaleidotrope, 2009

There were two issues of Kaleidotrope in 2009, the sixth and seventh. Between the two there were 28 new stories, 3 novelettes and 25 shorts (11 short-shorts -- the 'zine has always featured a lot of short-shorts), a bit less then 90,000 words total. In addition each story features a reprint. There were also quite a few poems. The editor is Fred Coppersmith.

From #6 (April) I liked Heather Clitheroe’s "Replicate Fade", about an ex-soldier struggling to get by who takes a job to find a runaway, only to learn to his distress why his employers want her found, which nicely ties into something he’s taken with him, as it were, from his military past; and Simon Petrie’s "Single Handed", a light murder mystery about a strange cult heading to another planet, until the ship’s captain is killed -- a bit implausible, but quite clever. From #7 (October), my favorite story was A. Kiwi Courters' "Duma of the Valley Kifaru", about a woman -- a princess -- of an African-flavored realm facing marriage and learning that her responsibilities will include dealing -- quite actively -- with traitors, spies, war, etc. Other good work came from Bill Ward, John Walters, Eric Stever, and Casey Fiesler.

By my count, 6 of the 28 stories were SF (21%), and women wrote 14 of the stories, fully half.

Summary: Three Science Fiction anthologies, 2009

Summary: Three Science Fiction anthologies, 2009

These three books I have linked because they are all explicitly focussed on Science Fiction (as opposed to Fantasy).

The books are:

Federations, edited by John Joseph Adams;
Metatropolis, edited by John Scalzi; and
The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF, edited by Mike Ashley.

Between them they included 25 new stories: 4 novellas, 7 novelettes, 14 short stories (2 short-shorts), some 210,000 words overall. 7 of 25 stories (28%) were by women, and all were SF.

It should be noted that two of the books (Federations and The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF) included a number of reprints -- indeed, The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF is mostly reprints, though it includes five new novelettes, so a fairly substantial wordage.

The best of these was John Joseph Adams' Federations. I particularly liked Jeremiah Tolbert’s "The Culture Archivist", about a man illegally saving what he can of an alien culture’s ways in advance of a commercial invasion. The story modulates nicely from an almost Strossian romp to a serious examination of its central issue (which is not to deny that Stross’s romps have serious points, too!) Also, Catherynne M. Valente's "Golabush, or Wine-Blood-War-Elegy" -- about wine of all things, and about war over wine.  And Mary Rosenblum’s "My She", a moving story of a woman trained to be a sort of ansible, and as such imprisoned in service to something of a monopoly, and the efforts of her all but anonymous tender to achieve some variety of freedom for them both. Other very good stories in this book came from Yoon Ha Lee, James Alan Gardner, S. L. Gilbow, and Genevieve Valentine.

Metatropolis is the print version of an audiobook published in 2008 (and nominated for a Hugo in the Dramatic Presentation category). It's based on a shared future, in which current social structures are breaking down or have broken down. The stories are all about new ways of organinzing cities, mostly rather communitarian in nature. I had high expectations, given a very good lineup of writers and some intriguing ideas. Perhaps the expectations were unfair -- at any rate, I felt let down. The stories taken as a whole were too utopian in form -- by which I mean mainly that there was too much didactism, too much "let's look at this new world", not that things are unrealistically happy. The best were probably Jay Lake's "In the Forests of the Night" and John Scalzi's "Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis" -- the latter was perhaps my favorite if only because it is set in St. Louis (or "New St. Louis".

Finally, The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF. Mike Ashley got a lot of criticism for not including any stories by women. This isn't entirely unfair -- women have certainly written plenty of "mindblowing" SF stories. (Lists were produced, of which the stories seemed about half genuine "mindblowing" stories that might well have been included, and about half good stories by women that probably didn't really fit the book's theme.) So, the book would have been improved if it had represented some of the great mindblowing SF by women ... but it's not fair to the stories included, particularly the new ones, to ignore them because of this context. And one of the new stories is first-rate, one of the better novelettes of the year: Adam Roberts's "Anhedonia". Aliens have come to us offering technological wonders including star travel, but it seems that these wonders come at a price -- the loss of the ability to feel emotion. I found the explanation quite fairly mindblowing.