This was an uneven collection. After a wonderful introduction, in which the editor explained what she wanted to do differently, we get two original an...moreThis was an uneven collection. After a wonderful introduction, in which the editor explained what she wanted to do differently, we get two original and exciting stories with a strong female viewpoint.
Unfortunately the next stories were less impressive. It's always a matter of taste, especially when it comes to short fiction, but I felt a strong disappointment to hit one mediocre story after the other. Things got better when I reached two of my favourite contemporary authors (Aliette de Bodard and Ken Liu) and both can be highly recommended but after that it was again hit and miss.
It's hard to give a final verdict. Usually I can attest that stories are well written and that even though they didn't grab me other people might enjoy them. This collection is different and I was surprised to find light and shadow so close together. Maybe the introduction raised the expectations too high, or maybe the mastership of some of the authors let the others pale much more than usual.
If you get the anthology for a good price then don't hesitate. The good stories are well worth your time.
The stories in detail (A=excellent, B=good, C=didn't like it)
“Finders” by Melissa Scott (A) A space adventure that felt a lot like Pohl's Gateway.
“Bad Day on Boscobel” by Alexander Jablokov (A) Interesting world building with good characters.
“In Colors Everywhere” by Nisi Shawl (C) I couldn't get into the story.
“Mission of Greed” by Sue Lange (C) Another uninteresting story I couldn't get into.
“Sailing the Antarsa” by Vandana Singh (C) Interesting premise but very slow execution, especially with the flashbacks. Couldn't grab me.
“Landfall from the Blood Star Frontier” by Joan Slonczewski (C) The use of all these spanish words turned me off. It's no problem to use some but not to an extent where the reading flow is broken.
“This Alakie and the Death of Dima” by Terry Boren (C) Again a story I couldn't get into. Carefully told but I couldn't care less about what was going on.
“The Waiting Stars”by Aliette de Bodard (A) Great story with some unexpected turns. One plot line is pure space adventure while the second hints at a huge space opera. Recommended.
“The Shape of Thought” by Ken Liu (A) How does language influences the way someone thinks and behaves? This is a very smart story that doesn't shy away from some tough conflicts. It's interesting to note that such a topic is explored in SF, e.g. Embassytown, The Languages of Pao or Ted Chiang's "Stories of your life" immediately come into my mind. Well done!
“Under Falna’s Mask” by Alex Dally MacFarlane (C) Was this SF? I found the talk about the battle pretty boring after a while and nothing held my interest in this story.
“Mimesis” by Martha Wells (A) A colorful story featuring an exotic fauna. The author doesn't quite succeed at making the society plausible but I enjoyed it very much.
“Velocity’s Ghost” by Kelly Jennings (B) This is a story about a female space vagabond. It overwhelms the reader a bit with information but after a while I couldn't put it down. Too bad that it ends so abruptly and I can only hope that the author expands her space opera into a novel.
“Exit, Interrupted” C.W. Johnson (C) I found the whole idea of "in" and "out" doors ridiculous and didn't enjoy the story.
“Dagger and Mask” by Cat Rambo (A) Cat Rambo is another favorite author of mine. This story is a careful dance between an assassin and his target, the captain of a spaceship who has made herself some powerful enemies. Highly recommended!
“Ouroboros” by Christine Lucas (C) Rather strange story that didn't appeal to me.
“Cathedral” by Jack McDevitt (B) Routinely told story where I missed something special. (less)
An interesting mix of fantasy and Roman mythology. I loved the first story in the collection which serves as a great introduction into the world of Ta...moreAn interesting mix of fantasy and Roman mythology. I loved the first story in the collection which serves as a great introduction into the world of Tansy Roberts. The second one was good as well with nice twists but the last two were a bit too ordinary and didn't touch me. Female readers might enjoy them more than I did.(less)
Four very strong and unique stories that deal with ghosts in different forms. Margo Lanagan's writing really got under my skin and I had some creepy m...moreFour very strong and unique stories that deal with ghosts in different forms. Margo Lanagan's writing really got under my skin and I had some creepy moments. I've always loved her style but the topics she writes about are usually more miss than hit for me. Not this time though and I can wholeheartly recommend this collection - but beware, these are not ordinary fantasy story!(less)
For whatever reason I have read volume 1 and 3 but never this one. Probably there was a negative review somewhere that influenced me but in light of t...moreFor whatever reason I have read volume 1 and 3 but never this one. Probably there was a negative review somewhere that influenced me but in light of the upcoming volume 4, which has been financed through a kickstarter project by the community, it was time to complete my collection. I didn't regret it - it's the best volume with 6 five star and 4 four star stories! My favorites are in bold.
Claude Lalumière, Three Friends (5/5) Engaging story about three friends with unusual talents: "The Boy Who Speaks With Walls", "The Girl Who Eats Fire" and "The Kid Whose Laughter Makes Adults Run Away". It's basically about friendship and growing up but the surreal setting and the great characters makes it strange and beautiful.
Leah Bobet, Six (2/5) A rather weak story about the 6th child of a family in which the 7th has the highest value. The setting is nice but the I found the style annoying. Instead of he or she, the author too often uses "Six" so it reads like a story for children (Six does this, Six does that, Six makes this, ...)
Marie Brennan, Once a Goddess (4/5) A girl who was once the avatar of a goddess must return to normal life. After being away for many years she struggles hard to get along but finally finds a new task for her. An interesting story that requires some work from the reader. My only complain is that it doesn't manage to leave its own boundaries, there is nothing that will stick with me.
Ian McHugh, Angel Dust (4/5) Fantastic story about a statue that suddenly comes alive. She gets help from a minotaur but a war is coming into town and brings nothing but chaos. A bittersweet story with a cool background.
Ann Leckie, The Endangered Camp (5/5) Very interesting story about dinosaurs who want to travel to Mars. This summary might sound a bit flat but believe me, the execution is great.
Mary Robinette Kowal, At the Edge of Dying (5/5) A sorcerer gets his magical power from the goddess of Death. The closer he is to dying, the more powerful he is. When war comes to the kingdom, he has an idea how to turn the tables quickly. It ends in a clash of sorcerers... Another story with a great setting and an engaging love story. Very touching!
Saladin Ahmed, Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela (5/5) A young physician has been sent as punishment far away into a small village. While quarrelling with his fate he is sent for by Abdel Jameela, a man who lives in isolation and who seems to hide a dark secret. Fantastic story, the best of the whole volume!
Tanith Lee, The Pain of Glass (4/5) Nice story about a special piece of glass. In flashbacks we learn more about the unusual circumstances that led to its creation until the story moves forward again. I liked it and with a bit less drama in the middle part it would have earned one more star.
Joanna Galbraith, The Fish of Al-Kawthar's Fountain (5/5) A story about a special fountain and a swarm of very special fishes. In a light mood it tells about love, inspiration and sacrifice.
Catherynne M. Valente, The Secret History of Mirrors (2/5) Catherynne has a talent with words, no doubt about it, but I struggle to put the pieces together to understand the meaning. It's an unusual take at the story of Snow White but I am afraid I don't get it.
Forrest Aguirre, Never nor Ever (2/5) Another story that left me puzzled. It's unusual and it challenges the reader so I welcome that it has been included but I am afraid it's not for me.
Gemma Files and Stephen J. Barringer, each thing i show you is a piece of my death (5/5) Wow, what a scary piece. Told in a mix of reports, emails and chats we learn about the mysterious "Background Man" who suddenly appears in film material. Amazing how creepy it gets by just adding one part after the other until we see the whole picture.
Kelly Barnhill, Open the Door and the Light Pours Through (4/5) Most readers will have an idea what it's all about after a couple of pages but nevertheless I enjoyed it.
Barbara Krasnoff, Rosemary, That's For Remembrance (3/5) Looking through the eyes of a woman who is old now and suffers from Alzheimer. Maybe it is like that, maybe not, for me the story was too short and doesn't show enough to be memorable. The reader leaves the scene when it starts to get more interesting - the interaction with the rest of the world, but obviously this wasn't the focus anyway.
Steve Rasnic Tem, When We Moved On (2/5) Well written but I didn't get the point.
As this is a German story collection I will write the review in German.
Es war mal wieder an der Zeit, einen Blick auf die deutschen SF Kurzgeschichte...moreAs this is a German story collection I will write the review in German.
Es war mal wieder an der Zeit, einen Blick auf die deutschen SF Kurzgeschichten Autoren zu werfen. In letzter Zeit habe ich fast ausschließlich englische Stories gelesen und war dementsprechend verwöhnt. "Die Audienz" hat mich neugierig gemacht, weil einige Geschichten für den Kurd Lasswitz Preis nominiert wurden.
"Die Audienz", Frank W. Haubold (4/5): gut geschriebene Story mit einem interessanten Gleichnis. Nicht leicht zu verstehen, aber lesenswert.
"Hör auf die Wahrsagerin, Nishka", Bruna Phlox (5/5): sehr wilde Story, in der virtuelle und reale Welt gekonnt miteinander vermischt werden. Genau mein Geschmack.
"Sarah", Bernhard Schneider (1/5): in Wissenschaftler versucht, seine kranke Tochter zu retten. Der Stil hat mir überhaupt nicht gefallen. Die vielen kurzen Sätze machen das Lesen unruhig und die Geschichte selbst bietet nichts Neues.
"Ein Schiff wird kommen", Regina Schleheck (1/5): eine ältere Agentin versucht, unerklärliche Vorkommnisse auf einem Schiff zu klären. Die Hauptfigur war mir sehr unsympathisch und der Stil hat mir nicht gefallen. Sorry, nicht mein Geschmack.
"Ausgespielt", Christian Weis (2/5): erneut eine Geschichte, wo mir der Stil nicht gefallen hat. Der Inhalt war okay, der verschwundene Sohn eines reichen Geschäftmannes wird gesucht. Es gibt einige nette SF Details, aber es fehlte das gewisse Etwas.
"Finja-Danielas Totenwache", Nadine Boos (3/5): Finja-Danielas Körper liegt im Sterben und ihr Bewusstsein wird in einen jungen Klon übertragen. Die Autorin gestaltet den Übergang auch typographisch, was zu einem interessanten Erlebnis wird. Die belanglosen Gespräche auf der Party fand ich reichlich öde. Entweder ist mir hier etwas entgangen oder es steckt wirklich nicht mehr dahinter.
"Der geborgte Himmel", Christian Günther (1/5): die Marskolonisten reisen zurück zur Erde. Eine Handvoll Leute beschließt, auf dem Mars zu bleiben. Die Grundidee ist nett, aber die Umsetzung lässt jegliche Spannung vermissen und die Motivation der Personen unklar. Vor 50 Jahren hätte ich sowas durchgehen lassen, aber heute nicht mehr.
"Lebenslichter", Karla Schmidt (4/5): in nicht allzu ferner Zukunft werden die Krankenversicherungskosten für ältere Leute regelmäßig neu festgesetzt. Mara arbeitet in der entsprechenden Abteilung, doch eines Tages gerät ihr Leben durcheinander. Sehr interessante Vision mit einigen guten Ideen. Einzige Schwäche sind die Charaktere, mit denen ich nicht richtig warm wurde.
"Phönix", Armin Rößler (2/5): seit 14 Jahren wird versucht, ein Brand im Zaum zu halten. Bei einer seiner Löschmissionen wird der Pilot gegen seinem Willen von einem Kamerateam begleitet. Sehr gut geschrieben, aber der Inhalt ging komplett an mir vorbei. Entweder hätte man sie länger machen oder etwas anderes in den Mittelpunkt rücken müssen. Sorry, Armin, das war nichts für mich.
"Der Erste Roboter", Arnold H. Bucher (1/5): ein Roboter soll neu programmiert werden und wehrt sich dagegen. Technisch vielleicht plausibel, inhaltlich aber ein totales Desaster.
Ungefähr hier begann ich, an der deutschen SF Kurzgeschichte zu zweifeln, aber es sollte noch schlimmer kommen.
"Lod, Lad, Chine", Andreas Flögel (1/5): sehr holprige Geschichte über einen Mord in einer ungewöhnlichen Gesellschaft. Stilistisch überhaupt nicht mein Geschmack und auch der Inhalt kann nicht begeistern.
"Ich töte dich nach meinem Tod", Kai Riedemann (4/5): noch ein Mordfall, aber diese Geschichte ist viel besser geschrieben mit einem meiner Lieblingsthemen: virtuelle Realität.
"Kamele, Kuckucksuhren und Bienen", Heidrun Jänchen (1/5): Wissenschaftler finden auf einem fernen Planeten ungewöhnliche Pflanzen. 70 Jahre früher (man erinnere sich an die Mars Odyssee) wäre die Geschichte okay gewesen, aber aus heutiger Sicht fand ich sie enttäuschend, ohne Pepp. Die aufgesetzt fröhlichen Charaktere gaben mir schließlich den Rest.
"Auslese", Jakob Schmidt (5/5): Fleischengel holen sich krebskranke Menschen um Informationen auszulesen. Wundervolle Geschichte, hervorragend erzählt. Zwar ohne tiefere Botschaft aber sehr amüsant.
"Hitze", Andrea Tillmanns (4/5): Energie ist rationiert, Benzin ist teuer - die Zukunft ist wahrlich nicht rosig. Wir alle wissen wozu die Menschen dann fähig sind. Sehr gut erzählte Geschichte, auch wenn sie nicht allzuviel Neues bieten kann.
"Ende der Jagdsaison auf Orange", Karsten Kruschel (5/5): Orange ist ein Planet mit ungewöhnlichen Tieren und wird von einem Pharma Konzern für seine Zwecke ausgenutzt. Die Siedler versuchen möglichst unbemerkt zu überleben, aber auch sie geraten ins Visier. Eine klasse Geschichte, erinnerte mich ein wenig an Neal Asher. Die Charaktere sind gut ausgearbeitet und auch die Handlung weiß zu überzeugen.
Fazit 3/5: Von den 16 Geschichten haben mir 7 gut gefallen so dass ich das Buch mit Vorbehalt empfehlen kann. Zwischendurch war ich schwer enttäuscht von dem, was in der Sammlung angeboten wird. Negativ ist mir aufgefallen, dass die Hälfte der Geschichten stilistisch keinen hohen Anspruch hatte. Flott geschrieben ja, aber ohne Lyrik, doppelten Boden oder besonderer Sorgfalt bei den Charakteren. Da bin ich im englischen Sprachraum einen höheren Standard gewohnt.(less)
Nakada is a military doctor on a special mission. After the detonation of a bomb with thousands of victims she is sent to cure the leader of the group...moreNakada is a military doctor on a special mission. After the detonation of a bomb with thousands of victims she is sent to cure the leader of the group who is suspected to be responsible for it.
The prose of David Moles is rich and beautiful, he has created a unique world with struggling religious powers. It's easy to feel sympathy with the main character Nakada and during the course of events the reader learns how torn she is. Her voyage is much more than a simple mission.
The end was a small disappointment - something was missing. The story fades out and and leaves the reader on his own. It deserves to be part of something bigger. If you go to the publisher's webpage you will find a lot of background information that is not included in the novella. What a pity! Maybe the author plans to write more stories in this world, I would be happy to read them.
Update Feb 2011: I messaged the author about a sequel. His reply: I'm not currently working on anything directly related to "Seven Cities", but you never know.(less)
This collection contains 14 stories of a talented british author. A trademark are the characters. Most of them realize that their own life is shallow...moreThis collection contains 14 stories of a talented british author. A trademark are the characters. Most of them realize that their own life is shallow and that something is missing but whenever they think they are on the right track they actually end up in another dead end. For a short time they can escape their feeling of being lost and these are the moments that Chris Beckett has captured, knowing that around the corner the next disappointment is waiting.
My highlights are
- The Marriage of Sky and Sea: a space traveller who writes books about his journeys has to face a decision that turns his life upside down - The Turing Test and We Could be Sisters, a mix of virtual reality, dark lookout into the future and a woman trying to fill a void in her life - The Perimeter and Piccadilly Circus, describing a world in which most people live a virtual life. Only few have remained in the physical world and face a conflict of what it means to be alive and what is real. After Matrix the idea might look old but the author looks at it from a new angle.
- Jazamine in the Green Wood: men have been hit by an epidemic and the women, now in a leading role, try everything to keep their number small. This story could have needed more pages but it's interesting and features torn characters. - La Macchina deals with artificial intelligence in a society that condemns it. This one hit a spot and I liked it a lot although the end came too early. - Valour, a story about how an alien philosophy could change our thinking, however, at the end it goes nowhere and forgets to make a point.
Going nowhere, this would be my biggest criticism about almost all stories. The ideas are there and the characters are interesting, however, only in the highlights mentioned above something stuck with me and became more than just a forgettable snapshot.
The other stories I didn't enjoy much.
Overall 5 very good stories, 3 good ones and 6 rather boring although other readers might like them. It's not the new big hit that I wished for but I can recommend it to all who enjoy character driven stories that might end without a happy-end.(less)
A spoilerless review of the stories. My faourites are marked bold.
Marie Brennan, The Gospel of Nachash (5/5)
Very interesting story with a biblical bac...moreA spoilerless review of the stories. My faourites are marked bold.
Marie Brennan, The Gospel of Nachash (5/5)
Very interesting story with a biblical background, adding another dimension to the creation of men.
Tori Truslow, Tomorrow Is Saint Valentine's Day (1/5)
I couldn't get into the story, the way how it's told made it hard for me to connect to the events and characters.
Georgina Bruce, Crow Voodoo (5/5)
Dark, creepy story about a special kind of magic. Highly recommended, it's strange and beautiful.
Michael M. Jones, Your Name Is Eve (4/5)
Well written mysterious story, dreams of other people are used by a couple to meet each other. The end cannot completely convince me, but it's worth reading.
Gemma Files, Hell Friend (2/5)
Frightening story but not my cup of tea.
C.S.E. Cooney, Braiding the Ghosts (2/5)
Another ghost story, again not my cup of tea. My main complain, and this is my fault as reader, is that it's just a fairy tale without a special moral and not enjoyable enough.
Cat Rambo, Surrogates (5/5)
What a fantastic story. A girl uses a special device to change how she experiences the world around her. It's easy to spoil such an idea but Cat Rambo hits the spot. Recommended!
Gregory Frost, Lucyna's Gaze (1/5)
Disgusting story, I was upset after reading it. It adds nothing new, it just uses snippets from here and there without exploring the emotional depth of the characters.
Shweta Narayan, Eyes of Carven Emerald (2/5)
Two interwoven stories, I didn't like the frame story much but the inner narrative, taken from an Aremenian folklore tale, was new and interesting.
S.J. Hirons, Dragons of America (5/5)
Next to Surrogates my favourite story. The author takes the time to describe a future where dragons exist. They are the source for magic. A rather desperate student needs to steal the egg of such a beast to improve his social status. What I like is that the author not just comes up with an adventure story but that he has something to say about the humans living in a rough world and harsh society. The picture completely convinced me.
John Grant, Where Shadows Go at Low Midnight (3/5)
Well written but rather short and lightweight.
Kenneth Schneyer, Lineage" (5/5)
Experiences from different times are linked together. Hard to describe without telling too much. Nice idea and well told.
John C. Wright, "Murder in Metachronopolis" (1/5)
A complete mess. I liked the structure and the idea but the story is very flat and in the end it's just a thought experiment. And not a convincing one.
Nicole Kornher-Stace, To Seek Her Fortune (2/5)
Very weird story that I haven't completely understood. The end was a big letdown and not worth struggling through this piece.
Tanith Lee, Fold (2/5)
Tanith Lee is one of the authors I can't connect to. I didn't like her story in the first part of the anthology, and this one neither. Very well told, no doubt, but the message is so flat. A beautiful bubble that you like to watch, and when it bursts it's immediately forgotten.
Summary: 6 stories I liked, 1 okay and 8 that I didn't like. The two strongest stories come highly recommended while the other 4 are stretching your mind and get you out of the comfort zone. The weak stories were partly not my cup of tea (the ghost stories mainly), while others made me upset or annoyed me greatly. Such strong negative reactions are quite rare for me and makes it clear that the editor has a different taste.
3 stars out of 5 for the anthology, and I recommend it with reservations.(less)
This collection leaves an uneven impression with ups and downs. There are some stories I liked but there are more I couldn't get into, even after givi...moreThis collection leaves an uneven impression with ups and downs. There are some stories I liked but there are more I couldn't get into, even after giving some of them a second chance. However, I must applaud the editor Mike Allen for the interesting concept. Getting the reader out of the safety zone is an unusual and remarkable goal.
The stories in detail with the rating in brackets. My favorites are in bold.
Catherynne M. Valente, "The City of Blind Delight" (4/5)
I enjoyed the prose of Catherynne very much. However, the story itself was a little bit short to make a lasting impression.
David Sandner, "Old Foss is the Name of His Cat" (5/5)
Call me sentimental but this was a great story! In a fascinating way it reveals a deep relationship between a cat and an old man. I am not a big fan of cat stories so it was a pleasant surprise how the topic is dealt with.
John Grant, "All the Little Gods We Are" (1/5)
Not my cup of tea. Already the beginning left me grumbling: the protagonist makes a phone call and, surprise, he talks to himself. The life of his alter ego has been different, he still lives together with his one and true love... Harlan Ellison's creepy story "Shatterday" has a similar topic but goes into a different direction. John Grant rather tells (or tries to tell) a tale of romance and teenage love that couldn't touch me on an emotional level and that I found disappointing. I highly recommend Haruki Murakami instead, who is able to capture the magic of such love relationships much better.
Cat Rambo, "The Dew Drop Coffee Lounge" (5/5)
A man who works in a "Coffee Lounge" wonders about the behavior of a regular guest. His colleague has weird ideas and is eager to talk about them but the final truth is even more mysterious... A nice story providing insight into the human mind and bringing the characters to life. Very well done!
Leah Bobet, "Bell, Book, and Candle" (1/5)
I couldn't get into this story. I read it twice but it's simply too weird for me.
Michael J. DeLuca, "The Tarrying Messenger" (3/5)
This could have been a great story, there is much potential and two interesting characters, but unfortunately the author can't realize it. The main protagonist is a girl who travels with her bike. She is forced to question her religious belief, however, the plot is too constructed to be plausible and the end came too fast.
Laird Barron, "The Occultation" (2/5)
This is basically a horror story told in a style that didn't appeal to me. Already the first paragraph turned me off (I am pretty sure that the author has structured his story with the intention to reach a certain readership) but I read until the end. A man and a woman are laying next to each other in a lonely motel room and tell creepy tales. Something weird is going on in their room though... Other readers might enjoy the story, but not me.
Ekaterina Sedia, "There is a Monster Under Helen's Bed" (4/5)
Interesting story about a Siberian child who got adopted by an American family. Well told with good characters but the lack of communication, which would have revealed and resolved the conflicts quickly, puzzled me.
Cat Sparks, "Palisade" (2/5)
This is a science fiction story about clones or robots on a remote planet. There is one big problem that I have: the topic has been covered by other authors with much greater skill (Gene Wolfe comes to my mind, or Greg Egan when it comes to AI in general).
Tanith Lee, "The Woman" (2/5)
And another story that failed to impress. "The Woman" is the last woman in a world full of men, she is admired like a goddess and men (at least the hetero oriented) compete with each other to be allowed to pleasure her. The story is well told but feels empty. The world never comes alive and the conflicts of the protagonists didn't grab me.
Marie Brennan, "A Mask of Flesh" (5/5)
This is one of my favorite stories in this collection. The shape shifting protagonist tries to take revenge for the things done to her people. Everything fits together, from the original hero to the exotic (Aztetic) setting and the interesting plot. Recommended!
Jennifer Crow, "Seven Scenes from Harrai's Sacred Mountain" (1/5)
In small pieces, the impact of the "Sacred Mountain" on the life of the people is described. This story didn't do much for me.
Vandana Singh, "Oblivion: A Journey" (3/5)
"Oblivion" is a rather flat revenge story, jumping through space and time. I was reminded of the "Demon Prince" series by Jack Vance, where a similar topic is covered. The basic idea and the solution to the riddle is well done, but too many parts felt rushed and suffered under the fact that a short story simply cannot provide enough room.
John C. Wright, "Choosers of the Slain" (4/5)
A hero is offered a life in the far future, offering him endless pleasures and a well deserved retirement. If he stays, he will be very likely killed by the events that are going to follow. What does he choose? John C. Wright brings up an interesting point and I enjoyed the execution of the story. Well done.
C.S. MacCath, "Akhila, Divided" (5/5)
My favourite story - a breathtaking combination of modern warfare, revenge and all too human decisions. The protagonist is a being with immense power who has finally decided to die. The people who find her, priests, are struggled by her sight. She is THE enemy and it's hard to overcome prejudices... A powerful story that explores the hidden darkness that can lurk inside the human soul. Highly recommended!
Joanna Galbraith, "The Moon-Keeper's Friend" (1/5)
A weird story about the moon. I couldn't jump over my shadow of disbelief (the moon is doing WHAT during the day???) and found the story boring.
Deborah Biancotti, "The Tailor of Time" (2/5)
The tailor of time (has to be taken literally) is asked to stop the time for a short period... Another weird story, which ultimately failed to impress me. Too experimental but it deserves its place in this collection.
Erin Hoffman, "Root and Vein" (5/5)
This is another favourite of mine. A strange and wonderful tale about a dryad and her three hearts. She gives her hearts to various persons but only one is able to tell her about their true nature and what it means to be a dryad. Recommended. (less)
Summary: A very good collection from Gene Wolfe. I loved 16 of the 24 stories, 5 were good and the other 3 I didn't like - this is a great ratio for a...moreSummary: A very good collection from Gene Wolfe. I loved 16 of the 24 stories, 5 were good and the other 3 I didn't like - this is a great ratio for a collection and I can highly recommend it. It's not as brilliant and memorable as The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories and Other Stories but if you like Gene Wolfe then you will have a wonderful time.
Review I started to read the stories in 2009 and for some reason I stopped after finishing 17 of them. I read the remaining stories in 2013 and the first thing that surprised me a bit was how little I remembered. I had a lot of fun with most of the stories but there was none in the league of, let's say, The Fifth Head of Cerberus. This is something to keep in mind and it doesn't mean that the collection is bad. Au contraire! Gene Wolfe is a remarkable story teller and I love the way how he creates his characters and drops them into fantastic situations. The reader must always look out for hidden clues but sometimes it was too much for me and I didn't enjoy a story as much as I could have (e.g. "Game in the Pope's Head").
Although the subtitle is "new Science Fiction stories" we actually get a wide variety of stories, from horror to SF to variations of old myths, from funny to creepy. Don't be surprised if a dog starts talking or doing crazy things!
Using my usual rating for stories (A = great, B = okay, C = didn't like it) here is the list with my opinion. I might add more comments later but feel free to ask me questions or leave a comment yourself if you want to know more!
(B) Viewpoint (C) Rattler (A) In Glory like Their Star (A) Calamity Warps (A) Graylord Man’s Last Words (A) Shields of Mars (A) From the Cradle (A) Black Shoes (A) Has Anybody Seen Junie Moon? (A) Pulp Cover (A) Of Soil and Climate (-) The Dog of the Drops (Note: I had to skip this one, I wasn’t ready for the dialect.) (B) Mute (A) Petting Zoo (A) Castaway (A) The Fat Magician (A) The Boy Who Hooked the Sun (C) Try and Kill It (Note: well written but is it more than a hunting story?) (B) Game in the Pope’s Head (A+) Empires of Foliage and Flower (B) The Arimaspian Legacy (B) The Seraph from Its Sepulcher (A) Lord of the Land (A) Golden City Far (less)
My main reason to buy "Castle of Days" were the articles about "The Book of the New Sun". They provide interesting background information and also rev...moreMy main reason to buy "Castle of Days" were the articles about "The Book of the New Sun". They provide interesting background information and also reveal something about the author himself and his work as a professional writer. A must for every Wolfe aficionado. I considered the included "Book of Days" as a nice bonus but nothing more.
Recently I have started to read Wolfe's short stories that are in my possession and looked for the first time at the stories in this collection. In his introduction Gene Wolfe advises the reader to read the stories slowly and not as someone eats potatoe chips. This is a good advise because the stories require - without exception - some pondering and it's very likely that you want to reread them again to understand them better. Most of them are quite short and that's the main reason why they don't have the same impact as Wolfe's novelettes or novellas. However, I was surprised how much I enjoyed them and I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to lovers of short fiction.(less)
First of all let me start with a warning: usually I don't enjoy stories about "alternate worlds" very much. They tend to focus on details that I find...moreFirst of all let me start with a warning: usually I don't enjoy stories about "alternate worlds" very much. They tend to focus on details that I find completely boring. Nevertheless I decided to take my chance with this anthology because I was impressed by the included authors!
In This Peaceable Land, or, The Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beacher Stowe by Robert Charles Wilson no civil war took place and economic reasons made slavery obsolete. This results in new problems: what to do with all those black, un-educated people and what about the prejudices that are still around? This is a smart, provocative story. I don't agree with the underlying logic and its conclusion but it's very well done and an explosive exploration of the social impact of the situation. (5/5)
The Goat Variations by Jeff Vandermeer is a weird story about the president of the USA. A machine causes mixed up realities and the reader sees different worlds on 9/11. I enjoyed the beginning of the story very much but then Jeff Vandermeer failed to make something out of it. Alternate worlds are simply shown but they don't have a real effect on anyone. That's the kind of stuff I don't like. Well written though. (2/5)
In The Unblinking Eye by Stephen Baxter the Incas are the superior race. They arrive in a Europe that has developed quite differently. The old rulers are seriously concerned - are the Incas conquerors or are they coming in peace? The story didn't work for me. There are many nice references to famous persons who have followed a different carreer (e.g. Newton, Columbus or Darwin) but after everything has been set up the plot never kicks off and remains shallow. (2/5)
Theodora Goss does a much better job in Csilla's Story, a wonderful story about dryads who have mixed themselves among normal humans. Because of their special talents and their odd looking they have been victim of many witch hunts in the past and try hard to preserve their history and their identity. Great prose! (5/5)
Winterborn by Liz Williams is in my eyes pure fantasy. A woman has the ability of "riverreading", some kind of fortune telling by contacting the drowned dead. The story is well written but I found the plot unappealing and the relation to "alternate earths" is rather artificial. (2/5)
The name Gene Wolfe alone made me buy the anthology and Donovan Sent Us is an impressive story. The Germans have conquered England in WWII and took Winston Churchill as prisoner. An American disguised as German SS officer tries to free him. This is a dense story with great characters and packed with contents. (5/5)
The Holy City and Em's Reptile Farm by Greg van Eekhout is set up in an interesting way (the Templars have conquered the world) but I think it would have worked even better without the "alternate world framework". Some events are too constructed (e.g. the way how a woman risks dying in a desert) and with a little bit more care this could have been a great story. (3/5)
Just recently Alastair Reynolds has published a novella that would have fit very well in this collection (Six Directions of Space). Anyway, The Receivers takes place during a war with two would-be composers who come in contact with strange music. The setting is well done with lot's of details but I found the idea out-dated and hackneyed. (2/5)
A Family History by Paul Park is exactly the stuff I can't connect to. I want some exploration of the possible histories and their impact on the characters and no comparison how it could have been. (2/5)
Dog-Earred Paperback of My Life by Lucius Shepard is the longest story in the anthology. A writer discovers at Amazon a book written by someone with exactly the same name. Even the style is similar to what he would have used. It starts getting mysterious when the book disappears from Amazon so our hero decides to go on the journey that is described in the book, a tour on the Mekong river through south-east Asia. Shepard's excellent style makes this a wonderful story. It's about sex, drugs, self-discovery and interwoven alternate worlds and the main character has to ask himself some nasty question. There is also a heavy side blow to the typical book readers (ouch!). Unfortunately the end was very strange. I read it twice and still feel puzzled - the novella would have deserved something better! (4/5)
Finally we have another thought experiment in Nine Alternate Alternate Histories by Benjamin Rosenbaum. It's about choice and free will. This is dangerous territory that is usually occupied by philosophers. Against such competition Benjamin Rosenbaum has no chance and his ideas look flat and silly. (1/5)
Conclusion: 3 very good, 4 good and 4 bad stories. All of them are well written but only few stand out. (less)
Some stories in this collection are outstanding and I tend to rate the book higher but 4 stars is a fair rating. I haven't read "The Doctor of Death I...moreSome stories in this collection are outstanding and I tend to rate the book higher but 4 stars is a fair rating. I haven't read "The Doctor of Death Island" yet but want to provide the following (spoiler free) review while the memories are still fresh.
When you open the book, slow down and take your time. The stories are not fast-paced. Instead you will find an almost overwhelming love for details that contribute a great deal to the atmosphere and, well, weirdness of the stories. If you need help to understand what's going on I suggest to have a look at the Wolfe Wiki. You won't regret it.
I didn't like the title story "The Island of Doctor Death" very much. It's well written but didn't grab me and the final conclusion was somehow disappointing. 3/5 stars.
"Alien Stone" is the first highlight. It starts like a normal space adventure but quickly twists in a way I didn't expect. I really enjoyed the ending, it made me lean back and simply say "wow!" 5/5
"La Befana" made no impression on me. 2/5
"The Hero as Werewolf" has a lot of atmosphere and provides a look at a weird society. Very intensive and well done. 4/5
"Three Fingers" made no impression on me. Simply too weird. 1/5
"The Death of Dr. Island" is the next highlight. A tremendous story with excellent characters and the only story in the whole collection that not only caught me in an intellectual way but also emotionally. I especially liked the way how the island responses to the feelings of the protagonists and how it helps to ease their mood. This is great stuff. 5/5
"Feather Tigers" is nice, reminded me a little bit of Ray Bradbury. The mix of horror and sf is not my cup of tea though. 3/5
"Hour of Trust" is a disturbing look at modern warfare - and how the current elite is about to loose. As usual it contains many clues and hints that must be put together first and the high amount of details demand a second read. 4/5
"Tracking Song" comes close to being the next highlight but I think I have to read it at least one more time to understand it better. The atmosphere is great but what is going on there? 4/5
"The Toy Theater" is a wonderful short story and although everything looks clear there are some hidden details left for the reader to discover. 4/5
"Cues" is a strange story and slowly reveals its quality the more you think about it. 4/5
"Eyeflash Miracles" is a story with many references to The Wizard of Oz. It's well written and the characters are great, however, the plot didn't satisfy me. 3/5
"Seven American Nights" is the final highlight in this collection. It provides a look at a destroyed, post-war America, where a rich Iranian tourist has disappeared after one week of travelling. From his diary the reader can reconstruct what has happened, but many things are only hinted at and clues are well hidden... After the surprising end I had to read the story immediately again and discovered many things I didn't notice the first time. This is a marvelous and very, very clever story! 5/5
In summary I can highly recommend the collection. It's a little bit funny that everyone seems to have other favourites among the stories so you have to read all of them.
One word about the book itself: my Orb edition has a rather poor quality. I don't know what kind of ink has been used, it's irritating reflective if the book is read in bright light. In addition, the typesetting in the lower part of a page contains one line that looks uneven. It's hard to describe, maybe it's only an issue with my edition...(less)