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Subtle Edens edited by Allen Ashley

02/03/2009. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy Subtle Edens in the USA - or Buy Subtle Edens in the UK

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pub: Elastic Press. 318 page enlarged paperback. Price: 7.99 (UK), $15.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-9553181-9-1.

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I've read some slipstream stories from time to time and read other stories that are probably slipstream without realising it. It's been described as 'the genre that is not a genre' and as such I didn't really know what to expect from 'Subtle Edens'. Now I've read the anthology, I realise that some of my own flash fiction could best be described as slipstream. There are twenty-one stories in this volume, so I'll tell you about a few of my favourites.

'Adrift' is Ian Shoebridge's quirky tale that was somewhat like 'Gulliver's Travels' mixed with 'Waterworld' and 'Lost'. A shipwrecked mariner comes across a series of bizarre lands and characters as he tries to complete his interrupted voyage. The locations and situations are described with enthusiasm and wit and made this an amusing highlight for me.

In the sterile and controlling future of David A Sutton's 'Mind-Forged Manacles', a wildlife biome in the Australian outback is due to be ploughed up and mined. The inexperienced agent sent to serve notice on the inhabitants is a well-conceived character who undergoes a series of conflicting emotions as he is drawn into the complex world that he at first deplores. The inclusion of an emotionless artificial bodyguard as his foil adds an extra depth to this poignant story.

'The House Beneath Delgany Street' is not at all the kind of story I would usually be reading, but Scott Brendal paints such an emotive picture of the desperate life of the homeless that I couldn't help being drawn in. An urban legend of a house that will cater to their every need gives the group of outcasts a kernel of hope, despite the sinister consequences. It's a beautifully written piece.

One of the most mind-bending SF stories I've ever read comes in the shape of 'Silent Emergent, Doubly Dark' by Richard Thieme. After attending a course of mind-expanding studies, a student is sent to visit various alien cultures to learn how they think and how the universe works. The descriptions of what he finds are psychedelic and bizarre and lead to a confusing yet impressive tale.

Josh McDonald comes up with an ingenious solution to overcrowding and immigrants - the development of 'Luxury Flats' within your head where tenants can live out their lives using your spare brain power. Of course things can go wrong, as one unfortunate man finds out when his mind starts playing tricks on him. It's a very British story and has a wry British sense of humour.

What happens to your characters in all those stories you never finished writing? What if they could escape and travel between stories? Toiya Kristen Finley comes up with a brilliant answer in 'Conspiracy Courts The Maiden', my favourite story of the volume. Not only is the subject very cleverly dealt with, but the story is also written in two strands, told simultaneously from two different viewpoints in two columns. It's a brilliant piece.

Apart from these stories, there are wide variety of styles, subjects and themes. Some of them left me perplexed, confused or dissatisfied, while others left me amazed or amused. I guess in this collection there were a higher proportion of stories that didn't appeal to me personally, but this serves to emphasise the wildly diverse nature of slipstream. In this editor Allen Ashley has done a fine job of publicising his favourite genre.

Gareth D. Jones

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