- Published on Amazon.com
There are many folks who pick up collections of stories on the run, with the expectation of escaping briefly into a fast read while someone else moves them from place to place --- I’ve been there, done that a lot.
But if you’re drawn to science fiction and any of its varied companion genres, taking OLD VENUS along on the commute to work might not have the desired distracting effect. You could “surface” from a state of deep absorption in any of its 16 well-chosen tales to find yourself several missed stops away from your destination, or even at the end of the line.
That’s another way of saying that OLD VENUS is solid, in all the best bookish ways. Apart from its impressive length at nearly 600 pages, co-editors George R.R. Martin (prolific writer-editor-producer and creative genius behind Game of Thrones) and Gardner Dozois (equally distinguished as a veteran writer-editor, with multiple SF awards to his credit) know their profession like few other collaborators have ever done.
As with their outstanding 2013 precursor, OLD MARS, this diligent pair has the uncanny ability to pick not just good new material from the best English-language writers in the field, but the very best of the best. In fact, many of the stories in this eclectic anthology demand the same concentration and reflection as novellas or full-length books in their own right. No matter what the theme, style, characterization, or vantage point taken on this most iconic and mysterious of planets, none of the chosen authors gives short shrift to elegant structure and memorable prose.
And as much as reviewers’ shopping lists are a nuisance, this time it’s essential to know just who all these fine authors are, because you’ll turn to them first if you’re a fan, and definitely want to read more of them if any are a new discovery. In proper alphabetical order, they are: Eleanor Arnason (USA), Elizabeth Bear (USA), David Brin (USA), Tobias Buckell (Grenada-USA), Michael Cassutt (USA), Joe Haldeman (USA), Matthew Hughes (UK-Canada), Gwyneth Jones (UK), Joe R. Lansdale (USA), Stephen Leigh (USA), Paul McAuley (UK), Ian McDonald UK), Garth Nix (Australia), Mike Resnick (USA), Allen Steele (USA) and Lavie Tidhar (Israel-UK). And Dozois’ superb introduction, “Return to Venusport,” makes him a worthy 17th. (If you don’t normally read the “extra” pages in a book, make an exception here; this is background you need to know!)
The multiplicity of contributors --- every one of them a memorable voice --- makes it extremely difficult (no, impossible) to embrace the entire collection in a few reporter’s phrases without rambling into a 5,000-word essay on the virtuous and near-virtuous accomplishments of OLD VENUS. Even the few tales I didn’t immediately connect with wouldn’t let me go; I was glad I read each one to the end. Few anthologies have left me feeling that level of enrichment, and I would even read at least half the stories again. Which half? Every day the list is a bit different!
It goes without saying, however, that dyed-in-the-wool SF aficionados will have divergent expectations from those of readers who approach the stories from a more traditional literary background. Some will recoil from the gory bits but enjoy the fantasy aspects. Some will appreciate the balance of scientific speculation and humanoid assumptions, or the imaginative inversion of accepted philosophy and truth. Others will reflect on the persistent theme of familiar earth prejudices and traditions crudely transplanted into places too alien to support them. Yet others will revel in the nostalgia of “golden age” pulp magazine excess cleverly enhanced to mesmerize millennial audiences.
So I’m not going to recommend just one, three or five stories, or tell you which authors exceed expectations or not. Instead, I can recommend all of OLD VENUS. Any reader looking for a newly honed edge on an old SF obsession can once again trust the admirable stewardship of Martin and Dozois. Which “old” planet will they celebrate next? I can’t wait.
Reviewed by Pauline Finch.