Thursday, July 15, 2010

Speculative Horizons edited by Patrick St-Denis

Often one of my favorite parts of an anthology is the introduction by the editor. The framework of the anthology is laid out, the thematic strings that connect often wildly different stories are tied, and I usually learn something. In Speculative Horizons (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, Subterranean) editor Patrick St-Denis does not include an introduction, which while disappointing, doesn’t have much impact one way or another on the anthology as a whole. However, if he had written one, it may have gone something like this:
Speculative Horizons is simply the culmination of my wanting to see some of my favorite authors in the same anthology. I suppose it could be argued that the result is showcase of wide range of possibilities within science fiction and fantasy; however, it is very interesting that this result also managed to form a mostly coherent theme between stories of vastly differing scopes and styles. Perhaps even more curious is the theme itself – love. Whether love between family, lovers, or even the quaint ‘love’ of simple kindness to strangers, each of these stories could be called a love story, though in some cases it would surficially seem quite a stretch to do so. However perverse it may be to view this collection as a collection of love stories, it does hammer home the idea that science fiction and fantasy often deals with the deep connections of people to one another. In the context of love stories, it can’t be ignored just how jaded this anthology seems – love is a powerful emotion and the pain and scars it leaves behind last a lifetime. I’ll leave the implications of that to reader to reflect on, but I can’t help but feel it’s says something about where society is at this moment in time.

Genre’s hackles may often rise in needless defense of itself and it certainly takes a beating from so-called literati, but we should all just relax and let the words speak for themselves.
Speculative Horizons features stories from C.S. Friedman, Tobias S. Buckell, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Brian Ruckley, and Hal Duncan. Editor Patrick St-Denis is best known as the force behind the popular blog Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and this is his first foray into the editing world. It is also worth noting that much of the proceeds of this anthology will be donated to the American Cancer Society.

“Soul Mate” by C.S. Friedman begins the anthology. In this story a young woman meets the perfect man who turns out to be too perfect. It’s a good beginning and well-written story, though it’s not likely to stick with you for very long.

“The Eve of the Fall of Habesh” by Tobias S. Buckell is a small tale within a larger world that the reader never gets to see. In this world to use magic one literally uses their life up, so either someone only rarely uses small bits of learned magic or people are enslaved and forced to use up their lives. An invading force threatens destruction of the city and one magical enforcer is confronted with a decision.

It’s fun to see Buckell do fantasy while he better known for science fiction. This world is a very interesting creation and the story takes an interesting turn. As with the Friedman story, it’s well written and entertaining, if not the sort to haunt you after reading it.

In “The Stranger” by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. a mysterious man on the run invites the hospitality of a family of herders. The inevitable does happen just as you would expect. This is a return to the world of the bestselling Recluse Saga, though if like me, you haven’t read those books you will not be at a loss in spite of perhaps not fully appreciating everything in the story.

“The Stranger” is fun and straight-forward. It is also the biggest stretch from love theme I spoke of above. Unfortunately it bears little in common with the much better known story of the same name.

“Flint” by Brian Ruckley turned out to be the biggest surprise of this collection. Ruckley is best known as a relatively new author of a big, fat, epic fantasy trilogy and to my knowledge is not known at all for short stories. In “Flint” he writes of a small Neolithic clan surviving on an unnamed shore. A young shaman struggling to prove his worth must stop an affliction threatening to kill off his clan, an affliction of the spirit world.

“Flint” is a surprisingly well-rounded story that includes flashes of humor along with darker subjects. Love, murder and pranks are all central to this story that rivals Duncan’s for the best of this anthology.

“The Death of a Love” by Hal Duncan should be the best story of this collection by a long-shot, though it unfortunately falls short of its potential. A detective of Erocide, the murder of love, describes to the reader his world. Duncan’s writing is bitter, pained, and cynical in a creative, free-form, rant and clever discussion of love in the modern world. For anyone only familiar with Duncan via his blog they will be surprised to find his published writing more tame and readable. However, ”The Death of a Love” slowly looses containment as you can feel Duncan and the nameless, unreliable narrator gaining what feels like alcohol-fueled momentum. This is a story that does stick with you, though I think it could have greatly benefited from a more experienced editor.

It’s always tough to judge an anthology, especially one with such a wide-range of contributions. Overall, Speculative Horizons is solid, containing no duds and a couple of gems, though with only five stories, it’s not a big collection. For me it was worth it just to see what blogger St-Denis put together with the bonus of money going to a worthy cause. If that isn’t enough for you, know that the contents are quality, if short of excellent. But the real surprise was the commonality between the stories – it was an unexpected gift that really bonds this group of unusual suspects and makes me think on the implications for the genre as a whole. 7.5-8/10


Roland said...

I am curious about this. Just preordered it a few days ago. Mostly because of Duncan's story really.

Simcha said...

I remember reading that Patrick would be publishing a book but I haven't really followed up on it. While I'm usually not much of a short story reader this book looks like it could be worth trying out, particularly as there are several authors here whose books I have not yet read.


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