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We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

June 14, 2014 6 comments

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory (Tachyon Press, 2014) explores the social and psychological dynamics of group therapy sessions. I remember the first I attended. We few met briefly outside the room and exchanged anxious nods. When we entered and met the convener, no-one wanted to talk. To talk in a university tutorial session is to admit lack of preparation, and no-one wanted to do that. So long as we stayed silent, we need never reveal how addicted we were to our own ignorance. But over time, we grew more confident and actually dared ask for explanations. It was a slow journey, but some of us graduated. Most swore never to repeat the experience. We would all pretend to be wise without fear of contradiction. Naturally, a few years later, I became a university lecturer and organised therapy sessions on a daily basis. During all these sessions, seeing how little the students had understood of what I had said in lecturers, I was completely fine. Particularly during the therapy sessions in the nearby pub, we lecturers could lick the wounds to our egos as we exchanged experiences on the resistance of the young to learning. We helped each other get through it.

This rather elegant novella sees a therapist bringing five people together to talk about their experiences. These are not routine PTSD clients. Yes, they have all suffered trauma of one sort or another, but the source was either horrific activity by a human or some potentially supernatural event. The conventional view of such patients is that they are wholly or partly delusional and that they must be disabused of any elements of delusion before they can move on to the cognitive part of the therapy to deal with their reaction to whatever the real events prove to be. Except, of course, the experiences of these individuals is instantly more credible. One was captured by a group of cannibals who systematically removed the limbs of their captives for their mother’s evening meals. Fortunately, he was rescued in a police raid before they had gone too far. His case was notorious. Survival made him a short-lived celebrity and a long-term reclusive figure, embittered and defensive. Another was the victim of a man who pealed back her flesh and carved messages on to her bones. Obviously, the flesh was replaced after each operation, leaving only scars. But she lives with the temptation of discovering what messages he wrote. And so on.

Daryl Gregory

Daryl Gregory

There’s a revolving point of view as the first session triggers enough interest for the five to begin meeting on a regular basis. Slowly, they talk about their experiences. Well, it’s hard to shut up the cannibal’s dinner who seems to want to recount every discrimination and abuse he’s suffered since the rescue. Only one seems reluctant to say anything. She’s a bit mysterious but prepared to go for a drink with another of the group after the session has ended. When a third session member follows them, he’s attacked and ends up in hospital. That changes the dynamic of the story as we begin to see what might be happening. As the opening paragraph to this review indicates, we all have some experience of group dynamics. When people come together for the first time, they tend to talk at each other. Later they may begin to talk with each other and share personal information or experiences. But the group only becomes useful when the members decide to help each other. In this case, the people invited to the group all believe they are somewhat unique and have no peers capable of helping or supporting them. As the story progresses, this view slowly changes. They come to recognise they share a common bond of some kind and, perhaps, just perhaps, if they work together, they may be able to save themselves. Except, of course, it doesn’t quite work out like it does in fiction. In this world of bitter reality, the best they can hope for is survival. Except, no-one can say how long that state may persist.

Taken as a whole, We Are All Completely Fine is a remarkably seductive piece of supernatural horror, drawing the innocent reader into the web by dealing with a familiar situation. As we learn more about each person in the group, we can begin to see eddies of emotion shift as the members slowly admit the possibility of change. This may not be a change that improves their lot in life but, for the majority, any variation from the present reality is viewed as an improvement. The result is fascinating and engrossing, and there’s one promise I can make. If you read it, you’ll be completely fine too, at least for a time.

For reviews of other novels by Daryl Gregory, see:
Afterparty
The Devil’s Alphabet
Raising Stony Mayhall
Unpossible.

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Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

June 10, 2014 6 comments

afterparty by Daryl Gregory

There are some books that are made for people like me to review. Whereas some people sit on the fence on all questions of religion, I’m as complete an atheist as it’s possible to get. When presented with a book like Afterparty by Daryl Gregory (Tor, 2014) which suggests faith in God can be induced by taking a drug, my eyes lit up. Just as the poor guy in The Matrix can take a pill to open his eyes to the reality of the world around him, this book’s premise is that a chemjet printer can be programmed to come up with drugs to adapt the mind to any particular point of view. So, for example, Ollie was a brilliant intelligence analyst who took a drug called Clarity. This enabled her to see patterns in databases and human behaviour that no-one else could see. Unfortunately, when her dosage ran too high for too long, she began to see threats that were less real. This led to her declaring a terrorist alert over a national holiday. The false alarm did not go down well with her superiors and landed her in a mental hospital. At the other end of the threat spectrum, The Vincent is the personality of a paid killer that emerges when a mild-mannered man, who has adapted his apartment to farm miniature bison, takes another type of drug.

This is a future world in which the ability to develop highly specific drugs has been refined to a fine art. Our protagonist, Lyda Rose, was one of a small team to develop what became the God pill. The other members of the team were her genius wife, Mikala, Gil the IT guy, Edo the money man, and Rovil the guy who did a lot of the spade work in the lab. They began a company to develop a drug to fight schizophrenia (Lyda’s mother had schizophrenia and was the motivation for creating the drug later called Numinous). Unfortunately, when celebrating the entry of the drug into clinical human trials, Mikala spiked their champagne with the drug and they all overdosed. Mikala was stabbed to death with Gil taking the blame. Edo seems to have become hopelessly insane. Lyda is also declared insane and locked up along with her invisible companion, a guardian angel called Dr. Gloria. Only Rovil seems functional, going on to a successful career in a pharmaceutical corporation.

When word of a new drug comes into the institution were Lyda is held, she suspects the God pill has been put into production. This was not supposed to happen, so she talks her way out of the hospital on licence, and begins to track down this drug. If it’s confirmed as her drug, she wants to shut down production before too much harm is done. If you want to know the detail of why she thinks chemically inducing a belief in God might be a bad idea, read the book. In a nutshell, it’s one of these nature/nurture arguments.

Daryl Gregory

Daryl Gregory

If we assume the personality is a direct mirror of the way in which the brain works, we can program the brain to produce the desired personality. In fact, we’ve been doing this for centuries through the socialisation process. Parents and other authority figures influence the child during the formative years, and hope to produce the desired type of adult. All these chemists do is assume the body is a biological machine and make drugs to reprogram the brain’s chemistry and so induce specific shifts in behaviour or belief systems. So, for example, one of the new drugs on the market temporarily shifts sexual orientation or, in this case, creates the belief the person is able to talk directly with God or one of His angels. Lyda, as a rational person, knows exactly what has happened to her and so is able to have a moderately reasonable relationship with her angel. When people fail to realise they have taken a drug, the changes in belief and behaviour seem a completely natural conversion to, or a deepening of, their faith. For the record, the drug is ecumenical and individuals interact with their culturally specific god or gods. Rovil as a Hindu, for example, has routine meetings with Ganesh to guide his life’s journey and career.

With this set-up, all our hero has to do is deal with the psychopathic Afghan mothers, negotiate with the cigarette-smuggling North American Indians to cross the border, and make her way across America. It’s an epic journey in thriller terms, considerably enlivened by the appearance of the Cowboy about one-third of the way through the book. When the dust has settled, we find people have losses and gains. Even the fate of the bison is added to the mixture, whether as fiction or as a parable told by the angel.

Taking the book as a whole, it represents an outstanding contribution in several different categories. As a novel, it overcomes a slightly slow and confusing start to become a gripping read. As a discussion about the nature of belief, it makes some shrewd observations on the mechanisms for transmitting faith from one generation to the next and from one individual to another. The idea the socialisation one receives as a child can be resurrected by a drug as an adult is fascinating, as is the entire drug culture the book explores. It also considers the circumstances in which a person comes to lose his or her faith. Whether this is through a slow and natural erosion over time, or because of some more traumatic event, or by going cold turkey, the sense of loss can be felt keenly. Put all these factors together and Afterparty is one of the best relatively near-future science fiction stories I’ve read in the last year. I strongly recommend it.

For reviews of other novels by Daryl Gregory, see:
The Devil’s Alphabet
Raising Stony Mayhall
Unpossible
We Are All Completely Fine.

Unpossible and Other Stories by Daryl Gregory

April 19, 2012 1 comment

Unpossible and Other Stories by Daryl Gregory (Fairwood Press, 2011) is fuel for the old grey cells, offering thought-provoking ideas in some elegant prose, capturing all human emotions and putting them on display much as a lepidopterist pins moths and butterflies to white cards and keeps them under glass. It all begins with “Second Person, Present Tense”, a fictional exploration of the phenomenon sometimes called parental alienation syndrome. This is a neologismic way of describing an age-old problem where a child falls out of love with one or both parents. Who knows why it happens. It may be a reaction to real abuse, whether physical or emotional, or it may be simple perversity — everyone expects the child to love so, of course, the child does the other thing. Perhaps the why is less important than the effect. In a slightly different context where runaways have joined cults, some parents feel they should engage experts to deprogram their children. As if such a process can somehow return the lost love. This story rather elegantly introduces a new drug which erases the old personality from the body and allows a new one to grow in its place. It’s the ultimate divorce. So, with a different person looking out through the eyes, how should the parents react? Perhaps, more importantly, how should the state react? If this drug really does replace the person in the body, is it appropriate to continue the parent-child relationship based purely on DNA? In practical terms, should parents be allowed to imprison strangers in their homes until they are legally adult?

The titular ”Unpossible” asks a slightly different question. As a child, you have an essential innocence. It allows you to suspend disbelief and to imagine yourself in completely different worlds. But, as you gain experience, you learn to distinguish the real from the fictional. If, as an adult, you wanted to return to the world of imagination, you would have to unbelieve the real and focus on the unpossible. It would be a neat trick if you could pull it off. “Damascus” deals with a disturbing possibility. What we usually define as terrorism is people using violent means to intimidate others for political purposes. This story changes two of the variables. The motivation of those involved is religious in the most general sense of the word. There are no bullets or bombs. The means is love. Indeed, think of it as a form of communion. But millions will die. We see the vector take shape in an all too credible way and understand how defenceless we would be against such an attack.

Daryl Gregory looking remarkably normal for a science fiction author

And, talking about defenceless, here’s a ground’s eye view of what it feels like to be collateral damage. “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm” (from Eclipse Two) is a pleasingly angry story about what happens between the rock and a hard place when military forces collide. In such cases, all the survivors can do is pick themselves up and go back to work, hoping their next contribution to the war effort will be more successful than the last (and that they will survive, of course). “Gardening at Night” is a bit of an old chestnut but it’s been heated to just the right temperature for another outing. If we go back to the garden of Eden, what was God’s plan? He had Adam and Eve, and there was a tree with an apple. The simple rule was not to eat the apple. Assuming adequate supplies of alternative food, this is an easy test to pass with top marks. Which is presumably why God allowed the snake to come in. Yes, God controls the environment and gets to say who can or cannot talk to the human test subjects. So God can continuously change the environmental controls to pressure the humans into eating the apple. It’s a bit like destruction testing for safety critical parts. The engineers slowly increase the stress levels to establish the part’s breaking point. Put another way, if you don’t test to destruction, how do you really know the strength of your design. God had made Adam and Eve. He was therefore testing them to breaking point. As a reward for eating the apple, He allowed them out into the world. It’s the next stage of the test. Now apply this to an engineer developing programmable machines. Once they’ve completed their assigned task, are they not entitled to a little R&R?

“Petit Mal #1 Glass” is a wonderful short, short story in which it’s suggested the scientific method effectively turns researchers into sociopaths when they invite the participants to a clinical trial. Half receive drugs knowing the very real risks of adverse side effects. Half are willfully denied all possible benefits because they get the placebo. “What We Take When We take What We Need” has us in the same universe as The Devil’s Alphabet and, for me that’s not a good place, although I concede this reads well as a stand-alone story. “Petit Mal #2 Digital (an original to this collection) was written to be read aloud and is an extended shaggy dog story about where a man’s consciousness might truly reside — assuming it was not in his head, that is. “Message From the Bubblegum Factory” is another humorous contribution, this time focusing on the need for a superhero to have a nemesis. Fortunately, we have a volunteer for the role of insane criminal mastermind to take down Earth’s defender, even if he has to invent and then go into an alternate reality to do it. But first, he needs sidekicks. “Free, and Clear” appeals to me as I also grew up with terrible allergies. Unfortunately, it was in the days before the advanced massage therapies described in this story although, in other contexts, it might be suspension bondage. Perhaps if Daryl Gregory could provide an artist’s impression of the equipment used, we would all have a better idea of how to get into this promised allergen-free land.

“Dead Horse Point” reminds me of my cousin Paul who worked for NASA and did clever things with brains (other people’s while they were alive, of course). He’s one of the most absent-minded-professor-type people I ever knew. Not on the same level as the person in this story, of course. This is an affecting tragedy as it unwinds, presumably only tolerable to those involved because, when the work is done, they know their sacrifice may advance human knowledge and understanding to a new level. “In the Wheels” gives us a parable about two boys growing up together in a post-apocalypse world where one form of magic works. The father of one boy is a worthless drunk, beaten in spirit but, when his son is trapped, he pulls himself up and, with the help of the loyal friend, they set about trying to redeem the son and friend. It’s a version of the line in John 15:13 so that it reads, “Greater love has no man than this, that a father lay down his life for his son.” “Petit Mal #3 Persistence” is the second original story, a vignette describing a persistence of vision. It would have been better if the final image had been more peaceful. Finally, “The Continuing Adventures of Rocket Boy” deals with the quiet desperation of an abused boy and the failure of his best friend to do anything effective to protect him. As teens, we are rarely intentionally cruel to each other but, because we feel powerless, we distance ourselves. We cannot help. We feel terrible guilt. So we cannot be there. In later years, we can look back at all the might-have-beens, explain the past in ways that might make us feel better. Or, perhaps, circumstances will arise in which we can play replay the role, but be more effective. This is a sadly moving tale in which past and present collide as Rocket Boy goes for relaunch.

Unpossible is a wonderful collection, contriving to enlighten and entertain — a rare combination to be savoured and enjoyed.

For reviews of other novels by Daryl Gregory, see:
Afterparty
The Devil’s Alphabet
Raising Stony Mayhall
We Are All Completely Fine.

Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory

April 29, 2011 2 comments

There’s an idiom I never thought I would have to call upon when writing these reviews. After all, I pride myself on being so consistently original, why would I ever want to repeat myself? Well, this is the magic phrase: lightning never strikes the same place twice. And here’s what I said about Feed by Mira Grant, “I know, it’s almost a perfect oxymoron: an intelligent zombie novel.” Well, Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory is a second specimen! It’s a miracle — like suddenly having twins. Being a man, you would understand my surprise should this happen to me. In the space of two weeks, picking books randomly off the shelf, I’ve managed the impossible. What makes this even more remarkable is that, having found Mira Grant’s effort excellent, I’m now forced to find more superlatives because, if anything, this is better. Indeed, I would go so far as to say this is the best zombie book I’ve read this century and, if there’s any justice in the world, this should be nominated for a clutch of awards. One point of clarification, however, that if this is twins, they are of different gender. Flesh is an intelligent book about the slow-moving feral variety of zombies, but Daryl Gregory is writing about intelligent zombies!

So, let’s clear the dead wood away (I faithfully promise not to make any more of these pathetic jokes). This is the third novel from the Daryl Gregory stable and I confess to being completely underwhelmed by The Devil’s Alphabet. I was therefore a little cautious when I picked this up, with expectations varying wildly between the unspeakable and the inedible — not that I’ve ever actually wanted to eat a book, of course, but I like unsuccessfully pursuing foxy idioms. As it turns out, I found myself completely beguiled and hooked. This is an author finally emerging from the chrysalis of inchoate being so that, when he breathes, gusts of wind turn the pages of a book halfway round the planet.

Daryl Gregory looking remarkably pleased to be one with the LDs

With the pages turning themselves, we read about Stony’s discovery as a newly born baby in the arms of his dead mother. Then, as he grows, we follow his life in the depths of the Iowan countryside. As a result of a well-intentioned expedition to rescue his “sister” from a threatening party where she’s drunk, spaced out on drugs, and vulnerable, he’s forced into an underground railway modelled on the escape system for black slaves. Hiding in safe houses, Stony learns about the politics of being one of the living dead. Unfortunately the political situation degenerates into a minor civil war between the factions, and Stony is captured by the government. In captivity, this gives Stony ever more time to study both himself and others. In a sense, he makes himself the test subject in a number of experiments to explore what he is and whether there are real limits to what he can achieve. All this allows Daryl Gregory the chance to demonstrate a rigorous approach to the construction of his narrative as every page brings some new insight into the state of the living dead. Fortunately, he develops the logic of Stony’s initial discovery and the way in which he first begins to grow, following this thread to a singularly unexpected but, in retrospect, entirely predictable conclusion.

Of all the clever things associated with this book, the most impressive is the way it morphs seamlessly from one genre to another. In simplistic terms, we can classify this as science fiction meets horror that then morphs into a blend of supernatural and fantasy. I suppose we could say it ends with the metaphysical but, by then, we should all have abandoned any attempt to classify the book. It’s simply a delight, rather like one of these chocolates with an intimidatingly dark chocolate covering that turns out to have a wonderfully sweet and soft centre. No matter what your genre interests, you should put aside all prejudices and read this. Raising Stony Mayhall is destined to be a classic!

This book was sent to me for review.

For reviews of other work by Daryl Gregory, see:
Afterparty
Unpossible
We Are All Completely Fine.

The Devil’s Alphabet by Daryl Gregory

You know you’re in trouble when the author, Daryl Gregory, sets a novel about DNA shifts/human evolution in a hick place called Switchcreek, Tennessee. This is like the author taking a rubber hammer and driving a spike into the reader’s head to get him, her or the other to pay attention. How else are we to understand something is “significant”? Sadly, this naïveté is symptomatic of a very pedestrian story of everyday rural folk who wake up one day to find the ones who survive the transformation are suddenly three or, may be, four different species. Ho hum, was there ever such a day! Off to bed as Tennessee white trash, the next day awake as Alphas, Betas, Gammas (no,wait, that’s Brave New World) so this must be Argos, Betas and Charlies. Perhaps that’s why the author called the novel The Devil’s Alphabet, keeping the Deltas up his sleeve for the sequel.

This is a mystery story buried in a portentous story about how one isolated community might suddenly be kicked into a different evolutionary path. It’s a kind of Midwich Cuckoos event and may presage the first attempts of an invading virus from a parallel world to gain a foothold in our neck of the woods. Or perhaps that’s an invasion from three different worlds or dimensions. Frankly, I lost interest after the first efforts to explain what might be happening. That the author keeps having different attempts at explanation is slightly desperate because it doesn’t get any better each time it comes around.

So we have the usual ragbag of tired plot devices. The rest of Tennessee avoids the town like the plague (which is hardly surprising because the inhabitants have been struck down by some kind of mass epidemic). There are the usual drive-by attacks by these unfriendly neighbours until, slowly, they grow bored. No-one else falls ill. It’s not contagious or infectious. Yawn. Then, thirteen years after the first, a village in Ecuador has the same problem so the US army encircles Switchcreek in a quarantine and, to assure the local population of their goodwill, they shoot the first couple who try to leave town. Those soldiers. . . Fresh from Iraq, you can always rely on their welcoming spirit.

In the midst of all this stuff, one of the older transformed women apparently commits suicide. Yeah, right. So we all start guessing whodunnit. To help us through the tangled web, a returning man, not apparently affected in the original outbreak, runs from one local character to another until we have met the assembled cast of potential killers. Roll up, roll up! Place your bets. And it turns out it’s the always obvious. . . although the reason for the killing is actually quite clever so score one for the author in this one-horse-race.

Overall, this is a somewhat tiresome and rather boring book that offers a vague sfnal explanation for some rather weird physical transformations while investigating a fake suicide. Our hero (for want of a better word) goes through the usual PI travails of being beaten to a pulp for daring to stick his nose where it’s not wanted, getting hooked on some a strange vintage brew, and emerging from the whole thing in one piece by virtue of finding enough buried bodies with which to blackmail to key players into letting him go.

Not recommended unless you are desperate for something to read.

As an added note, The Devil’s Alphabet was a finalist in the Philip K. Dick Award 2010 for Best Novel.

Here are reviews of other novels by Daryl Gregory:
Afterparty
Raising Stony Mayhall
We Are All Completely Fine
and an equally wonderful collection Unpossible.

Glitter & Mayhem edited by John Klima, Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas

July 31, 2013 2 comments

glitter.mayhem_ARC-FINAL2

When reviewing, you sometimes have to bite the bullet and use technical jargon to get the message across. Glitter & Mayhem edited by John Klima, Lynne M. Thomas, and Michael Damian Thomas (Apex Publications, 2013) revives the urge to dive back into critique. Prepare yourselves. This anthology is “fun”, using the word in its most technical sense, of course. Thematically, we’re partying, on occasion in disco or roller derby mode, so be prepared for some culture shock. It’s also quite sexually liberated so brace yourself for diversity. There’s also occasional bad language but where in this life is safe from the undeleted expletive or three? Overall, there’s considerable irreverence on display although there are moments of seriousness. Put this together and you have one of the most enjoyable of anthologies of the year so far. And, at the end of the day (or night) depending on how long the party lasts, isn’t that what fiction should be all about? Yes, there’s a space to be held for the white-knuckle and wow-factor stuff — actually the kind of stuff that’s often held up for praise when it comes round to award time — but we should all be allowed to celebrate reading for the sheer pleasure of seeing words used well to make us smile, or think (just a little — too much thinking can overload the brain’s computing power).

It all starts with “Sister Twelve: Confessions of a Party Monster” by Christopher Barzak, a pleasingly subversive fairy story in which twelve princesses discover a secret passageway that takes them to an infinity of parties through time and space. All they need do to escape the dreary grind of life in the palace is to touch the floor, open the door and go down the steps. The freedom is intoxicating so long as it lasts. “Apex Jump” by David J. Schwartz has to be the ultimate roller derby event where the challenge is not to win, but to avoid being beaten by a new record amount. Just remember, when the sergeant major says, “Jump!” you do it without hesitating. “With Her Hundred Miles” by Kat Howard let’s suppose each sleep really is a little death and the dreams that are born during that short stay in the afterlife are fatal to whatever you were dreaming about. Then dreaming about birds in flight would mean you wake up and find your bed surrounded by dead birds. But suppose you dreamed about people?

In these days of sexual equality, “Star Dancer” by Jennifer Pelland supplies the Women in Black I’ve been waiting for. This story is definitely WiBbly and sometimes WoBbly (that’s Women on Blue Kisses) when the dance music plays and we all get as high as an elephant’s eye. “Of Selkies, Disco Balls, and Anna Plane” by Cat Rambo reminds us we can change our appearance and act out roles wearing different clothes, but underneath, we stay the same. “Sooner Than Gold” by Cory Skerry is a delightful story about possibilities. Who knows what excitement lurks on the other side of a closed door? Whatever it is, keep it close to your chest! “Subterraneans” by William Shunn & Laura Chavoen takes the idea of wife swapping to a new level. Think of it as a kind of megamix when you choose between the red and blue pills to Marvin Gaye’s “Lets Get It On”. “The Minotaur Girls” by Tansy Rayner Roberts is a thoughtful story of a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, wanting so desperately to be old (or skillful) enough to be allowed into the “club”. In just a few pages, this contrives to say something interesting about the ties between the generations of the young as they take years off their lives in the pursuit of the unattainable. “Unable to Reach You” by Alan DeNiro in these days when everyone expects you to be connected 24/7, it’s important to get to the source of any problem and assert control. “Such & Such Said to So & So” by Maria Dahvana Headley plays a neat game with the language of drinking and partying, suggesting no-one should get to like their drinks too much or the dog will leave its hairs when it bites us on the ass. While “Revels in the Land of Ice” by Tim Pratt finds poetry in the eye of the beholder if you go to the revels to see what it reveals.

“Bess, the Landlord’s Daughter, Goes for Drinks with the Green Girl” by Sofia Samatar is nicely surreal. Life passes by this pair of partying girls and death fails to keep them down as they keep the celebratory mood going. “Blood and Sequins” by Diana Rowland gives us inadvertent police officers in a major prostitution and drug bust as the zombies rescue the butterfly. It all makes perfect sense when you read it. “Two-Minute Warning” by Vylar Kaftan gives us a nice SFnal twist on a paintball party upgraded to more lethal levels as people who live for the thrill of it all encourage those grown more timid to get back into the spirit of things. “Inside Hides the Monster” by Damien Walters Grintalis wonders how sirens would fare when modern music replaces the simple melodies she prefers. The problem, of course, is that if she listens to this modern music, might her own music be tainted. Yes, that could be a real problem. “Bad Dream Girl” by Seanan McGuire gives us the real inside dope on roller derby when the girls with aptitude come out to play. Of course this is all wonderful so long as they play fair. No-one gets hurt (too seriously). But what would happen if one decided to cheat? “A Hollow Play” by Amal El-Mohtar wonders what people might sacrifice if the need was great. It’s all a question of relative values. The more you want, the greater the sacrifice you might have to make. Of course, as the process approaches, you might suddenly realise what you propose to sacrifice isn’t meaningful enough. That would be an unfortunately discovery to make. “Just Another Future Song” by Daryl Gregory considers the problem of identity which might get a little lost if you can upload yourself into different bodies. The challenge, of course, is to remember just enough, whether in the brain unit or the gut, to make the best transfer to the next body. “The Electric Spanking of the War Babies” by Maurice Broaddus & Kyle S. Johnson returns to another SFnal disco groove as the Star Child looks for the mothership to give the Funk to the people, whether they want to receive it or not. “All That Fairy Tale Crap” by Rachel Swirsky is a very amusing metafictional rant against the idea of fairy stories and the stereotypical women who defer to their Princes so they can become mindless Princesses and live unfulfilled lives forever after.

Put all these hints together and you have a highly enjoyable anthology.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Eclipse Two edited by Jonathan Strahan

January 21, 2010 Leave a comment

As you would expect from the title, this is the second in the anthology series entitled Eclipse (Night Shade Books). We start off with “The Hero” by Karl Schroeder which poses an interesting question. If you recognise the need for action to save your universe, just how far will you go? Of course, the talk of universes is all part-and-parcel of the game sf writers play. It’s all a matter of scale. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you live in a village perched precipitously on top of a cliff. From this vantage point, you can see an approaching danger. Would you risk climbing down the cliff to deliver a warning to the people living below? They are completely vulnerable unless they take action. You recognise that people tend not to take warnings seriously unless your actions demonstrate the seriousness of the threat. You must therefore be seen to make the climb even though no-one in living memory has ever survived.

A cynic might suggest that risking death for others is never going to pay dividends. Stephen Baxter in “Turing’s Apples” retreads Fred Hoyle’s excellent A for Andromeda. It’s the dilemma of one world when it receives a signal, probably containing computer code, from another world. Do you trust the motives of the aliens with the technology to send you the message? Baxter’s hero decides the probable benefits outweigh the risks and starts the process without government approval. A panicking world then tries to put the genie back in the bottle.

Ken Scholes “Invisible Empire of Ascending Light” is one of the stand-out stories. The Empire is founded on a version of the divine right of kings. In an era when the ruler is expected to reincarnate to continue leading, the noble families plot to continue ruling through a Regency. The plan is simple. When the current Emperor begins to fail both physically and mentally, they exploit technology to keep the him alive. Just in case he is somehow able to reincarnate while not technically dead, they also devise a search system designed never to find any newly reincarnated ruler. The Missionary General tasked with evaluating possible cases of reincarnation travels to meet a new candidate, and finds herself with a pivotal decision. Appropriately, the next story by Paul Cornell is a mirror image to the notion of reincarnation. If you had the technology and the storage space, would you download the personality of your drowning friend? If you did, would the resulting file still be your friend or just so much code? Ah, Turing has so much to answer for.

We then come to a story by Margo Lanagan called “Night of the Firstlings”. There seems to be quite a stir amongst the tastesetters with many influential voices hailing her as the best thing to come out of Australia since kangaroo meat was exported as high in protein and low in fat.* Frankly, having now read four or five of her short stories, I remain unconvinced. This outing is a post-apocalypse tale of a diminishing group trying to stay ahead of plague and floods. I find it uninvolving. I did not care whether any of them survived. Equally, Nancy Kress’ story of a group of people trapped in a hospital elevator left me cold.

We are then back on the straight and narrow. In “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm”, Daryl Gregory offers a delightfully judged excursion into a weird, steam punk, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow conflict between monster robots and the invincible ruler, Lord Grimm. In the midst of a preemptive strike by the robots, the local people suffer losses, but emerge with the will to rebuild weapons to offer “real” resistance against next strike. All I can say about Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation” is that, as we have all come to expect from this writer, this is yet another tour de force. For once, the decision by the “hero” to perform surgery upon himself was not as scary as it might first have appeared. Then David Moles takes us into a posthuman world where some of the living lie sleeping on life support while their minds explore simulated realities. In “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” we have an intelligent view of the ideas underlying the deeply annoying Matrix franchise.

Peter S. Beagle then delivers our third, if somewhat incongruous, delight. “The Rabbi’s Hobby” is a wonderfully delicate supernatural tale. Yet finding it in the midst of space opera and more exotic fantasies is somewhat strange. Although I have no complaints at the editor’s eclectic eye — it’s always a pleasure to read a new story by Beagle — it does make the anthology rather more mixed in genres than others. Jeffrey Ford’s “The Seventh Expression of the Robot General” takes us back to the wry world of steam punkish robotics. Once the battles are over, the now redundant General first contemplates suicide and then recognises this self-sacrifice may allow his technology to fall into the wrong hands. In “Skin Deep”, Richard Parks offers us Avatar in a world of magic — a witch with the ability to slip into different bodies could be a handyman to help, or a soldier to protect, the local villagers. Tony Daniel gets caught up in his own ontology with “Ex Cathedra”, a somewhat strange variation on time travel paradoxes, while the reliable Terry Dowling returns to the Wormwood cycle with “Truth Window: A Tale of the Bedlam Rose”. This leaves us with “Fury” by Alastair Reynolds. In a Kutnerish Empire of forts and castles, the chief of security tracks down an assassin who threatened the life of his Emperor. This offers a clever counterpoint to Ken Scholes’ story of empire and completes a fine piece of work by the editor.

Although this is not a themed anthology as such, there is a certain consistency in the authors’ concerns. Each of the main protagonists, no matter whether heroic in the classical sense of the word, must confront a previously unrecognised truth and come to terms with it. In some cases, Empires tremble and fall. In others, they come to terms with themselves as individuals. But, overall, the central trope seems to be one of transformation. Anyone may take on the trappings of others, i.e. put on or grow into a different body. This presupposes the new bodies fit without dominating the new wearer. So does the witch become the warrior if she wears him too long, is the boy the same after the bar mitzvah, is the only “true hero” a “dead hero”, and so on? And what happens to this artificial enhancement after the human wearer sheds it? Perhaps, in some small way, this captures a basic truth about what makes a good story. The characters must engage your interest and the development of the narrative must make you care how it ends. With only two exceptions, this anthology succeeds, making an above average book which I unhesitatingly recommend.

For the next two books in the series, see Eclipse Three and Eclipse Four. There’s also a new website, Eclipse Online.

For the record, “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang won the Hugo Award 2009 for Best Short Story.

*Edited to change the reference from ostrich to kangaroo to avoid the implication that the bird was indigenous to Australia.

Alphabetical Listing of Books A to J

For the second part of this alphabetical listing, click Alphabetical Listing of Books K to Z.

Aaronovitch, Ben
Broken Homes
Midnight Riot or Rivers of London
Whispers Underground

Abercrombie, Joe
Best Served Cold

Abraham, Daniel
Abaddon’s Gate written under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey with Ty Franck
An Autumn War
A Betrayal in Winter
Caliban’s War written under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey with Ty Franck
The Dragon’s Path
The Incident of the Harrowmoor Dogs
The King’s Blood
Leviathan Wakes written under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey with Ty Franck
Leviathan Wept
The Price of Spring
A Shadow in Summer
The Tyrant’s Law

Abrahams, Peter writing as Spencer Quinn
The Sound and the Furry

Addison, Corban
The Garden of Burning Sand

Ahmad, A X
The Last Taxi Ride

Alaux, Jean-Pierre (and Noël Balen)
Deadly Tasting
Grand Cru Heist
Nightmare in Burgundy
Treachery in Bordeaux

Anderton, Jo
Debris

Anthony, Piers
Well-Tempered Clavicle

Anvil, Christopher
The Power of Illusion

Armstrong, Kelly
Forbidden

Ashby, Madeline
iD
vN

Ashforth, Albert
The Rendition

Atwood, Margaret
In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

Aykol, Esmahan
Baksheesh

Baker, Kage
The Bird of the River
Empress of Mars
House of the Stag
Not Less Than Gods
Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key
The Sons of Heaven
The Women of Nell Gwynne’s

Balen, Noël (and Alaux, Jean-Pierre)
Deadly Tasting
Grand Cru Heist
Nightmare in Burgundy
Treachery in Bordeaux

Ballantine, Philippa
Harbinger
Hunter and Fox
Kindred and Wings
Phoenix Rising (written as a team with Tee Morris)
Wrayth

Balzo, Sandra
Hit and Run
Murder on the Orient Espresso

Banks, Iain M.
Hydrogen Sonata
Matter
Surface Detail

Barber, Christine
When the Devil Doesn’t Show

Barbieri, Maggie
Extra Credit
Once Upon a Lie

Barnes, John
Daybreak Zero
Directive 51

Barnes, Stephen
Assassin and other stories
Shadow Valley

Barron, Laird
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All
The Croning
The Light is the Darkness
Occultation

Barr, Nevada
The Rope

Barrett, Neal Jr.
Other Seasons: The Best of Neal Barrett, Jr.

Bates, Quentin
Chilled to the Bone

Battersby, Lee
The Corpse-Rat King
The Marching Dead

Baxter, Stephen
Bronze Summer
Stone Spring

Beagle, Peter S.
Return: An Innkeeper’s World Story
Sleight of Hand
Strange Roads
We Never Talk About My Brother

Bear, Elizabeth
ad eternum
Book of Iron
A Companion to Wolves (with Sarah Monette)
Range of Ghosts
Seven for a Secret
Shattered Pillars
Shoggoths in Bloom
Steles of the Sky
The Tempering of Men (with Sarah Monette)
The White City

Bear, Greg
Mariposa

Beckett, Galen
The House on Durrow Street
The Magicians and Mrs. Quest
The Master of Heathcrest Hall

Benson, Raymond
The Black Stiletto: Endings and Beginnings
The Black Stiletto: Secrets & Lies
The Black Stiletto: Stars & Stripes

Berg, Carol
Breath and Bone
The Daemon Prism
Dust and Light
Flesh and Spirit
The Soul Mirror
The Spirit Lens

Berman, Judith
Bear Daughter

Berry, Jedediah
The Manual of Detection

Besson, Bernard
The Greenland Breach

Betto, Frei
Hotel Brasil

Bickle, Laura
Embers

Birtcher, Baron R
Rain Dogs

Bishop, Michael
The Door Gunner and Other Perilous Flights of Fancy

Black, Cara
Murder at the Lanterne Rouge
Murder in Pigalle

Blaylock, James P
The Aylesford Skull
Zeuglodon

Bledsoe, Alex
Wake of the Bloody Angel

Bolton, Sharon
A Dark and Twisted Tide

Bond, Larry
Exit Plan
Red Dragon Rising: Blood of War (with Jim DeFelice)
Red Phoenix

Bova, Ben
Transhuman

Brenchley, Chaz
writing as Daniel Fox
Dragon in Chains
Hidden Cities
Jade Man’s Skin
writing as Ben Macallan
Desdaemona
Pandaemonium

Brett, Simon
Blotto, Twinks and the Dead Dowager Duchess
The Cinderella Killer
A Decent Interval
The Strangling on the Stage

Brin, David
Existence

Broaddus, Maurice
I Can Transform You

Broaddus, Maurice & Gordon, Jerry
Dark Faith: Invocations

Brody, Frances
Murder in the Afternoon

Bruns, Don
Hot Stuff
Reel Stuff

Byers, Richard Lee
Blind God’s Bluff

Cambias, James L
A Darkling Sea

Campbell, Alan
Damnation for Beginners

Campbell, Jack (pseudonym of John G Hemry)
The Last Full Measure
The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught
The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Steadfast
The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight

Carey, Jacqueline
Naamah’s Blessing

Carlson, Amanda
Hot Blooded

Carroll, Lee (pseudonymous team of Carol Goodman and Lee Slonimsky)
The Shape Stealer

Casey, Donis
Hell With the Lid Blown Off

Castro, Adam-Troy
Emissaries From the Dead
Her Husband’s Hands and Other Stories
The Third Claw of God

Cédric, Sire
Of Fever and Blood
The First Blood

Cha, Steph
Beware Beware

Chadbourn, Mark
The Devil’s Looking Glass
The Scar-Crow Men
The Silver Skull

Challinor, C S
Murder of the Bride

Chiang, Ted
The Lifecycle of Software Objects
The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate

Chu, Wesley
The Lives of Tao

Clare, Alys
Land of the Silver Dragon

Clare, Tiffany
Wicked Nights With a Proper Lady

Clemens, Judy
Leave Tomorrow Behind

Clifford, Joe
Lamentation

Cobley, Michael
The Orphaned Worlds

Colla, Elliott
Baghdad Central

Collins, Lee
The Dead of Winter

Collins, Max Allan
Ask Not
Supreme Justice

Collins, Nancy A
Left Hand Magic
Magic and Loss
Right Hand Magic: A Novel of Golgotham

Connolly, Harry
Child of Fire
Circle of Enemies
Game of Cages

Conrad, Patrick
No Sale

Costantini, Roberto
The Deliverance of Evil

Cooper, Brenda
The Diamond Deep

Cornell, Paul
London Falling

The Severed Streets

Cox, Christopher R
A Good Death

Coyle, Matt
Yesterday’s Echo

Crilley, Paul
The Osiris Curse

Cross, Neil
Luther: The Calling

Crowther, Peter
Darkness Falling: Forever Twilight Book 1
Jewels in the Dust
We Think, Therefore We Are

Dahl, Julia
Invisible City

Dams, Jeanne M
Day of Vengeance
Shadows of Death

Daniel, Tony
The Heretic with David Drake

Datlow, Ellen
Alien Sex
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume One
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Two
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Three
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Four
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Five
Blood and other cravings
Lovecraft Unbound
Supernatural Noir

David, Peter
After Earth

De Castrique, Mark
The 13th Target
A Murder in Passing

De Feo, Ronald
Calling Mr King

Denton, Bradley
Sergeant Chip

Dial, Connie
Dead Wrong
Unnatural Murder

Di Filippo, Paul
Cosmocopia
The Steampunk Trilogy

DiSilverio, Laura
Swift Run

Dobbyn, John F
Deadly Diamonds

Donlay, Philip
Deadly Echoes
Zero Separation

Dornbusch, Betsy
Exile

Dowling, Terry
Amberjack: Tales of Fear and Wonder
Clowns At Midnight

Dozois, Gardner
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Eighth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirtieth Annual Collection

Dozois, Gardner & Martin, George R. R.
Old Mars
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance
Songs of Love and Death
Warriors

Draine, Betsy and Michael Hinden
The Body in Bodega Bay

Drake, David
The Heretic with Tony Daniel
Monsters of the Earth
Night & Demons
Out of the Waters
The Road of Danger

Duncan, Dave
The Alchemist’s Apprentice
The Alchemist’s Code
The Alchemist’s Pursuit
Pock’s World
Speak to the Devil
When the Saints

Duncan, Glen
By Blood We Live

Dunn, Carola
A Colourful Death
Heirs of the Body
The Valley of the Shadow

Ebel, Barbara
Silent Fear

Ebersohn, Wessel
The October Killings

Edwards, Martin
The Frozen Shroud

Egan, Greg
The Clockwork Rocket
Zendegi

Ellison, J T
Edge of Black

Enge, James
A Guile of Dragons
Wrath-Bearing Tree

Erikson, Steven
The Devil Delivered and other tales

Evans, Mary Anna
Plunder

Evenson, Brian
Immobility

Ewan, Chris
The Good Thief’s Guide to Berlin
The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice

Fauth, Jurgen
Kino

Feehan, Christine
Dark Lycan

Feist, Raymond E.
A Kingdom Besieged

Finch, Paul
Dark North

Finch, Sheila
The Guild of Xenolinguists

Florio, Gwen
Dakota
Montana

Flynn, Michael
On the Razor’s Edge
Up Jim River

Forbeck, Matt
Carpathia

Foster, Alan Dean
Quofum

Fowler, Christopher
The Memory of Blood
Plastic

Franck, Ty
Abaddon’s Gate written under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey with Daniel Abraham
Caliban’s War written under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey with Daniel Abraham
Leviathan Wakes written under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey with Daniel Abraham

Freed, David
Fangs Out
Flat Spin
Voodoo Ridge

Freeman, Brian
The Cold Nowhere

Friedman, Daniel
Don’t Ever Get Old

Friis, Agnete and Kaaberbøl, Lene
Death of a Nightingale
Invisible Murder

Frost, Gregory
Attack of the Jazz Giants
Fitcher’s Brides
Shadow Bridge & Lord Tophet

Fultz, John R
Seven Kings
Seven Princes

Gates,Jaym and Liptak, Andrew (editors)
War Stories

Gazan, Sissel-Jo
The Dinosaur Feather

Geillor, Harrison
The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten

Gentle, Mary
The Black Opera

Gerhardsen, Carin
The Gingerbread House

Gevers, Nick & Lake, Jay
Other Earths

Gevers, Nick & Halpern, Marty
Is Anybody Out There?

Gibson, William
Zero History

Gilman, Felix
Gears of the City
The Half-Made World
The Revolutions
The Rise of Ransom City
Thunderer

Gittlin, Adam
The Deal: About Face

Gladstone, Max
Two Serpents Rise

Goldstein, Lisa
The Uncertain Places

Gordon, Jerry & Broaddus, Maurice
Dark Faith: Invocations

Graham, Heather
The Cursed
The Hexed
The Night Is Forever

Grant, Mira
Blackout
Deadline
Feed
Parasite

Greatshell, Walter (who also writes under the pseudonym W G Marshall)
Terminal Island

Green, Jonathan
Anno Frankenstein

Green, Simon R.
For Heaven’s Eyes Only

Greenberg, Martin H & Hughes, Kerrie
Westward Weird

Gregory, Daryl
Afterparty
The Devil’s Alphabet
Raising Stony Mayhall
Unpossible and Other Stories
We Are All Completely Fine

Gregson, J M
Cry of the Children

Griffin, H Terrell
Fatal Decree
Found

Grippando, James
Need You Now

Guran,Paula
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2014
Zombies: More Recent Dead

Hair, David
Mage’s Blood
The Scarlet Tides

Haldeman, Joe
The Accidental Time Machine
Earthbound
Work Done For Hire

Haley, Guy
Crash
Omega Point
Reality 36

Hall, Parnell
Arsenic and Old Puzzles
NYPD Puzzle

Hall, Simon
Shadows of Justice

Halpern, Marty & Gevers, Nick
Is Anybody Out There?

Hambly, Barbara
Bride of the Rat God

Hamilton, Peter F
Great North Road

Hand, Elizabeth
Available Dark
Errantry: Strange Stories
Last Summer at Mars Hill

Handler, David
The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb

Harmon, Marion G
Bite Me: Big Easy Nights
Small Town Heroes
Villains Inc
Wearing the Cape
Young Sentinels

Harrison, Kim
The Undead Pool

Harrison, M John
Empty Space: A Haunting

Hart, Carolyn
Skulduggery

Hart, Dennis
Gulf Boulevard

Hart, Ellen
Rest for the Wicked
Taken by the Wind

Harte, Aidan
Irenicon

Harvey, Michael
The Innocence Game

Havill, Steven F
NightZone

Hawken, Sam
The Dead Women of Juarez

Hayes, Peter
My Lady of the Bog

Haynes, Elizabeth
Under a Silent Moon

Heiter, Elizabeth
Hunted

Helms, E Michael
Deadly Catch

Hensley, J J
Resolve

Herbert, James
The Secret of Crickley Hall

Higashino, Keigo 東野 圭吾 (translated by Alexander O Smith)
Salvation of a Saint

Hill, Antonio
The Good Suicides
The Summer of Dead Toys

Hill, Joe
Horns

Hill, Susan
The Betrayal of Trust
A Question of Identity
The Small Hand and Dolly

Hinden, Michael and Draine, Betsy
The Body in Bodega Bay

Hjortsberg, William
Nevermore

Hobb, Robin
The Inheritance (authorship shared with Megan Lindholm)
The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince

Hobbs, Roger
Ghostman

Hocking, Amanda
Switched

Hodder, Mark
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
The Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon
A Red Sun Also Rises
The Return of the Discontinued Man
The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi
Sexton Blake and the Silent Thunder Caper
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack

Holmes, Julia
Meeks

Housewright, David
The Last Kind Word

Hubbard, Janet
Champagne: The Farewell

Hughes, Alex
Clean
Sharp

Hughes, Kerrie & Greenberg, Martin H
Westward Weird

Hughes, Matthew
Costume Not Included
The Damned Busters
Hell to Pay
The Other
Song of the Serpent written as Hugh Matthews
Template

Hull, Elizabeth Anne (as editor)
Gateways

Hurwitz, Gregg
Tell No Lies

Huso, Anthony
The Last Page

Ifkovic, Ed
Downtown Strut

Irvine, Alexander C.
Buyout

Irwin, Stephen M.
The Dead Path

James, Bill
Disclosures
Noose
Snatched: A British black comedy

James, Peter
Dead Man’s Grip
Not Dead Yet

Jansson, Anna
Killer’s Island

Jemisin, N. K.
The Broken Kingdoms
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
The Killing Moon
The Kingdom of Gods
The Shadowed Sun

Jenkins, Victoria
An Unattended Death

Jennings, Maureen
Season of Darkness

Jeter, K W
Fiendish Schemes

Joel, Maggie
The Second-Last Woman in England

Johansen, Iris
Close Your Eyes (written with her son Roy Johansen)
Sleep No More

Johansen, K V
Blackdog
The Leopard

Johansen, Roy
Close Your Eyes (written with his mother Iris Johansen)

Johnson, Eugene and Sizemore, Jason
Appalachian Undead

Mountain Dead

Johnson, Kij
At the Mouth of the River of Bees

Johnson, Robert
The Culling

Jones, J Sydney
The German Agent
The Keeper of Hands
A Matter of Breeding
Ruin Value

Jones, Merry
Elective Procedures
The Trouble With Charlie

Joshi, S. T.
Black Wings: Tales of Lovecraftian Horror
Black Wings II: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror
Black Wings III: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror

Jungstedt, Mari
The Dead of Summer
Killer’s Art

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