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Zima Blue And Other Stories by Alastair Reynolds

01/08/2009. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Zima Blue in the USA - or Buy Zima Blue in the UK

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pub: Gollancz. 403 page hardback. Price: 18.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-08405-6.

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What is a first edition? Normally a first edition is counted as the first publication of the book with that title. In the past this was fairly clear and if a volume was to appear in both the US and the UK, then the American edition tended to precede the British by several months. Then someone had the bright idea of simultaneous publication on both sides of the Atlantic, thus creating chaos in the collectors' market.

There are a large number of collectors in all fiction genres for whom the possession of the first edition of a book, especially by a favourite author is very important. Some are prepared to pay obscene amounts of money for them. I don't think that is yet the case for Alastair Reynolds, though there are people who want all his stories in book form.

'Zima Blue' was originally published in 2006 by Nightshade Books, an American outfit. They produced two versions, the ordinary version and a limited edition containing an extra story. Now, in 2009, Gollancz have published the collection in Britain. Not a first edition, then. Not after a three year gap. Or is it? This edition contains three extra stories that were not in either of the Nightshade editions. As this is the complete edition, is it therefore the first?

Of these four stories, 'Digital To Analogue' is the one not in the ordinary Nightshade edition but in their limited and the Gollancz editions. Unusually for Reynolds, it is one of the few stories set in the present. The narrator is well into the club scene - alcohol, soft drugs and loud music. One night on the way home, he is picked up by a serial killer preying on clubbers.

Of the three stories, only in the Gollancz edition, 'Minla's Flowers' is the middle of a sequence of three stories. The central character calls himself Merlin and the sequence revolves around two problems: How the remnants of humanity are going to hide from the pursuing Huskers (aliens bent on wiping out humans wherever they might be found) and how they are going to find a weapon to destroy the Huskers. Both humans and Huskers are space-faring species travelling long distances in sub-light ships. There is a faster way. A long gone alien species threaded the galaxy with a fast transit system, if you can gain access to it. In 'Hideaway', the humans have to decide whether to hide or run.

Opinion is divided, so they divide the ship. Merlin stays with the group that intends to hide on a cinder of a planet. His motive, to find a way of using an artefact they call a sphinx to gain access to the Way. In 'Minla's Flowers', Merlin, now a seasoned traveller of the Way, finds a planet of floating cities reminiscent of his own planet, destroyed by the Huskers. By going into stasis for long periods, he is able to follow the career of Minla and her attempts to unify her planet.

In the third of the sequence, 'Merlin's Gun', he believes he has found where the weapon he wants is located. These three stories are very different from each other and are unified by the character of Merlin. It would be good to have more or longer pieces of his story.

Another story, only in this volume is 'Cardiff Afterlife'. It is in the same sequence as 'Signal To Noise'. One of the consequences of String Theory is the idea that there are many parallel worlds. Here, the belief is that with every choice, an alternative time-line branches off our own. It is becoming a fashionable theme in SF. In this story, however, a laboratory in Cardiff has succeeded in linking resonances with another, closely parallel world.

In our world, Mick Leighton's wife is killed in a traffic accident. In the world they have contact with, she is still alive. Using technology that allows for transfer of minds between bodies, Mick takes over his counterpart's body to spend a few more days with his wife before the differences between their realities becomes too different to hold the connection.

In 'Cardiff Afterlife', the city is destroyed by a terrorist atomic bomb, but not in all versions of Cardiff. The story relates the effect of the knowledge of the destruction on a counter-part of a parallel world of the man who developed the means to communicate between alternative Cardiffs.

Related to these stories in philosophy is the fourth story only in the Gollancz volume. In 'Everlasting', an unstable man scares an old friend by ringing her up and telling her that he is not going to kill himself. His theory is that as there are infinite worlds, if he plays Russian Roulette, then he cannot die because in one branch of the timeline, he always survives. It is a scary kind of twisted logic, but entirely believable.

Of the remaining stories in this volume, all of which appear in all versions, the first and last involve the same character. Carrie Clay is a journalist who specialises in interviewing people with strange stories. As a character, she is fairly passive. She is a listener and it is the tales her interviewees tell that make the stories fascinating. In 'The Real Story', she is interviewing Grossart, the first man to set foot on Mars. During his lone voyage to the now colonised red planet, he coped by developing multiple personalities.

As he shows her the sights of Mars, she has to keep up with his personality switches to avoid upsetting him and losing the scoop. In 'Zima Blue', Carrie is the only person granted an interview with Zima, the reclusive artist. Zima Blue is the colour that the artist started putting in his paintings, initially as a very small square but which grew to dominate the entire work. Some of his creations have literally been on a cosmic scale. Now the world is awaiting the unveiling of his final masterpiece.

There are five other stories in this collection. All of them are well told, thoughtful stories which aim at exploring an aspect of humanity as well as entertaining. The ones that work best for me are those in which the central character is interesting enough for the author to want to go back and write more about, such as Merlin and Carrie Clay.

The question still remains, though. Is this a first edition?

Pauline Morgan

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