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Friday, June 5, 2009

"Eclipse 2" ed by Jonathan Strahan (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Night Shade Website
Official Jonathan Strahan Website
Order Eclipse 2 as a Trade Paperback HERE
Order Eclipse 2 as a DRM-free Ebook through Baen's Webscriptions HERE

Note that the ebook edition of Eclipse 2 is missing two stories - Exhalation by Ted Chiang which is available online and Night of the Firstlings by Margo Lanagan - both due to licensing rules and in no way Baen or Webscription's fault.
Ted Chiang' story is available free online HERE so it will be reviewed in the following.

INTRODUCTION: I like reading original sff anthologies, whether themed or not, and now is a great time for them with such titles being published like the Solaris SF/F line, Pyr’s Fast Forward books, Night Shade’s Eclipse volumes, and the indie Hadley Rille Ruins novels as well as numerous themed “standalone” books from DAW books and others.

I was very excited when Eclipse 1 was announced and I ordered it on the spot when originally published, but only some of the stories inside were to my taste. They were definitely high quality speculative fiction, but they tended a lot toward slipstream and weird fantasy and there as opposed to a solid sf anthology, it's very hit and miss for me depending essentially on the author' style.

So I was a little bit wary of getting Eclipse 2 unseen despite that the impressive authors' list had such favorite authors of mine like
Alastair Reynolds, Tony Daniel, Stephen Baxter, Paul Cornell and Ted Chiang and sadly I could not find it in bookstores for a quick browse to decide if I want to buy it or not.

Luckily Baen's collaboration with Night Shade in releasing Night Shade titles through Baen's Webscriptions extended to releasing Eclipse 2 (and Eclipse 1 as linked above too) as a drm-free ebook and I bought it the day it was available as such.

ANALYSIS: This time Mr. Strahan just put together an extraordinary anthology with 2 "stories of the year" for me (Daniel, Chiang) , 2 that come also close to perfection (Reynolds, Moles) and 5 more five star ones. This anthology repeats the pattern of Eclipse 1 as hit or miss with me, but this time when the stories connected, I found them just amazing, and the proportion of hits to misses was much larger than in the previous one.

So in order of appearance in the book:

Introduction by Jonathan Strahan - read it HERE

The Hero by Karl Schroeder - unrated

Set in the author's Virga universe from what I glimpsed from the introduction. I skipped this story since I gave up on the Virga series a while ago; my literary tastes and the author style just diverged too much.

Turing's Apples by Stephen Baxter *****

Another great story from Mr. Baxter about two brothers that got the "bug" of curiosity from their father who used to sneak in Bletchley Park as a child and watch Turing and the others involved in the high secret Enigma project; older brother Wilson is a genius astrophysicists whose team discovers the first ET signal using the Moon based Clarke radio-telescope; younger brother Jack, family man and software expert running ultra-sophisticated pattern matching algorithms for the British government secretly helps Wilson to decode the aliens message.

Invisible Empire of Ascending Light by Ken Scholes *****

Tana Berrique is Missionary General for a star spanning Empire that is missing its Emperor who has been comatose for a long time; she is in charge of testing people who have the mystical powers that would enable them to take the throne; usually disaster ensues, but now an unusual boy may just be the Emperor in Waiting. Great style and a very moving story confirming my excellent opinion of Mr. Scholes' short fiction.

Michael Laurits is Drowning by Paul Cornell *****

Michael Laurits scientist, polymath, Nobel laureate is literally drowning in the sea of Japan but he is hooked to the Lief, a privately owned dataspace which is a very sophisticated VR environment - so he transfers his consciousness there; or is he?
Just great fun and quite an intriguing story though a bit too short but I hope it will be expanded/continued the way Mr. Cornell is doing his superb Major Hamilton stories.

Night of the Firstlings by Margo Lanagan - not available in the ebook edition

Elevator by Nancy Kress * 1/2

I usually like Ms. Kress novels and short fiction - most recently I liked a lot Steal Across the Sky which I reviewed HERE for FBC. However this story just did not gel for me, again having this feeling that is written in a language that I do not understand; something with a hospital, but it was not worth the effort to decode more.

The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm by Daryl Gregory *

Something with superheroes and very boring; just browsed fast through it, again a story that is very divergent from my tastes and life is just too short to spend time on such...

Exhalation by Ted Chiang *****++ - not available in the ebook edition but available free online HERE

Ted Chiang
writes two kinds of stories - masterpieces and "just" excellent. His collection Stories of Your Life
is a *must* for any speculative fiction lover; Exhalation is another masterpiece about a race of beings with brains made of gold and powered by air-pressure differentials which live in an air pocket inside a solid universe. Perfect!!

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by David Moles *****+

This is just a zany story about virtual reality personas, AI's and much more; it starts like this:

"The twinks fell into Dragontown out of the noonday sun..."

and if that does not hook you I do not know what will.

The Rabbi's Hobby by Peter S. Beagle ** 1/2

Another story that does not quite matches my taste, this time with ghosts, but I managed to finish it

The Seventh Expression of the Robot General by Jeffrey Ford *****

The Robot General of the title leads human settlers in war against aliens; however the story is more about the psychology of conflict than the fighting per se; I loved it

Skin Deep by Richard Parks *1/2

Back to another story that left me cold; I finished it but quickly forgot what it was about - something fantasy-like

Ex Cathedra by Tony Daniel ***** ++

Tony Daniel is another writer whose stories are among my all time favorites and some of his best are available free online at Infinity Plus. Ex Cathedra is another marvelous story - sense of wonder in spades and beautiful writing; just to give you a hint, humanity builds the Cathedral of Truth and Justice with 2% of the Galactic mass and using time-travelers as architects and builders; how, why and much more are left for the readers to find out

Truth Window: A Tale of the Bedlam Rose by Terry Dowling *****

Excellent story about a post-invasion much reduced humanity and the three "bridge races" that are governing it. I found the mixture of styles in the aliens talk a bit stretching, but the story was still another one I loved a lot

Fury by Alastair Reynolds *****+

Another excellent story from Mr. Reynolds who has always been a great short fiction writer in addition to his 8 so far extraordinary to very good novels that I read on publication and enjoyed all.

This time Mr. Reynolds abandons the no-ftl stance of most of his fiction and takes us to a Galactic Empire 32k years in the future governed by a benevolent emperor who founded it in the mists of time; beyond human and mostly guiding the vast Empire which is in fact a Confederacy of more or less autonomous regions, The Emperor floats in a tank in his Palace wearing a succession of bodies and being protected by Mercurio his trusted aide and chief bodyguard; when an assassination attempt kills one body of the Emperor and with a bit of added lethality could have killed the Emperor himself, Mercurio investigates and he finds out many truths buried in the red sands of another planet in another time; just superb


Chad Hull said...

I recently finished this collection as well. I think my taste in fiction is changing... none of the works in this volume truly resonated with me. There was plenty of good writing and even some scattered originality but nothing that stuck with me upon completion or that made me daydream while I was at work.

I much preferred Strahan's The Best Science fiction and fantasy of the year Volume 2 to this particular collection. I felt it was more diversified in addition to having more profound writing.

Oh yeah, I love this site.

Liviu said...

I cannot argue with the above since for me taste in fiction is the most important factor in deciding what to read and I know very well how it changes sometimes quite fast. It's easy to burn out on one type of stories or on one type of author style and I always try to mix those and anthologies are very useful for that.

On the other hand for some years now there has been a core group of authors that consistently have been producing works on my taste and this anthology has several of them as well as some quite positive surprises.

The only story I was surprised not to like was by Nancy Kress since I tend to like her writing.

Anonymous said...

I recently purchased the ebook from webscriptions and had to check this review to see which stories were omitted. I am pleased to report that both the Lanagan and Chiang stories are now included in the ebook. As far as I can tell it is now the complete text of the paper version.

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