Speculative Horizons is a lovely little anthology edited by book blogger Patrick St. Denis (of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist fame). When the good people at Subterranean Press asked him whether he'd be interested in editing a short story collection, he understandably jumped on the idea (who wouldn't?!), but asked that a portion of the proceeds be donated to breast cancer research. Not only is this an absolutely wonderful initiative, but it also means that you now have an excellent chance to buy a book and actually feel good about it.
This 128 page anthology contains five short stories by authors whose names many people who are interested in speculative fiction will instantly recognize: Celia S. Friedman, Tobias Buckell, L.E. Modesitt Jr., Brian Ruckley and Hal Duncan. Each story has a brief introduction by its author, and the book closes with an afterword by editor Patrick St. Denis, giving the reader a fun glimpse into the writing process and the making of this anthology. On to the stories!
The book opens strongly with Celia S. Friedman's "Soul Mates," a subtly terrifying story about a woman who falls in love with Stephan Mayeaux, a handsome stranger who seems almost too good to be true... until he starts behaving oddly. While this is probably the least substantial story in the collection, it does a wonderful job creating a menacing atmosphere right from the start.
Next up is Tobias Buckell's "The Eve of the Fall of Habesh," easily the strongest story in the collection. In the city of Habesh, magic is quite common -- but using it removes a little bit of the caster's life force. As a result, the city is filled with child-beggars resembling progeria victims -- an image that's going to stay with me for quite a while. The story's main character is the corrupt contragnartii Jazim, an enforcer who is tasked with removing the magical abilities of anyone violating the rulers' precepts. On the eve of a possibly devastating invasion by the Sea People, Jazim has to carry out one final assignment... This story has a beautifully melancholy atmosphere and one of the most interesting settings I've ever encountered in such a short piece of fiction. If there's anything wrong with this story, it's that it's too short. Mr. Buckell, please consider writing a novel or, even better, a trilogy set in this fantasy world.
The middle story in the anthology comes courtesy of L.E. Modesitt Jr. and is set in the world of his highly successful Saga of Recluce. Confession: I am a big fan of the author, but I've only had the chance to read 4 books in this 15+ book series. One day soon, I will take a few months off and read the entire series. This story made me want to do this sooner rather than later.
Brian Ruckley's "Flint" is a delicate story about a young shaman in prehistoric times, who is trying to win acceptance from his community after his mentor, the previous shaman, dies. While this is an enjoyable read, it's probably the weakest story in the collection, although readers with an interest in prehistoric fiction will probably disagree with me.
Closing out the collection is Hal Duncan's "The Death of a Love," which is in essence a long, bitter monologue by a detective in the Erocide police department. This is really more a concept than a story, and it probably could have been trimmed by a few pages, but regardless -- this is one of those stories you'll never forget, and you'll never look at images of Cupid the same way again.
And there you have it: five short stories ranging from good to stunning, and the chance to help support breast cancer research. Order your copy today.