Eclipse One by Jonathan Strahan

(2008-07-01)

 

Published by Night Shade Books (www.nightshadebooks.com)

October 2007

ISBN: 978-1-59780-117-1

256 Pages

http://www.jonathanstrahan.com.au/wp/

 

People who say that short fiction in the field of Speculative Fiction is dying are short sighted in some respects.  There are plenty of magazines, both print and electronic, where burgeoning and established writers can ply their trade at the short form.  In addition, the plethora of original anthologies published every year seems to be on the rise.  While a great number of these anthologies are held together by an overriding theme (Fantastic Generals, One Million A.D., The Fair Folk), an increasing number of original anthologies don’t have a shared theme, like Lou Anders’s Fast Forward 1 and the subject of this review, Eclipse One.  Eclipse’s editor, Jonathan Strahan, pulled together some great names for what he hopes to be an annual anthology. Eclipse Two is already solicited, so right now, it seems Strahan is meeting this goal.  Below is my overview and thoughts of each story in this volume.

 

Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse by Andy Duncan is a charming tale of a girl and her pet chicken. The story is marked by humor and a matter-of-fact acceptance of an otherwise fantastical thing. The overall feel was a folksy account of a past event.

Garth Nix’s Bad Luck, Trouble, Death and Vampire Sex is another fun tale. In this short Urban Fantasy, the author of the Abhorsen sequence tackles vampires, witches and a demon / gargoyle. The humor here worked well and the setting could prove fertile ground for more stories, perhaps novel length, should Nix turn his attention in that direction.

The Last and Only, or Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French by Peter S. Beagle is a surrealistic fantasy that absolutely believed in its central and absurd premise of a Man who seemingly contracts an affliction that, as the title indicates, transforms him into a Frenchman. I found this to be a quirky, convincing, and entertaining story.

The Lost Boy: A Reporter At Large from Maureen F. McHugh was an unsettling account of shifting identities. The strength of this story was the blurred line between fact and postulated fact. Good stuff here.

Jeffrey Ford’s The Drowned Life was probably the highlight for me, which happens to be the case in most anthologies including a Jeff Ford story. Like the Beagle story, and most of Ford’s stories, the seemingly absurd premise comes across as absolutely convincing. Here a despondent and depressed man joins Drowned Town, a sort of underwater zombie-purgatory. You get the sense Ford can expand on this, but as it stands, The Drowned Life, is effect, eerie, and convincing.

Terry Dowling’s Toother is a murder mystery, with some fantastical dressings, about a serial killer. This is easily the creepiest story in the book, and an effective one to boot.

Eileen Gunn’s Up the Fire Road didn’t work quite so well for me. It is an interesting spin on the Bigfoot urban myth, mixed up with some strange sexual metaphors. In The Forest of the Queen by Gwyneth Jones thematically and sequentially follows another forest-lost couple in trouble. Resurrection plays a key role in Quartermaster Returns by Ysabeau Wilce. Not as effective for me as some of the other stories.

Like many of her stories, Kathleen Ann Goonan Electric Rains concerns itself with nanotechnology. 9/11 will resonate in this story of a terrorist attack and the resulting chaotic technological effects.

Margo Lanagan has largely built her reputation on short stories, after reading She-Creatures it’s easy to see why. This was a potent tale of witchcraft and dark deeds.

Jack Dann & Paul Brandon The Transformation of Targ had me smiling throughout the piece. The evil overlord develops sympathies regarding those whom he lords over. As a result, he seeks and is encouraged to seek counsel by his demonic "right hand man." The story played very nicely on the tropes of the evil overlord and one might guess the writers were ‘fact checking’ the Evil Overlord list. I found this to be one of the stronger stories in the anthology.

Mrs Zeno's Paradox by Ellen Klages was a short tale on which I just couldn’t get a handle.

The Lustration by Bruce Sterling was almost a farce, or at least something poking fun at culture and science. I found the fragmented familiarity ("human" society, but far in the future on an earth-like planet) of the story rewarding and the "wooden balls" somewhat similar (at least thematically) to The Difference Engine, his collaboration with William Gibson. I liked this one just for its sheer quirkiness and fun.

Larissa Miusov - Lucius Shepard was more of an erotic tale, with very subdued fantastical elements. I haven’t read very much of Shepard’s work, but what I have has the same qualities as this one – the powerful elements creep up on you and move you towards potentially uncomfortable feelings. This story has probably stayed in my mind the longest, both for the emotions it evoked as well as the questions it raised.

With 16 total tales, only a couple didn’t work completely for me. The stories that worked for me (Nix, Ford, Sterling, Shepard, & Dann/Brandon) worked superbly well and stand out on their own. On those statistics, the anthology really is a successful one – Strahan’s selection of these stories shows the broad canvas on which the short form of Speculative Fiction can take shape.

Recommended.

© 2008 Rob H. Bedford

 

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