01/05/2009. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: Galaxy Press. 493 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US). ISBN: 1-59212-345-7.
check out websites: www.galaxypress.comand www.writersofthefuture.com
According to Isaac Asimov, L.Ron Hubbard was a figure so dominant and charismatic that at a party he put everyone else in the shade, even Robert Heinlein. He wasn't on anyone's list of Great Authors but he knew how to do pulp fiction and was a success in the field. Then he set up Scientology and gained a different reputation. It is still going strong. His other legacy is the 'Writers Of The Future' contest which engenders the works in these books and for that, at least, all credit to the man.
'The Sword From The Sea' by Blake Hutchins is the first story. I read it before checking the author's details and would have sworn it was written by a woman. It had that sort of feel. The protagonist is a pre-pubescent girl, Gull, an orphan who lives on an island where she is not much liked for she is odd and cannot speak. In any case, Gull is due to be sacrificed to the God as soon as she reaches womanhood.
The God has forbidden men to travel on the sea so when a tattooed warrior is washed up on the beach, there is some consternation in the village. The events that follow slowly reveal the nature of Gull's world and the writing, strictly from her point of view, helps the reader identify strongly with her. A very good opening shot for the anthology.
There's a good old-fashioned SF story about scientists landing on a new planet and studying it. Not too old fashioned because two of the scientists are female and just as good as, if not better than, the man. 'Evolution's End' is by Lee Beavington, a biologist with the happy knack of putting over hard science so skilfully that a layman has at least the delusion of understanding it. Add to this talent an intriguing mystery with hints of alien menace and you get work of art. I loved it.
Religious themes have a long history in SF. Classic examples are 'A Case Of Conscience' by James Blish and, more famous, Heinlein's 'Stranger In A Strange Land'. Qualified in both physics and philosophy, David John Baker gives us 'On The Mount', an exploration of Clarke's Third Law: 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' The Destineers are an order of scholars and peacekeepers in the far future but when one of their number sets himself up as God on a primitive planet, it raises interesting philosophical questions. His behaviour as a Supreme Being might give an insight into the mind of the real Supreme Being, if there is one. Wrap these themes in a good plot with interesting characters and the result is perhaps a masterpiece.
Like Blish, Joseph Jordan has a Jesuit scientist as the protagonist in his cosmological tale. Father Jose Sanchez is having doubts about his faith following the death of his mother and wants to go and do missionary work, tired of his cushy post with Notre Dame University. Instead, he is sent to a scientific conference at the biggest particle accelerator the world has ever seen where a hubristic physicist is planning to re-create conditions not seen in the universe since just after the big bang. Another great story.
To review every tale would have me scanning the thesaurus for superlatives. There were one or two tales that didn't fit my taste but they were clearly of a high standard. This is an excellent collection, the best I've read for a long time and certainly the best featuring new writers.
Along with top-rate fiction, there are mini-biographies of the contributors, both writers and illustrators, and non-fiction articles on writing and the state of the field by such luminaries as Hubbard, Robert J. Sawyer and Orson Scott Card who asks 'Are we at the end of Science Fiction?'
If this collection is anything to go by Orson old chum, we are not.
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