01/05/2009. Contributed by Gareth D Jones
pub: Night Shade Books. 287 page enlarged paperback. Price: $ 14.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59780-136-2.
check out websites: www.nightshadebooks.com
I was greatly relieved to read in the introduction to 'Eclipse Two' that the contents lean more towards SF than they did in volume one. I commented then that I evidently have very different tastes to Jonathan Strahan, yet this time I enjoyed many more of the stories. There was less of the slipstream side of things that was evident in the first outing but, from the very beginning, we are treated to a huge variety of sfnal ideas that are used in entertaining and original ways.
I'm hard pressed to pick a few favourites to discuss this time. Ted Chiang's 'Exhalation' was breathtaking and deservedly is up for both the BSFA and Hugo Awards, but there are many other excellent stories in this volume that will stick in the memory, too.
I was impressed with the opening story, 'The Hero' by Karl Schroeder, which set the tone for the rest of the book. The setting is a huge, hollow world, where communities live in the light from numerous artificial suns that generate a field limiting the complexity of any machinery in use by the inhabitants. The whole sphere is populated by marvels of Schroeder's imagination and navigated by a young lad who knows that he is dying but wants to do one last great deed to help mankind. The story is nothing less than heroic.
In 'The Illustrated Biography Of Lord Grim' by Daryl Gregory, we find ourselves in a fictional Eastern European State whose dictator, Lord Grim, has a flair for the dramatic that tends to bring down the displeasure of the West. It's a story full of cybernetic warriors, giant robots, bio-augmented super-soldiers and the civilians caught in the cross-fire and has a truly fabulous feel to it. The quirky inhabitants who find themselves struggling to survive the latest invasion are an excellent selection of well-written characters
'Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom' by David Moles starts off in an over-the-top fantasy town full of an endless procession of fabulous beings. It soon becomes evident that we are in some kind of virtual world, but before you have chance to draw any conclusions we are swept along in a succession of commercial and political machinations, electronic coups and complex cyber-talk that leaves your head spinning. It's the best cyberspace story I've read for quite some time.
Robots appear in a number of guises throughout this volume and in 'The Seventh Expression Of The Robot General', Jeffrey Ford tells us about the heroic yet barbaric figure that led humanity to victory over their enemy. It's told as a nostalgic tale of yesterday's heroics, but finishes poignantly with a figure who is no longer needed or wanted.
The attempted assassination of the galactic emperor is the opening scene of 'Fury' by Alastair Reynolds. It's a story with a massive scope, both in time and space, that had echoes of Frank Herbert's 'God-Emperor Of Dune' and Asimov's 'Foundation' preludes. It's an interesting and enjoyable tale to bring the book to a satisfying conclusion.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I enjoyed this book far more than volume one, and I felt the stories overall were stronger. By the time you read this we'll already know whether Ted Chiang's 'Exhalation' won the BSFA award. Editor Jonathan Strahan hopes to produce an annual anthology that will be a touchstone of the year in fantasy and SF. I'm looking forward to what this year will bring.
Gareth D. Jones
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