Monday, May 4, 2015

A Most Readable Anthology

First, a wee disclosure. My review of Martin Shoemaker's story Unrefined may be colored by our friendship and mutual admiration of Indian food. That said, I found WotF v31 an enjoyable anthology of SF stories. More enjoyable than other SF anthologies I've read. Maybe it's something to do with the fact that most of the prose is by newbies who are more concerned with demonstrating their storytelling chops than by making some literary statement--but I digress.

"Switch" is a police procedural set in the near future about a drug called "switch." Imagine a drug that takes your normal Mark 1 Model A human and amplifies him by 10 or 100. Sounds good, right? Yet Alexandr Solzhenitsyn said, "the line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man." And on this axis turns an excellent story about a cop investigating an illegal drug ring.

"The God Whisperer" is a fun little story of a suburban everyman who keeps a death-god as a pet. Be grateful your cat just pukes on your furniture next time you leave it home when you have to work late.

"Stars That Make Dark Heaven Light" is a story that explores the ecology of an alien world and the sociology of a struggling colony. Speaking of love it reminds us of the Bard who invited us to ponder, 'What a piece of work is a man!"

"When Shadows Fall" is a golden-age story that suggests that there are times when a Poet can manage that which Bankers and Generals cannot.

"A Revolutionary's Guide to Practical Conjuration" is a sly tale of a haunted book of magic and the revolutionary-naif who somehow manages to own it. When you sign a contract make sure you read the fine print.

"Twelve Minutes to Vinh Quang" is a most satisfying crime story that reminds us that some business is always personal.

"Planar Ghosts" is a story that takes place in one of those depressing post-apocalyptic settings where an underdog manages to lose everything but use his wits to win much more in the end.

"Rough Draft" is a story about an award winning SF writer who receives a draft of a sequel to his only award winning novel. Only problem is that he wrote it in a parallel universe. There's a lot of insight into SF writing, publishing, and fandom in this cute little story.

"Between Screens" is a story about a bunch of teenage thrill seekers who hack a galaxy-wide teleport network like the phone phreaks and joy riders of old. Joseph Stalin once said that when millions die it it a statistic and the story's young protagonist learns this first-hand.

"Unrefined" starts with a bang and follows a hard-pressed group of people through a difficult time. The physics is good--a necessary thing in a Hard SF story. But so is the human element. Mr. Shoemaker does a good job of evoking human emotion. I was made to care about the characters and their relationships in the story. Anyone familiar with project management and technical leadership in organizations will resonate with the protagonist's challenges and what he manages to accomplish.

"Half Past" is a bittersweet tale of anger, sadness, and magic that has a satisfying disclosure at its end.

"Purposes Made for Alien Minds" This is a gimmick story. Do you like iambic pentameme? Each sentence has five words. Its meter soon annoyed me.

"Inconstant Moon" is a story I first enjoyed many years ago. It could not be set in this time, so dated references to Johnny Carson and Apollo are OK. A beautiful night holds a terrifying portent.

"The Graver" is a dark story of grief and regret and the souls of lost loved ones.

"Wisteria Melancholy" bids us imagine psychological disorders manifesting themselves not with phobias, cutting, or delusions, but with superhero powers straight out of the X-Men. In this context the protagonist deals with the guilt he feels over losing his sister.

"Poseidon's Eyes" is a beautiful tale of a haunted village by the sea. Like "Switch" the story shows us the good and evil of every man amplified (in this case) by supernatural means.

OH MY. I was a little disappointed when I read this anthology because all of the illustrations were rendered in black and white and wished that I could see them in color. When I finished the book just now I discover to my delight that all of the illustrations are reprised in color at the end.

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