01/09/2008. Contributed by Gareth D Jones
pub: New Con Press. 235 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-9555791-4-1.
check out website: www.NewConPress.com
'Celebration' is a wonderful-looking anthology with seventeen new stories commemorating the 50th anniversary of the British Science Fiction Association. The cover art by Vincent Chong is certainly eye-catching and the stories are from some of the UK's best-known genre authors.
Before I get on to the stories themselves, let me deal with my one area of dissatisfaction, a complaint that is likely to get me stoned by other members of the BSFA. Some of the stories just aren't Science Fiction. OK, so SF has a very broad and fuzzy definition, but some of these tales are fantastical, supernatural or spiritualistic in nature. Many people like the three genres of SF, fantasy and horror, hence the numerous mixed genre magazines available, but if like me you just want SF you would expect a BSFA anthology to contain just that. I've had similar arguments discussions with BSFA forum members before. I always lose.
So onto my favourites of the collection, that as you may have guessed are all SF. You'd actually be wrong, though. I do like to contradict myself in my reviews. One of the most effective and fulfilling stories in the volume is Molly Brown's 'Living With The Dead' which makes use of the classic horror ingredient of zombies. The treatment is not at all in the tone of a horror story, so I don't feel too much of a hypocrite. When anyone who dies in one little town comes back to life in a zombie-like state and hangs round in the park all day, the locals aren't really sure what to do about it. The varied reactions - from horror, to pity to complacence - are dealt with in a thoughtful and touching way, with a hint of humour to lighten the sombre subject. I guessed the ending shortly before it arrived, but it still caught in my throat and made me pause for reflection.
Back now to the beginning of the book and Stephen Baxter's steampunk adventure 'The Jubilee Plot'. It's an entertaining story that throws various historical figures into an alternative history of steam-powered vehicles and bomb plots at the opening of the cross-channel bridge. I suspect those who know their history better will appreciate it more, but I still found it an uplifting start to the collection.
Kim Lakin-Smith's 'The Killing Fields' is set in a post-civil war Britain where the country has mostly returned to agriculture and armed gangs roam the land pillaging and plundering. The Scarecrow is an almost legendary figure who fights for the downtrodden or for money anyway. The story is a successful blend of action, new technologies and age-old motivations set against a grim but well-realised backdrop.
'The Crack Angel' is a PI with the dodgy name Panama Red who gets involved in a case that includes mysterious blondes, foreign agents and a monkey. Jon Courtney Grimwood's descriptions of a near-future London inhabited by a variety of dubious and sometimes amusing characters is engagingly realistic as a convoluted plot unfolds to reveal a much bigger picture.
The idea of a slow colony ship arriving at its destination to discover that others got there first has been successfully used a number of times. In 'Soiree', Alistair Reynolds homes in on the moment of arrival and on what the two groups of colonists would think and feel and how they would cope. It starts off as an excellent tale, then develops into something even better. I enjoyed it immensely.
The concluding tale is Adam Roberts' 'The Man Of The Strong Arm', a story full of in-jokes and clever twists that will be appreciated by the SF buff. There's also a terrible pun, but I guess I can overlook that on account of the enjoyment of the rest of the story. Somewhen in the far future, a male dominated society strictly controls knowledge of old technologies while enjoying old Science Fiction stories recovered from ancient media. There are some great satirical concepts, such as the silent robed women who even have to zip up their eyes, that make this a very satisfying conclusion to a wonderful collection.
A fitting celebration of the BSFA? I certainly think so. The variety of stories is amazing, covering a huge swathe of the Science Fiction spectrum and beyond, but peppered with unmistakably British stories. A definite recommendation from me.
Gareth D. Jones
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