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Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Speculative Horizons" Edited by Patrick St-Denis (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

(Pre) Order Speculative Horizons HERE
Official Subteranean Press Website

Here is the blurb from the editor Patrick St. Denis:

Speculative fiction is wide in scope and styles, and Speculative Horizons showcases the talent and storytelling skills of five of the genre’s most imaginative voices:

In C. S. Friedman’s “Soul Mate,” it’s love at first sight for Josie at the arts and crafts festival when she meets the handsome Stephan Mayeaux. It all sounds too good to be true until her newfound boyfriend starts to act strangely and unexplained occurrences begin to take place around her.

In Tobias S. Buckell’s “The Eve of the Fall of Habesh,” contragnartii Jazim must carry out one final assignment before the armies of the Sea People lay waste to the city he loves.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr. returns to the universe of his bestselling Recluce saga in “The Stranger.” A young herder’s existence will be forever changed by the unexpected arrival of the black-clad man recounting tales of angels living on the summit of the Roof of the World.

In “Flint,” Brian Ruckley introduces us to a young and inexperienced shaman who must venture into the spirit world to discover the source of the sickness which afflicts his tribe before they are all wiped out.

Talk to any cop working for Homicide, Narcotics, or Vice, and they’ll tell you that they get the worst cases imaginable. But in Hal Duncan’s “The Death of a Love,” you realize that they have nothing on Erocide."

Since there has been a lot of talk about the anthology, I decided to read the review copy I had got several days ago and somewhat to my surprise it hooked me, so "Speculative Horizons" became the first anthology I have read end-to-end and quite liked so far in 2010 since Shine left me a bit underwhelmed especially considering the hype it came with.

ANALYSIS: "Speculative Horizons" has a striking and superb cover while on the inside page there is another illustration that is beautiful and adds to the theme of "strangeness" that is the only one I could think of after reading the five very diverse stories inside. Each story has a short introduction by its author talking a bit about its genesis, while the anthology ends with a note from the editor discussing how it came to be.


Soul Mate by CS Friedman

In a contemporary urban setting, a young woman writer with a designer friend meets a striking man who owns an upscale gallery in their resort town and soon believes she has been very lucky to find a perfect "soul-mate" for her.

The story is exquisitely done and it flows inexorably toward the relatively familiar twist ending; despite that I could see very early where the story goes, it did not matter since the execution was perfect (A+)


The Eve of the Fall of Habesh by Tobias Buckell

In a slightly ironic twist, this story uses a magic system quite similar to the one employed by CS Friedman in her latest mostly superb Magister series, where magic is paid by life shortening.

The overall thrust is quite different since in the settled cities of the coast who are under attack by the "sea people", magic is rationed by the state so to speak - partly due to its cost as above, partly due to the possible consequences if anyone gets too powerful - so everyone granted magical ability, is allowed only one "type" of such and teaching/sharing is heresy punishable by death.

The narrator is a special agent - contragnartii - of the government who has as his own power the ability to snuff the magic of others; while his city of Habesh prepares for siege, he is sent to "de-magic" a beggar who has unseemly abused his "air blast" ability. When some runaway children intervene, unexpected things start happening.

This is the best and most powerful story of the anthology both in content and in style and an A++ while I would love a novel based on its world.


The Stranger by LE Modesitt

Set in the world of the Recluce Saga - on Candar at around the time the "Angels" came and defeated the might of Lornth and later destroyed Cyador - this is the familiar story of a mysterious stranger passing by and changing the lives of the local people who meet him.

A knowledge of the Recluce saga is not really necessary to enjoy
The Stranger since after all we have seen its type both in various literary genres as well as on screen; since as usual execution matters considerably more than "originality", I quite liked this instance of the familiar story since it is very well done in LE Modesitt's clear prose.

For readers unfamiliar with
Recluce, The Stranger may be the hook needed to try and discover why that fantasy series is so popular that so far it got some 15+ novels in various sub-arcs covering a span of 1800+ years (A)


Flint by Brian Ruckley

A sort of Stone Age with magic story, I have to say I did not really care that much for Flint, but if you like its premise, it may work better for you. Both the naming conventions (Flint, Hare, Fifth Moon) and the style of the story did not quite work for me since I am not that big a fan of "natural state humanity" as opposed to "settled humanity" stories though it definitely makes for a change of pace and subject in the anthology (C)


The Death of a Love by Hal Duncan

This short but dense piece reads more like one of the author's famous rants, profanities and all, than a story, though it's a kind of detective tale in an unusual context. I cannot say I cared that much for The Death of a Love as a story, but it made for an interesting 18 pages nonetheless since the author has quite an unique style. (B)


Overall "Speculative Horizons" achieves a sense of "strangeness" and by mixing styles and subjects it offers quite a variety despite its relatively short 5 stories/120 odd pages. For me the first three stories - especially the superb first and awesome second - made it a worthwhile reading experience which ranks an A.



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