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The Del Rey Book Of Science Fiction And Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow

01/09/2009. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy The Del Rey Book Of Science Fiction And Fantasy in the USA - or Buy The Del Rey Book Of Science Fiction And Fantasy in the UK

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pub: Del Rey/Ballantine. 400 page enlarged paperback. Price: $16.00 (US), $19.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-49632-4.

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When 'Uncle Geoff' issues the list of review books to choose from, he writes a short description of the tome and for 'The Del Rey Book Of Science Fiction And Fantasy' he said something like 'exactly what it says on the packet'.

I'm afraid he was wrong. It says Science Fiction on the packet in big letters but there is very little Science Fiction in the book and what there is mostly isn't all that Science Fictional.

'The Elephant Ironclads' by Jason Stoddard is set in an alternate history where the Navajo Indians have retained an independent state and use airships rather than aeroplanes. 'Ardent Clouds' by Lucy Sussex is about volcanoes and features some science but it's set in the present day or the very near future and has no radical departures from what we know. 'Special Economics' by Maureen F. McHugh, about a young girl trying to make money, is set in near future China and has her working in a bio-technology factory but again is very soft-core SF.

'Prisoners Of The Action' by Paul McAuley and Kim Newman is hard SF about captured aliens on a military base but it's the only example here. Four out of sixteen tales that can be counted as Science Fiction.

All the above are good stories and probably my favourites in the book. The rest of the stuff is ever-so-slightly fantastic fantasy and usually set in the present day. They are all very nicely beautifully, elegantly written and according to the biographical notes many of the authors have either won or been runners-up for various awards. But 'Sonny Liston Takes the Fall' by Elizabeth Bear, while it's an interesting text about old-time boxing is barely a story at all, let alone a Science Fiction or fantasy story.

Nor is it alone in this. 'The Lagerstatte' by Laird Barron is about a grieving widow who keeps seeing her late husband and son inviting her to join them in death. There are fantasy elements but it is told from her point of view and she is seeing a psychiatrist so she may be mad. It's a good but is it a fantasy? Or is it just that there is no market for short stories so the clever writers - and these are all clever writers - put a hint of fantasy in their touching tales and smuggle their pretty words in under the SF/fantasy umbrella simply to get them published?

If so then editor Ellen Datlow is complicit in the conspiracy for such stories make up the bulk of the book. I have reviewed several magazines over the years for SFCrowsnest and there are always one or two examples of this sort of thing therein. That's okay, we are a broad church, but here you have a concentration of them.

I will emphasise strongly that this is an excellent collection of stories but it says Science Fiction on the packet and you don't get much of that. I'll own up that my notion of Science Fiction is probably a bit old-fashioned and consists of aliens, spaceships, strange new civilizations, shocking futures and so forth. There is fantasy here and some horror but there is mostly urbane, literary sophistication. So buy it if that's what you want. If you want action, robots, aliens, heroes and spaceships look elsewhere for with the honourable exception of 'Prisoners Of The Action' there is none in this volume.

Eamonn Murphy

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