Last year Ian Whates impressed with the NewCon Press collection Time Pieces, which, if it sold out, will have been more successful than the convention which it commemorated. This volume similarly impresses with a collection of authors which you tend not to get from the smaller presses, which only a couple having failed to register on the Best SF radar so far.
The theme of the collection is, as you might surmise from the title, dislocations, to which the writers stick quite closely, particularly the opening story – Pat Cadigan’s ‘Among Strangers’, and with an author like her, on good form, it makes for a pretty strong opening to the collection. Charlie is a human working with new arrivals at a centre for a range of carbon-based oxygen breathers who, having been abducted by the Dacz.va, are left to get on with the remainder of their lives. It’s an interesting setting, and one which Cadigan evidently feels inclined to return, and the only slight quibble is that it is explored by means of a new arrival who turns out to be a telepath human. I’d have thought there would have been enough mileage in exploring this setting through the eyes of a bog-standard arrival, let alone one whose strange powers add another dimension to the story.
Chaz Brenchley’s ‘Terminal’ follows, a name which has registered on the periphery of the Best SF radar, and this being only his second ‘out-and-out’ science fiction story suggesting why that has been the case so far. It has a striking setting, Brenchley painting a picture of a strange world in which gas-filled aliens drift amongst towers made from discarded carbon chips, left behind as a result of humans uploading to destinations beyond our ken. The unnamed protagonist watches as his lover, daedelus-like, attempts to fly to high. For a non-SF writer it’s a pretty good story.
Hal Duncan. ‘The Drifter’s Tale’ is a monologue from a pub drunk who muses on the nature of The Drifter : is this human meme more than just a recurring myth. What if there is someone out there fulfilling a much needed role in our societies?
Brian Stableford’s ‘The Immortals of Atlantis’ sees a middle aged women in a somewhat unsalubrious council flat visited by a man who believes her to be of somewhat higher, and older pedigree. He begins to, having tied her to a chair, administer various concotions to restore her to her rightful place.
Andrew Hook’s ‘The Glass Football’ really doesn’t count as SF, but it’s a neat enough story of identity and dislocation in which a young man in East Anglia finds himself crossing over a path between his life as it has been to date, and what it might have been with someone else.
Adam Roberts’ ‘Remorse(r)‘ is another monologue, from an even less desirable character than Duncan’s. The unintended consequences of making available a drug that instils remorse are explored – for whilst those who would do violence are rendedered incapable of doing so by said remorse, there are those for whom the remorse itself is a potent drug.
As editor Whates’ describes in the introduction, it was Amanda Hemmingway’s ‘Convention’ which sparked the idea for the collection. It’s a dry, tongue in cheek looks at genre conventions and publishing.
Andy West’s ‘Impasse’ sees representatives of two hi-tech branches of humanity slugging it out on an alien planet – one heavily armoured, warlike bot, evenly balanced in its struggle with three smaller, more peacable androids. Their battle lasts several days, as they thrown all manner of computer attacks and wavelengths of various persuasions, and moral arguments against each other. The former has a dread of death, the latter willing embrace it as part of their communal approach to life.
Ken Macleod’s ‘Lighting Out’ closes the collection with a more traditional sf story which looks at the displacement of humans in a fast burn scenario : the short five years after AIs take over and which will see the end of humanity.
The Cadigan/Brenchley and West/Macleod stories bookend the collection with particularly strong SF stories, the inner five stories somewhat less sfnal and not quite as strong. It’s another good collection from Whates/NewCon, available in a limited edition, signed by the authors, for £10.99