Dave Versace's Reviews > Anywhere but Earth

Anywhere but Earth by Keith Stevenson
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Oct 28, 2012

really liked it

The first thing to say about the Anywhere but Earth anthology from Coeur de Lion Publishing is that it's a pretty damn thick slab of stories, over 700 pages in paperback form. There are 29 stories, most of them short but at least a few straying up into novellete territory, and most of them by Australian authors. As is the style of the times, it seems, this hefty collection of science fiction is a themed anthology. The title will give you the gist - these are all stories set far from the human homeworld. In many cases it's not mentioned at all, and a handful don't deal with recognisably human characters at all.

Unusually (in my experience) for a book like this, editor Keith Stevenson has not elected to insert himself in the work with an introductory foreword or in fact with commentary of any kind. What you get for your money - which is incredibly good value by the way - are the stories and short author bios and nothing else. I think it was the right call, mind you - these stories speak for themselves.

As with any collection of this size, there are some stories that didn't work for me, but overall the quality is exceptionally high. To my undertrained scientific eye the vast majority pay reasonable attention to keeping the science plausible and consistent, though one or two stretch the limits in order to shoot for a more lyrical effect (I'm thinking in particular here of Margo Lanagan's "Yon Horned Moon"). As a reader I tend to be much more concerned with good storytelling than strict fidelity to science, however, and Anywhere but Earth delivers. There is such a wealth of appetising material here, ranging from punchy little episodes like C J Paget's "Pink Ice in the Jovian Rings" and Alan Baxter's "Unexpected Launch" to troubling, expansive landscapes of alien worlds like Lee Battersby "At the End there was a Man" and Chris McMahon's "Memories of Mars" to violent military thrillers like Jason Nahrung's "Messiah on the Rock" and Brendan Duffy's "Space Girl Blues".

The quality of this collection is frankly astonishing, given its size - there are only two I can think of that I didn't like at all, and perhaps only two or three others about which I was ambivalent. Of the rest, I am hard pressed to pick a favourite, but I will mention that "Eating Gnashdal", Jason Fischer's horrific vision of a post-human culture, is inventively funny and creepy; Penelope Love's "SIBO" lives somewhere at the intersection of zombies and triffids and therefore rules; and Sean McMullen's "SPACEBOOK" pulls off a view of near-future social networking with a brilliant and unpleasantly plausible twist. And I could mention at least a dozen more stories which might be in my top three on a different day.

Anywhere but Earth is a massive, generous, impressive tome. The ideas on show are clever, funny, weird and sometimes deeply alien, but almost invariably worth your reading time.
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