To observe an eclipse is to witness a rare and unusual event. Under darkened skies the sun becomes a negative image of itself, its corona transforming the landscape into a strange space where anything might happen, and any story may be true...
In the spirit of classic science fiction anthologies such as Universe, Orbit, and Starlight, master anthologist Jonathan Strahan (The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year) presents the non-themed genre anthology Eclipse: New Science Fiction and Fantasy. Here you will find stories where strange and wonderful things happen--where reality is eclipsed by something magical and new.
Continuing in the footsteps of the multiple-award-nominated anthologies Eclipse One, Eclipse Two, and Eclipse Three, Eclipse Four delivers new fiction by some of the genre's most celebrated authors, including Andy Duncan's tale of a man's gamble that he can outrun a bullet; Caitlin R. Kiernan's story of lovers contemplating the gravity of a tiny black hole; Damien Broderick's chronicle of a beancounter who acquires a most curious cat; Michael Swanwick's tale of the grey man who pulls an unhappy woman from the path of an oncoming train; Nalo Hopkinson's story of ghosts haunting a shopping mall; and Gwyneth Jones's story of an alien priest who suffers a crisis of faith...
While I liked some stories more than others, I would say that the quality of stories in this anthology was very high. It contains an eclectic mix: two or three are what I might describe as hard science fiction, and then there are a whole bunch of ghostly/afterlifely stories. Jeffrey Ford channels Jonathan Carroll (who isn't dead, but seems open to channeling if anybody is). Caitlin Kiernan turns in an elegant story about a black hole. Nalo Hopkinson writes about the great shopping mall in the sky. Rachel Swirsky parties with the dead. Peter M. Ball crams androids, clones, and dragons into one story. Jo Walton follows a coin. Michael Swanwick takes a beautiful look behind the scenes. I don't want to say much more about any of these stories because they are all worth reading. Good stuff.
Andy Duncan's "Slow as a Bullet": told in a sort of pseudo nineteenth century Western style, this is the story of how one lazy man developed gun powder that shot bullets incredibly slowly in order to win a bet.
Caitlin Kiernan's "Tidal Forces": a black hole forms in a woman's stomach and grows ever larger. Weird concept told in a disjointed style, but it works.
Damien Broderick's "The Beancounter's Cat": Starts well (a talking cat adopts a lowly beancounter) but halfway through transforms into a trippy mess that only pretends to be deep.
Kij Johnson's "Story Kit": Sometimes Johnson's risk taking pays off. Here, it doesn't; it's just weird-for-the-sake-of-being-weird, pomo ridonculousness.
Michale Swanwick's "The Man in Grey": one of the people who works behind-the-scenes, creating the world for humans to live in, steps "on stage" for a moment to save a girl's life. Interesting concept, told pretty well, though the end is weak.
Nalo Hopkinson's "Old Habits": a ghost forever haunts the mall where he died. He and the other ghosts are starving for sensation. So sad, but interesting.
Gwyneth Jones's "The Vicar of Mars": An alien visits a woman who as come to Mars to die. But even as he tries to give her comfort, her troubles begin to haunt him, as well. Creepy as hell.
Rachel Swirsky's "Fields of Gold": A man dies and finds himself in at a party full of dead people. Eventually he comes to terms with his own wasted life, and goes skipping through the meadow with his beloved dead cousin. Apparently this was also a Twilight Zone episode? Regardless, I didn't like this: Dennis is deeply unpleasant and being inside his head made me depressed.
Eileen Gunn's "Thought Experiment": Ralph Drumm is the first person to discover how to travel through time. But of course he runs into trouble in the past, and of course the changes he makes to history have long reaching consequences. Great, with a particularly fantastic ending. My favorite of the collection.
Jeffrey Ford's "The double of my double is not my double": A man helps his doppleganger kill his doppleganger's doppleganger. Another pointless story with a depressingly annoying main dude character whose life is weird for no reason.
Emma Bull's "Nine Oracles": 9 unnamed modern women who knew the future. The first 7 are good, the last one is full on bad. It's not that #9 is bad, actually, it's that it's clearly a much longer story crammed into two pages, and that basically destroys it.
Peter Ball's "Dying Young": A (genemodded) dragon enters a (future) saloon filled with gunslingers. Years ago, Paul's father was killed by the Doc, who now controls the town because he can fix people up. Paul has to decide whether to help the dragon kill the Doc, thus destroying the semblance of civilization that the Doc maintains, or whether to help the Doc kill the dragon, thus destroying his last hope for justice or vengeance. Cool world, with an actual plot and a nice twist.
Jo Walton's "The Panda Coin": A 10 dollar coin passes hand-by-hand through the economy of Hengist station. Lots of cool tidbits; my favorite were the prostitute-bots, who talk amongst each other only in the preprogrammed phrases they've been given ("Ooh yes, honey") but still manage to have full conversations.
James Patrick Kelly's "Tourists": Mariska nearly died getting from the Moon to Mars, and now she's a minor celebrity. She finds solace with a man gene-modded for the Martian environment, but all he wants is to leave Mars for the stars. I liked the characters and world building, but there were way too many infodumps about things I didn't care about and that the characters had no reason to think about. (No ordinary teenager on a date is going to think about the physics of a sky hook, let's be real.)
A varied selection that would accommodate most readers of speculative fiction in some way or another (although I’ve heard that Jonathan Strahan is not a fan of the ‘spec-fic’ term).
Nalo Hopkinson’s “Old Habits” is a superb piece (a real standout) dealing with humanity and the ghostly afterlife in perhaps the most tackiest of places: a shopping mall. Hopkinson's syntax ,including a superb lengthy stream of consciousness sentence, is masterful. The protagonist, a homosexual ghost, who more importantly, has a past identity of a very 'everyday' conventional but homosexual father (and husband) is exceptionally constructed. There are layers upon layers upon layers here. I’ve now read two of Hopkinson’s stories and there’s no denying her rare talent as a writer and this story is no exception.
Peter M. Ball’s “Dying Young” is a wonderful rollicking mishmash of genres with fantasy, sci-fi and the wild-west coming into play.
And the highly effective “Tourists” by James Patrick Kelly feels more ‘realist’ in terms of style. It’s a touching, well-written piece.
I also enjoyed Gwyneth Jones’, Rachel Swirsky’s and Michael Swanwick’s stories.
This collection of science fiction and fantasy leans heavily toward the latter, and even most of the SF is of the soft or fanciful sort. It also goes heavy on the humor or at least whimsy. In short, a very lightweight selection. About two thirds of them are decent enough, but more than a few failed to hold my attention. One was completely incoherent.
Here are some of the stories I felt were worthwhile:
"The Man in Grey" by Michael Swanwick: A teen-aged girl slips behind the curtain of reality to discover how the universe really works. Reminiscent of Sturgeon's "Yesterday Was Monday." Affecting ending.
"Fields of Gold" by Rachel Swirsky: A man finds himself in the afterlife surrounded by all his deceased family members--including the wife who may have murdered him. Another touching ending to this one.
"Tidal Forces" by Caitlin R. Kiernan: A tiny but gradually expanding black hole inexplicably appears on a woman's body.
"The Vicar of Mars" by Gwyneth Jones: An alien priest hoping to bring comfort to a woman in her end of life unleashes nightmares.
Eclipse Four is part of the series of non-themed science fiction and fantasy anthologies expertly edited (or perhaps curated is a better word choice) by Jonathan Strahan and published by Night Shade Books. This fourth volume in the series contains fourteen excellent stories by Andy Duncan; Caitlin R. Kiernan; Damien Broderick; Kij Johnson; Michael Swanwick; Nalo Hopkinson; Gwyneth Jones; Rachel Swirsky; Eileen Gunn; Jeffrey Ford; Emma Bull; Peter M. Ball; Jo Walton; and James Patrick Kelley. Strahan achieves a nice balance among up and coming writers such as Rachel Swirsky and Peter M. Ball, well established authors such as James Patrick Kelley and Jeffrey Ford, and authors I would categorize as "why the heck aren't they better known" such as Caitlin R. Kiernan. In Kiernan's case, despite the fact that she has written quite a number of science fiction stories, she's best known as a horror writer, and these days horror is the red-headed stepchild of the genre.
The stories in the anthology cover a wide variety of themes and styles. Andy Duncan's story "Slow as a Bullet" is an amusing tall tale in the style of Mark Twain stories such as "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County". Michael Swanwick takes the trope of the real person in a construct world and turns it into a meditation on free will in his story "The Man in Grey". In "Old Habits", Nalo Hopkinson tells a ghost story about ghosts trapped in a ghost mall who seem to be trapped there in part due to the somewhat stupid nature of their deaths.
Caitlin Kiernan's story is both a body horror story and a science fiction story. In "Tidal Forces", Emily and Charlotte's relationship takes a strange turn when Charlotte gets hit by a micro black hole that takes up residence in her body and starts growing. The two of them are watching her body be consumed from within with seemingly no way to stop it. And once the "yawning black mouth in her abdomen" completely consumes Charlotte it might keep going and swallow the world. Even without the possibility of taking the rest of the world with you, the idea of slowly being consumed by a black hole in your body is pretty horrific. There's also an indication in the story that it's not just a hole but a portal into a universe of eldritch horrors waiting for the hole to be large enough to come through. In addition, the hole acts as a metaphor for a relationship that may or may not be fraying as the characters dance around the issue of what is happening. And there's clearly a sexual metaphor involved when Emily attempts to close the whole by shoving her arm into it.
Eileen Gunn has written what turns out to be a very creepy story about the dangers of time travel in "Thought Experiment" and Kij Johnson's "Story Kit" is a very meta tale about the nature and structure of narrative and storytelling using Dido and Aeneas from Virgil's The Aeneid.
One of the things that makes anthologies great is that if the reader doesn't like a story she can either skip ahead to the next story without losing the plot or plow ahead knowing another story will start in just a few pages. In the case Eclipse Four, there isn't a weak story in the volume, although obviously if the reader does not like a particular subgenre, moving on to the next story is certainly an option. Eclipse Four includes a useful “about the authors” section in the back where in addition to basic biographical information the reader can find the authors' websites and titles of other works by the authors. Eclipse Four is yet another great entry in the series.
Katharine is a judge for the Aurealis Awards. This review is the personal opinion of Katharine herself, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of any judging panel, the judging coordinator or the Aurealis Awards management team.
To be safe, I won't be recording my review here until after the AA are over.
Though I'm unsure on the theme of the anthology in general, most stories within were capturing enough.
A number of these stories were good, but none really rocked my world. Either the setting or central conflict seemed tired or too far-fetched (not really supported by the material, kind of a gee whiz look at me vibe) . A great short story needs to be its own universe, direct, complete and satisfying in some emotional way.
Kij Johnson's story is amazing, exactly the sort of thing I was looking for (and didn't really find) in the Interfictions anthologies. Nothing else in the collection stood out as particularly great or terrible.