Now We Are Ten edited by Ian Whates (book review)

January 23, 2017 | By | Reply More

In celebration of ten years of well-known UK small press, publisher NewCon Press, editor and owner Ian Whates presents us with ‘Now We Are Ten’, an anthology of stories that in some way each feature the number ten. Some of the stories are in ten sections, some feature the number ten in some significant or symbolic way and one is a story in literally ten words. Unlike the accompanying volume ‘Crises And Conflicts’, the stories in this anthology veer away from the space opera and hard SF end of the genre and some are less definitely science fictional.

Take, for example, ‘Pyramid’ by Nancy Kress. It’s a fascinating descriptive piece about a pyramid structure that hosts a perpetual party of sorts where numerous people of all kinds enter the lower levels and a minority are able to progress to the higher and better levels. What allows them to make progress, who these people and the outside visitors are and whether the whole thing is in fact a metaphor is all unclear, but it’s an intriguing contribution to the collection.

Eric Brown’s ‘Ten Sisters’ is my favourite of the collection, the story of eighteen year-old Anna, who discovers that she is a clone of a rich business woman, grown purely to provide spare parts in an effort to achieve immortality. Anna sets out to rescue her fellow clones and take her revenge on their progenitor in a fascinating and enjoyable story.

A travelling troupe of actors are the performers in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Dress Rehearsal’. There are some great descriptions of characters and thespian life, with the added interest that the troupe travels between dimensions or realities to visit and perform in different realms. It’s a fun read.

‘The Tenth Man’ is Bryony Pearce’s atmospheric story about a PhD student’s visit to interview a brilliant professor who now dwells in a mental asylum and is inhabited by ten different personalities. The chilling warnings from the nurse reminded me of the last episode of ‘Sherlock’ and built up the tension as the various personalities manifest themselves and the student tries to get to the truth of whether travel between alternate realities is possible. It’s a very well-paced story and kept me guessing throughout.

Peter F. Hamilton’s story ‘Ten Love Songs To Change The World’ is one of a few stories that explore the phenomenon of time travel in different ways. Malinda is a Timedreamer, able to travel back in time through her dreams where she must be careful not to change anything significant. There is a nice consistency and logic to the premise, governed by Guardians who prevent the Timedreamers from causing chaos and with a wave of consequences to be ridden back into the future for the dreamer. The usual ethical questions of whether to warn or save or prevent is cased in the story of a little-known singer from the 1960s and the effect of his music on Melinda and her struggles with her gift.

The longest story of the collection is Nina Allan’s ‘Ten Days’, featuring time travel via fob watch, which by coincidence also features in my own time travel story due to be published elsewhere quite soon. Dora is a lawyer who decides to write a book about Helen Bostall, hanged for murder in 1928, whom she believes to be innocent. Nina Allan is not afraid to lead us into the story slowly, giving us background and history to Dora’s life before detailing her investigations into Helen Bostall and the various clues and avenues of research she follows. The fob watch and its marvellous powers are introduced with a subtle air of calm acceptance and an expectation of cynicism, with Dora already planning her trips through time to investigate and clear Helen’s name before we really know whether the watch is for real. The whole story seems infused with historical realism and the tale comes together wonderfully, weaving in the clues and history with Dora’s visits back to the 1920s.

The final story, E.J. Swift’s ‘Front Row Seats To The End Of The World’ gives us a ten day countdown to the arrival of a devastating asteroid impact. It does a great job of avoiding the heroic job of saving the world to focus on the life, regrets and final plans of Nell as she comes to term with the impending destruction of the globe, observing the banality and everyday bravery of those she comes across and writing her list of achievements and failures. It brings the volume to a close with an air of finality and yet optimism.

The presence of some very well-known names and fabulous stories goes to underline the success of NewCon Press over the past decade, providing another fine collection with an interesting theme to tie them together.

Gareth D Jones

January 2017

(pub: Newcon Press, 2016. 265 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK), $18.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-901935-19-4)

check out website: www.newconpress.com

Category: Books, MEDIA, Scifi

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