Panverse Three is the first of the original novella anthology from Panverse Publishing to find its way through my letterbox. It’s got five novellas, three from authors known to me. If you want more information about the book or the publisher, head off to their website. And you can buy the book in both dead-tree (amazon.com | amazon.co.uk) and Kindle (amazon.com | amazon.co.uk) versions.
Jason Stoddard. Orion Rising.
An alternate history from Stoddard, which looks at what would happen should ‘Project Orion’ have taken precedence over the Apollo programme. Orion was based on the use of nuclear bombs to create thrust to propel spaceships into orbit – a device memorably used at the end of the Niven/Pournelle novel ‘Footfall’ (got my copy lying around somewhere, some 30 years old!)
In its telling, the story has more than a touch of the Arthur C. Clarke’s about it, in the quick progression of plot with strong technical elements, and a slight naivete in the characterisation, relationships and the politics. Stoddard follows the chain of logic that if there are people in space, and in orbit around Mars with nuclear bombs, on a Chekhov’s Gun principle, they’re going to be used. We go back to the Cold War, so there are (somewhat stereotypical) Russkies involved, the principled Ted Taylor, who wants to reach further out to the stars, and politics in play on Earth, who have turned their backs, fearfully, on those in space.
The story covers a lot and would benefit from being taken to novel length, turning into a long Niven/Pournelle type novel from the 80s, to flesh out the story and the characters in more depth and to give them justice.
(Which I realise, coming back to this review 10 minutes later, is what I said of the last story of Stoddard’s I read!)
Gavin Salisbury. Junction 5.
A story with a very passive main character, which is quite unusual, and makes for not the most exciting read, especially as at the end, in the lead up to the first actions he takes, a lot of the planning for that action is off-camera for a big reveal.
The setting has its merits – one element of a future humanity on an alien planet who travel of remnant technology, massive biological trains, through which the follow the sun. The protagonist, joint leader of one train, leads a trade delegation when they stop off at Junction 5 to barter goods. But there has been treachery, and he finds himself marooned in the city. Fortunately, he is picked up by one of a coven of witches and taken to her coven, and is later befriended by another, and is finally led to a revelation about who is was who did the dirty on him.
The story shows promise in places, particularly the description of settings, but the characters don’t come across quite as well.
Ken Liu. The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary.
Liu makes extremely good use of the novella length for his story, which is a gripping, at times painfully so, story. It shines a light into a dark place during the Second World War, a camp whose biological and other medical experiments on those interred there were a match for horrors in much better known places.
It takes the form of documentary transcripts, but as the verbatim transcripts gradually unfold the true horrors, and the politics that have kept what happened mostly unknown, the voices of the victims and the observers are powerfully resonant. The story uses time travel to bring to light what happened, and it’s several steps beyond most SF in impact.
Don D’Ammassa. Martyrs.
A story about making the ultimate sacrifice – would you give your life for the greater good? Entitled ‘Martyrdom’, and with the opening scene on an alien planet where the indigineous race have been extinct for some time being one in which insects give up their life for the greater good, creating a conversation on the topic between the two protagonists, you just know what the climax of the story is going to hinge around.
There’s good interplay between the two characters, the POV guide, an expert on the planet, who is taking a scientist to visit the remotest of the ruins of the vanished race, of which little is known. The relationship isn’t a good one, the scientist being self-centred/self-serving. The tension builds as he finds that his suspicions about previous research are found to be true, and there is more to be discovered.
There’s a dramatic ending, with a nice twist in the tail.
Tochi Onyebuchi. Dust to Dust.
A story which begins with a date setting which is that of the day of the birth of my first son. Whilst waiting for him to make his appearance, my wife and I were watching the Berlin Wall coming down, thinking that with the end of the Cold War, he would be growing up in a much safer world than the one we had known. Ha!
Onyebuchi brings us a story set in the grey eastern Europe of the last year of the 80s, with murder afoot, and some ancient evils being called upon, as the creatures wreaking death is not of this earth. Or, more correctly, is of this Earth. A final confrontation sees justice down, with the monster warned ‘it would ill behoove you to attack me again’. I do like a story with an ill behooving!
Liu’s is the standout story, with Stoddard providing another strong story. Salisbury and D’Ammassa have a couple of issues in the writing of the story or the characters that keeps the story back a little, and Onyebuchi didn’t really grab me at all.