Monday, July 06, 2009

Review: Tides from the New Worlds by Tobias S. Buckell

Short fiction is something I am woefully under-read in. I don’t read or subscribe to short fiction magazines (or e-zines) and I only rarely read collections and anthologies. The reason why is really quite simple – I don’t have the time. My reading time is very limited these days, so I set boundaries – no comics, no graphic novels, little to no non-fiction, etc. However, in reading Tides from the New Worlds by Tobias S. Buckell (Amazon, Wyrm), I am once again reminded (as I periodically am) of what I’ve been missing.

Since the vast majority of my reading is novels, I generally only get to see one facet of an author’s writing, often one that does not express the breadth and variety that any given author truly possesses. Tides from the New Worlds introduces people like me who are familiar with Buckell’s novels to another side of Buckell – actually several other sides – and a greater vision of the writer as a person. Since this collection literally starts at the beginning of his career, we also get to see Buckell evolve and improve through time.

Many readers are well aware of Buckell’s Caribbean origins and mixed-race, and these influences certainly show up in his novels. However, in reading Buckell’s short fiction, just how strongly these origins influence his writing becomes clear. Two themes at work throughout much of Tides from the New Worlds are the infusion of science fiction and fantasy with a distinctive Caribbean, multi-racial feel (including varied, typically non-Western settings) and the clash of the Western world other parts of the world, particularly the Caribbean. To these aims, Buckell utilizes many standard SFF tropes, adding his distinctive twists, with stories revolving around such varied ideas as first contact, slavery, zombies, ghosts, religion, sailing and the sea, ancient gods, dryads, dwarves, mythology, folklore, etc.

As I’ve become familiar with in his novels, Buckell uses characters to drive his fiction. While he can be (too) light on the description, the setting often comes alive through the characters themselves. In combination with this, I felt Buckell’s strongest stories come with a Caribbean-like setting – whether that setting is the actual Caribbean, Africa, or an imagined world sharing much in common with the Caribbean. “Four Eyes” may have been my favorite of the collection for capturing the side of the Caribbean that tourists don’t see. “Toy Planes”, “Spurn Babylon”, “Trinkets”, “The Duel”, “Necahual” and the dark, allegorical tale of “Death’s Dreadlocks” all capture another side of the Caribbean and its people.

Buckell also reveals a fascination with history that caught me off-guard. I suppose it makes sense to explore the past to understand the present, but it serves a reminder to me that the history of the USA is thoroughly entwined with that of the Caribbean, no matter how hard we try to forget that up here. “In Orbite Medievali”, “Trinkets”, and “The Duel” all explore this relationship in one way or another.

Attempting to comment on each of the 21 stories would be madness and not all can be easily lumped with other stories. But, I simply cannot pass by without mentioning “The Shackles of Freedom” (written with Mike Resnick). In this story, Amish colonists on an alien (and deadly world) struggle to survive and a doctor seeking freedom from the greater society agrees to minister to the colony – only the Amish generally choose not to accept his healing technology. The resulting exploration of freedom, technology, and love left me wanting to chuck the computer and cell phone out the window (though to be honest, this isn’t exactly an isolated feeling).

The best anthologies and collections introduce each story and in Tides from the New Worlds, Buckell does just that. We get a brief view into his mind as he explains things from intent and motivations to it being fun to write. It also allows us to see the mentoring and guidance that Buckell has seen from such writers as Mike Resnick and Nalo Hopkinson. And the introduction by Mike Resnick can only be described as fatherly.

All of this is presented in a beautiful, high-quality package by Wyrm publishing in a signed limited-edition. With the limited print, this book is aimed at Buckell’s existing fanbase, but people looking for a bit Caribbean spice injected into their SFF should not allow this one to pass by. If you’re on the fence, check out some of the free stories available on
Buckell’s website – as expected there are strong and weak stories and just which one is which will depend on your own perspective, but I enjoyed the look into the whole of Buckell’s writing. 7.5/10

Related Posts:
Review of Crystal Rain, Review of Ragamuffin, Interview with Tobias Buckell

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