02/02/2008. Contributed by Paul Skevington
pub: NewCon Press. 136 page paperback. Price £10.99 (UK). ISBN 978-0-9555791-0-3).
check out website: www.NewConPress.com
'dislocations' is the second anthology that NewCon Press has produced. Those of you who managed to obtain a copy of their first production, the excellent 'Time Pieces', will justifiably be expecting this book to repeat the success of its predecessor. I'm happy to say that, to a large extent, it does.
The title of the work aptly reflects the theme of the work as a whole. As the editor Ian Whates states, 'The book deals with 'displacement in the purely physical sense' and also 'all the other possible forms of displacement: mental, emotional, cultural, political, spiritual and beyond.'
This provides it with a distinct sense of purpose, but one not fettered by an unnecessarily proscriptive mandate. We recognise the game that we're playing, but know that the rules may be subject to change.
When this freedom of form is combined with a selection of authors who possess such distinctive and varied voices, it results in a work that sits comfortably amongst the best that the field currently has to offer.
Nearly all of the best games have players or pieces that occupy defensive positions, shoring up the attack with their dependable solidity. In this anthology, it is the more traditionally science fictional pieces that occupy this role, helping to maintain the books interior cohesion whilst still demonstrating their own peculiar talents. The opening and closing stories of this collection are good examples of this dynamic.
The climax of Pat Cadigan's 'Among Strangers' is a spin on a familiar SF idea. I won't elaborate too much upon this, as I'm reluctant to spoil the pleasure of discovery for the reader, suffice to say that it is one of those rare short stories whose strength lies in its body rather than its twitching tail. Cadigan creates a world of ordinary workers functioning in an extraordinary environment, helping alien abductees to acclimatise to their new situation. Ironically, the narrator Hannah is forced to watch as many of these new arrivals are guided towards exciting career paths whilst she continues to fill the same role that she has done since the day that she arrived. It's a story that reassures us that wherever we go, bureaucracy is sure to follow.
Ken Macleod's 'Lighting Out' is reflective of the current trend in SF towards the tale of the post-singularity culture. Here Macleod spins the plot with a nihilistic grace as humanity's cast-offs return to haunt it, filling the galaxy with used possibilities, creating the binary equivalent of a landfill site. Whilst not being the best entry in this collection, it's solid stuff and would serve as a great introduction to the debate currently occupying much of the genre's thought space.
In 'Impasse', Andy West proves that, despite having not yet achieved the success of some of his co-contributors, he is still talented and brave enough to tackle a story within which the chief protagonists do little more than argue with each other. In making one of the combatants such a fierce warrior, West adds extra pathos as this shambling monstrosity is forced to rely on its wits rather than the brute force that previously served it so well. Although the intervention of a third party at the culmination of their mental brawl provides a less than satisfying ending, it was not enough to spoil what could be the prelude to many more tales from this fascinating world.
Then the wild cards come into play. Andrew Hook's 'The Glass Football' starts with a brutal kick to the face and spirals forward in a rush of unavoidable events, like a trickle of blood running down a face to the ground. It's a story of sex, identity and the nature of attraction, and it adds an invaluable note of strangeness to the work.
Even stranger is Hal Duncan's 'The Drifter' which takes the form of a duologue wherein one of the participants remains enigmatically quiet. Here we listen as a man in bar discusses the 'drifter myth'. Using ancient mythology and some quite unconventional theology to make his point, much to the displeasure of the local clientele who appear to be the type of people who would enjoy making piggies squeal. The use of the second person mode puts the reader in the place of the speakers drinking companion, making the reader enjoyably complicit in the spreading of the myth.
I particularly enjoyed Chaz Brenchley's 'Terminal', a successful melding of traditionally fantastical imagery with Science Fictional tropes. The core of the story is a tragic romance and Brenchley uses the tools of genre to elicit responses mainstream fiction could not hope to imitate. This is the strength and the reason behind the best SF stories, showing that some dislocations can prove to be beneficial after all.
dislocations' proves yet again that Ian Whates has the capacity to become an important force in raising the standard of independently produced anthologies. I hope that NewCon Press can maintain the momentum of their first two excellent works.
Add SFcrowsnest.com daily news updates to your own web site or blog - just cut and paste the code below...
Stephen Hunt's novels - USA