I’m sure I won’t be the first person to tell you that anthologies and short story collections are very rarely produced by the big publishers any more. This is partly because the average reader is more interested in novels, so short story collections sell much fewer copies, making them less viable for big publishers. Of course, people like you and me enjoy our short stories, so we’re always happy when another anthology comes along. Some of the small presses, like NewCon Press and Immersion Press, have been making a fine contribution in this arena in recent years and this collection, ‘The World And The Stars’, is brought to us by independent publisher Deborah Jay. Even for a relative newcomer to publishing, there is no shortage of talent here and the collection includes many tales of fine pedigree. There are twenty-four tales in the collection, so I’ll tell you about some of my highlights.
I really enjoyed ‘Glittering Spires’ by Elizabeth Counihan, which first appeared in the wonderful ‘Scheherazade’ magazine twenty years ago. It reminded me of something Jack Vance might have written, a fantasy-style story with an sfnal background, complete with princess, assassins, dwarves, hot air balloons and lasers. It’s an entertaining and satisfying adventure that picks up the pace nicely between other, more sombre tales. That’s something editor Chris Butler has done really well, pulling together a wide variety of styles and sub-genres to make a well-rounded whole.
Sue Thomason’s contribution ‘MS Found In A Kangian Wintercamp’ is original to the book and it is a fabulous story and the highlight of the collection for me. It takes the form of a diary of a research student living with the Kangia, a neo-Inuit tribe whose philosophy on life as well as the environment was reminiscent of the classic ‘The Left Hand Of Darkness’. The student has had a memory wipe before the expedition, to allow her to approach the project unencumbered by preconceptions. The uncertainty this brings, the wonderful, deceptively simple society, the subtle sprinkling of information and the paranoia all intertwine to make this a memorable and striking tale.
‘Golty’s Burrow’ by Paul Laville is a crazy tale that had even my seasoned SF head reeling with the heady mixture of bioengineering, planetary engineering, mythological characters, mutants and stuff I couldn’t define. It all hangs together and makes perfect sense in the end, but it’s like reading ‘Alice In Wonderland’ as written by Hannu Rajaniemi. Highly enjoyable.
Gareth Caradoc Owens has developed an enviable middle name since I reviewed his short story collection ‘Fun With Rainbows’. I wish I had appropriated a suitable Welsh name for the middle of my by-line to make it stand out more. My appellation issues aside, the title ‘Ten Thousand Moons Of Howling’ captures the essence of this dark mythological fantasy tale perfectly. I’m not much of a reader of fantasy, but I enjoyed the interplay between Olambur the King, and Din Yirgish the inconveniently undead King, as well as the warped logic and historical weight that drive their actions.
Lost cities, treasure and pirates and dodgy ports are successfully transplanted into the future for Carmelo Rafala’s ‘The Madness Of Pursuit, The Desire Of Lonely Hearts’. The words ‘rollicking’ and ‘swashbuckling’ come to mind, but I can’t bring myself to use them. It’s a fabulous adventure though, on the seas of a world where there are technological treasure troves to be found and devices to propel ships in the blink of an eye. Creating a situation where such technology still allows for an old-fashioned maritime adventure is quite a skill and this story pulls it off nicely.
‘Filtered’ is very clever. In Jenny Davies’ story, filter patches allow traumatic memories to seep into the subconscious slowly, allowing grieving relatives time to adjust to a sudden bereavement without the shock. The story covers a brief time period of perfectly mundane goings-on in a normal house, where not everyone is aware of the truth. The story has a Phildickian feel to it as you realise that not everything is as it seems and the full impact of this gradually sinks in.
The collection is dedicated to the late Peter T. Garrett. His story ‘The Return Of Odysseus’ is a retelling of the ancient legend, told in authentically legendary-sounding style, mixed with flashforwards to an archaeologist working on the same locations millennia later. It ties together really well, adding a poignant twist to an already epic story.
I met Rebecca J Payne at EasterCon briefly in 2010, while drinking tea. As is often the case when you see so many names you recognise, I couldn’t initially recall which story went with her name. Now I remember. To paraphrase my review of Interzone # 225: Magnificent sailing ships plough through the clouds ‘By Starlight’ in this wonderful tale that’s like a futuristic version of Victorian SF or maybe like ‘Waterworld’ in the air. The society of sky-dwelling sailors has been thoughtfully created and the pair of young lovers living with the consequences of their elopement make an interesting focus for this pleasant tale that rounds out an outstanding collection.
Gareth D Jones
(pub: Deborah Jay. 328 page paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-50873-235-8)
check out website: http://deborahjayauthor.com