01/04/2009. Contributed by Gareth D Jones
pub: Night Shade Books. 263 page enlarged paperback. Price: $ 14.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59780-117-1.
check out websites: www.nightshadebooks.com
In his introduction to 'Eclipse One', editor Jonathan Strahan points out that he was looking for a very broad definition of Science Fiction and fantasy and this volume certainly fulfils that brief. The scope is so broad in fact that several of the stories were barely speculative at all. If you're looking for high fantasy and space opera then you'll likely be disappointed. All of the stories are well written, but I obviously have a very different taste to the editor as I didn't find many of them very entertaining or satisfying. There were a few that I did enjoy though.
'Toother' is an intriguing mystery from Terry Dowling, the title referring to the old occupation of collecting teeth from corpses to make dentures. The practice has been revived by a serial killer in this story, a man who seems to have been active for a very long time and has a strange connection to a clairvoyant mental patient. It reads like a disturbing episode of CSI and offers plenty of tension and bizarreness.
Ysabeau S. Wilce's alternate California is the excellently atmospheric setting for 'Quartermaster Returns'. It starts off like a western in an especially seedy army outpost, but the presence of an ice sprite soon dispels that preconception. The army camp, the characters and the whole situation is portrayed masterfully and makes for a memorable piece.
Nanotech seeded 'Electric Rains' have caused most of Washington DC's inhabitants to either go insane or be uploaded elsewhere in Kathleen Ann Goonan's poignant story. A little girl is left alone after her adoptive grandmother passes away and she has to defend herself in the almost deserted city where the few people left normal struggle to maintain a veneer of civilisation. It's an uplifting tale, offering a different outcome to the usually grim post-apocalyptic genre.
The shortest story of the book is 'Mrs. Zeno's Paradox' by Ellen Klages, an odd little tale of physics, time travel and afternoon tea. It's not to be taken seriously, but manages to cram a ridiculous amount into only a couple of pages.
On a much larger scale, 'The Lustration' is Bruce Sterling's far-future story of a world-spanning wooden computer that performs immensely slow operations by shunting spheres along great wooden channels. The society that maintains it is ancient and staid, having developed a complex philosophy that doesn't take well to change. It's a mind-bending concept that forms the heart of an intriguing story.
The final piece is Lucius Shepard's 'Larissa Miusov', the tale of a struggling screenwriter and the eponymous Russian beauty upon whom he becomes fixated. She feeds him strange stories of her youth in Russia, tantalises him with her presence and backs the production of his movie. It's a finely written story that I thoroughly enjoyed and that left me with that magical feeling of inspiration.
Of course, anyone else reading this volume will likely pick a completely different set of stories. For me, the book is worth those few alone so it's no wonder that 'Eclipse One' has been so highly praised. As an example of the immense scope of speculative fiction it is certainly worthy of anyone's bookshelf.
Gareth D. Jones
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