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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Other Earths by Nick Gevers (ed) and Jay Lake (ed) (reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Daw Books Website
Official Jay Lake Website
Order “Other Earths

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 like this one.

Other Earths is an anthology based on the theme of "what if?" but with less emphasis on high level politics or military action usually associated with the sub-genre of alt-history and more with regular people caught in unusual situations.

Though truly the book should be named Dog-Eared Paperback of My Life and other stories, since the Lucius Shepard novella is about 1/3 of the book and it's a great piece of storytelling that makes the anthology a must for any connoisseur of good sff. However there are lots of other excellent stories and only a few I could not connect to.

So in order of appearance in the book:

This Peaceable Land, or, The Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beecher Stowe by RC Wilson *****

With the same understated prose of his great sf novels like Spin, Mr Wilson posits a late 19th century US in which there was no civil war and slavery sort of withered on the vine due to public opinion and market forces, though it's still legal but rare in Southern states; but at what cost? And here it lies the crux of this powerful novella which shows that sometimes war and its suffering is better than compromise and its hidden costs. Excellent!

The Goat Variations by Jeff Vandermeer **

Written in Mr. Vandermeer superb prose, the content annoyed me greatly and I disliked the story immensely; I think beating up on "W" - the former US president of course - as is done in this story is in *very poor* taste whatever your political leanings - if you are on the right it's leftist nonsense, if you are on the left, hey the Universe cannot be so cruel that "W" was president/king in all those alternate universes Mr. Vandermeer imagines and read those poor schoolkids the same book when disaster struck.

The Unblinking Eye by Stephen Baxter *****

Great story about an Inca modern state and a backward Europe. And there is a good reason for this reversal of fortunes, due to some cosmological happenings that I would not spoil for you, but are in the tradition of Mr. Baxter superb hard sf. Full of irony with characters like reverend Darwin of the dominant Christus-Ra church of Europe, Isaac Newton the now dead, but famous religious scholar and alchemist that proved the Earth is 5000 years old by studying the Scripture, Jenny Cook of the coal-magnate house founded by James Cook and so on... Just superb!

Csilla's Story by Theodora Goss *****

Another excellent story, this time about a persecuted race of elves coexisting and hiding from humanity across centuries. Superb lyrical prose.

Winterborn by Liz Williams *****

An alternate Elizabethan England with magic; great stuff with a more Gothic feeling in the tradition of Ms. Williams writing.

Donovan Sent Us by Gene Wolfe *****

Gene Wolfe rocks with a Nazis defeated Britain story with a twist; and the ending is awesome.

The Holy City and Em's Reptile Farm by Greg van Eekhout *

This one I found unreadable; hard to say why, but the words just did not connect for me in a coherent whole as they seemed written in a language I did not understand; something with Templars and the Holy City.

The Receivers by Alastair Reynolds *** 1/2

Another good story from Mr. Reynolds about music in a Great War that was going strong in the 30's. However not up to Mr. Reynolds usual mind-boggling stories.

A Family History by Paul Park *****

A great story about two alternate pasts both based on Napoleon's Egypt expedition and his near encounter with Nelson's fleet; in one Napoleon is captured and ends up governor of Louisiana for France, in another Nelson is defeated decisively and England sues for peace; in both Louisiana remains French and the story is about a young Frenchman there and his encounters with the marauding Americans. Great prose!

Dog-Eared Paperback of My Life by Lucius Shepard *****++

The piece of resistance of the anthology; it is about a bestselling genre writer receiving a "literary novel" by a writer with the same name; the investigation that follows takes our narrator to the Mekong river and the heart of darkness and includes girls, drugs, bar-fights, alternate universes and much, much more; though it's strictly speaking a Multiverse story rather than a pure "alt-history" one, it's just unbelievably good. The book is worth its price for this one story only, even forgetting all the goodies before.

Nine Alternate Alternate Histories by Benjamin Rosenbaum **

Any story coming after the previous one would have read flat, but this one is a very short one that tries to be deep and somewhat funny; I just found it almost unreadable, though thankfully it is very, very short.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Just a note that the bulk of my story is about a W who isn't a jerk at all. Am happy u found it in poor taste however. - JeffV

Liviu said...

In general I find any kind of fiction about a living "famous" person - especially a politician - sort of annoying and I avoid it.

That's irrespective of my view of said person and the alternate "W" with the adepts and the time machine was still pathetic in my opinion.

But great style for the story and I hope others enjoy it :)

Mihai A. said...

Very good review, Liviu. This anthology sounds great. And I am glad that the piece of resistance is Lucius Shepard's story, because I really like this author's works :)

Liviu said...

I was not sure about it - I checked out the earlier AI anthology from Daw that was published a month or so ago and while there were some cool stories, I was not that impressed overall, but the moment I opened this one in the bookstore I knew I *had* to buy it asap and indeed it was great.

Another recent anthology from Daw (March) that may be of interest is Ages of Wonder; was more mixed on it and put some thoughts on Goodreads/sffworld, but if you do not get bored with fairies/elves/mythological beings story after story, it's not bad.

The best story is by a Romanian born author Costi Gurgu and is the last; also the 2nd story that starts with "It's lonely to be the only horse in Hell" is great too, while the rest 15 or so, some I liked, some I did not care for

raul said...

liviu, with apologies, i find your assesment fo J vandameer's story dishonest.

in another place, you reviewed at least one john ringo novel with great enthusiasm and all of his(and baen books in general) as thinly-veiled political tracts with facsimiles of real world politicians not being able to be portrayed more obviously.

you didn't like it because of your political leanings. just be honest and don't beat around the bush with excuses next time.

Liviu said...

Well, the difference is in many important things - characters - in Mr. Ringo's case for example in the book you refer too, most likely one of the Ghost series, the politicians are there - sure it's W and his cronies unnamed but clear from the reference, but the book has really nothing to do with them, while Mr. Vandermeer's story has *everything* to do with W, from the tics associated like "staring in the person eyes to assess him", to reading a boring story to poor kids when disaster strikes.

So if the story would have referred to our current President for which I proudly voted btw and I like for now at least, or to the President before W about whom you could write unflattering stories galore but I actually liked a lot too, I would have found it as distasteful as this one.

I had a lot of the same criticism btw for Last Centurion by Mr. Ringo which strayed too much into a direct attack on another politician who was presumed to become the next President; she did not, but that's another story.

Regarding politics, well I do not really want to enter that much into since the Internet is not really suited to unless you are card carrying member of the commited left like Mr. Vandermeer or Mr. Morgan (imho - and that does not stop me buying and enjoying their books by and large) or right like Mr Ringo or Mr. Asher for that matter (same comment as before regarding books), but let's put it like this, I grew up under one of the worst communist regimes in Europe so obviously I have a very cynical view of calls for the "sharing for the common good", on the other hand I find dictates on morality on religious or other similar grounds as bad too.


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