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Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF" edited by Jetse de Vries (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official Jetse de Vries Website
Official Solaris Books Website
Order "Shine" HERE

INTRODUCTION:
"Shine" is an anthology that comes with a lot of hype and an introduction that is utterly misleading - or maybe it's me and Mr. de Vries having quite different definitions of the terms *sf* and *optimistic* - since what Shine is about is mostly *mundane near future sf* extrapolated from current headlines, or sometimes even yesterday's headlines like carbon trading - and by optimistic, Mr. de Vries means something that to me is almost Utopian considering what human history teaches us - it's almost as for the editor, human history starts with the glimmers of the computer age so optimism is judged against the expectation of the tech bubble and not against thousands of years of history in which most women died in childbirth or aged prematurely due to such, most children died in infancy, most people were illiterate and never traveled more than a little beyond their surroundings and so on...

This being said, "Shine" starts with a bang with six stories that I enjoyed a lot and could not stop reading, but after that it became very hit and miss for me though several stories from the second part are quite touching but without the sf-nal intensity of the first ones.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION:
"Shine" stands at about 460 pages and consists of 16 stories and an introduction by the editor, while each story has also editorial comments about how it came to be included in the anthology. Many stories end with some relevant quote, sometimes from the author, sometimes from other authors from the anthology. "Shine" is an anthology of near future sf with very little speculation beyond what can be extrapolated from today's headlines and while good, I liked more the recent crop of original sf anthologies like New Space Opera 1 and 2, Solaris SF 1-3, Other Earths, Fast Forward 1-2, Eclipse 2 or Galactic Empires.

ANALYSIS: Since I discussed above about the thematic of Shine, I will now talk about each story a little.


The Earth of Yunhe
, Eric Gregory

In the relocated village of Little Yunhe, Yuen the daughter of the "village chief" tries to save her brother Xiao who has "defected" in college to Ecclesia, a transnational organization that plays the role of a state in this environmentally troubled Earth, only to return with a discovery that may allow Yunhe to be "grounded on soil" again. However Xiao is regarded as impious and "heretic" and his brash manners on return did not help, so he got flung in jail by his father. An excellent story that works at all levels - world building, action, inventiveness and characters and a superb start to the anthology.

The Greenman Watches the Black Bar Go Up, Up, Up, Jacques Barcia

In a near future Recife, Brazil, Inacio Lima a middle aged former "green soldier", haunted by the untimely death of his husband Lucio, works as a "sustainability consultant" when he is approached by some mysterious foreigners to investigate Gear5, a company that is supposed to announce a new revolutionary product and is buying carbon credits like mad. The investigation will carry Inacio to unexpected places and encounters. Another superb story that works as atmosphere, style, characters and world building.

Note: J. Barcia has been an occasional contributor to Fantasy Book Critic

Overhead, Jason Stoddard

For me this was the best story of the anthology and not surprising it is the one that involves exploration of Outer Space, namely a colony on the dark side of the moon - so it stays out of touch with humanity except for regular deliveries of technology and people that want to join - where humanity can "reboot" if needed and where the rules are designed to create a better society. In a past thread that mixes with the current one and explains how the colony came to be, we follow executive Roy Parekh setting up an insurance company with a twist. Sense of wonder, memorable characters and a superb ending made "Overhead" a story that induced me to follow Mr. Stoddard's career from now on. I would love a novel that would expand this story since I think the necessary depth is there.

Summer Ice, Holly Phillips

After the 3 very sfnal stories above, here is a tale of a painter that inspires a renewal in a run-down city. The main strength of
Summer Ice is its great style and the story also works beautifully as a change of pace from the fast and furious of the previous three.

Sustainable Development, Paula R. Stiles

A short and funny story with a twist about African women using considerable ingenuity to help with their backbreaking work.

The Church of Accelerated Redemption, Gareth L. Powell & Aliette de Bodard

The second personal favorite of the anthology, this story starts quietly enough with the struggles of Lisa a young American expatriate in Paris; seduced by the charm of the city, she remained after her university days to work as a hardware tech consultant for a French boss who does not particularly like her and gives her the worst jobs nobody else wants; one such job involves fixing some servers for a new cult,
The Church of Accelerated Redemption, which has a crazy-sounding way to "redemption", way that would seem quite over the top unless you read today's headlines. When a demonstration against the exploitation of the AI's that the church supposedly uses for the "accelerated" part, keeps Lisa in the church headquarters, she becomes fascinated by a mysterious protester dressed in Bedouin garb; she seeks him out and gets involved with - read the story to find out!

While not particularly ground-breaking, this one has an excellent style and Lisa is a very endearing character that you cannot stop rooting for.

The Solnet Ascendancy, Lavie Tidhar

This was the first story of the anthology that bored me profoundly and I just fast read it to put a check mark so to speak; the story is about connecting the isolated Vanuatu to the global network and the author just did not make me care a jot about that.

Twittering the Stars, Mari Ness

The one story I disliked immensely for its twitter format; for me this kind of short paragraphs interspersed with the twitter paraphernalia is annoying in the extreme; otherwise the content seemed interesting enough with a space expedition and some biology experiments, but I just hate fiction formatted like that...

Seeds, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Another short and funny story with a twist, this time about Mexican farmers outwitting a multinational corporation that tries to control their livelihood.

At Budokan, Alastair Reynolds

Another unexpected disappointment considering how much I tend to enjoy Mr. Reynolds' novels and short stories; I guess that the heavy metal themeof this one turned me off from the start and the author just could not interest me in a subject that leaves me cold. Readers that find "Ghoul Group was the world’s first all-dead rock act" interesting will probably enjoy the story, but for me the above sentence is a "run away from here" one and I fast read the story to check mark it.

Sarging Rasmussen: A Report (by Organic), Gord Sellar

This is a story that has annoying jargon, acronyms and style that made it unreadable for me beyond parsing the words so I would not comment more on it.

Scheherazade Cast in Starlight, Jason Andrew

A story based on current headlines about the Iranian unrest, short and more fantasy-nal than anything in content since it assumes ruthless powers are easily defeated by the voice of the powerless, contrary to what thousands of years of history teach us , namely that only outside defeats or generational loss of will dislodge the truly ruthless from power.

Russian Roulette 2020, Eva Maria Chapman

“Take it off?” Wingnut was incredulous. “What do you mean, take it off? Hey, MV, Colleen’s telling us to take off our ZiSleeves!"

The opening lines above are *so not for me* that I read only cursorily this one to make sure that it continues the same which indeed it does; again something that I cannot make sense beyond parsing the words so I did not try.

Castoff World, Kay Kenyon

A story about the "friendship" between the orphan Child and Nora, a "Nanobotic Oceanic Refuse Accumulator” aka "an ocean garbage eating artificial island" which is Child's only known home. While a bit too short, this story hearkens back to the traditional lost in the world adventure and it's wonderful.

Paul Kishosha’s Children, Ken Edgett

A touching story about scientist Paul Kishosha who returns to Tanzania and inspires a country through his stories about "Joe the Martian Adventures"; wonderful and lyrical.

Ishin, Madeline Ashby

When I read the praise heaped upon the author in the editor's notes I had very high expectations here and to my surprise this story did not make that much sense to me. I got its gist but I cannot say I cared about anything here, from the two main characters to the
imagined technology, only the style which was ok'ish made me finish it.


All in all Shine rates a B+ for me.

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