1/09/2010. Contributed by Gareth D Jones
pub: Subterranean Press. 231 page deluxe hardback. Price: $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-297-9.
check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com
Subterranean Press are regularly putting out anthologies by some very well-known authors and with great artwork to match. The scene on the cover of Ian R. MacLeod's anthology 'Journeys' is wonderfully evocative of the stories he is particularly well-known for set in his alternative Indian Empire. Although only one story in this collection is explicitly linked to that reality, all of the tales take place in a world or worlds subtly different to our own. They are places that seem very much like the world we live in, but where history or physics or the powers of the elements are just not the same.
'The Master Miller's Tale' is a wonderful example of the familiar portrayed in different light. Here, the power of the elements is captured by guilds of craftsmen, mined from the grounds and put to use in their trades. The master miller uses the wind to power his mill, but finds himself challenged by the new steam engines that are appearing across the land. It's a magical re-telling of the industrial revolution that perfectly evokes the bucolic English countryside.
History is changed again in 'The English Mutiny' when the English underclass rebel against their Indian masters. I don't know my colonial history well enough to say how closely the story mirrors history as we know it, but it's certainly an interesting exercise in turning the tables without being moralistic.
We travel back to Victorian times for 'Elementals' where again the power of the Earth is harnessed for man's use. In classic Victorian gentleman-styled prose, centred around an exclusive club and an eccentric scientist, the mysteries of the city's utilities are explored and captured. It's a particularly enjoyable story, enhanced perhaps by my fondness for Victorian SF.
'The Camping Wainwrights' will strike a chord with anybody who went camping as a child, twenty or more years ago when things were much more primitive than they are now. A series of bizarre disasters plagues the hardy Wainwright family as they endure a series of camping holidays. Are sinister forces at work or is the overly cheerful dad more than he seems? Funny, chilling, endlessly embarrassing to the teen-age boy who narrates the story, it can only truly be appreciated by those who have been campers.
The grandest, most ambitious story and the one that had the most impact was 'The Hob Carpet'. The story is set among the glories of a tradition-bound religious empire, based on the unquestioning subservience of a race of Neanderthals. The humans treat this underclass with less than contempt, barely noticing their existence for the most part, sacrificing them en masse at the whim of their priests. The heir to a rich estate begins to take note of these silent servants as he grows to adulthood, leading to expectations of revolt, enlightenment and emancipation. We are taken in a different direction, though, a darker destination that leads to a conclusion much more powerfully impressive. It's a masterfully wrought tale.
This is a fascinating collection of stories that demonstrates Ian R. MacLeod's ability to weave elements of the fantastic into everyday life. The result is a series of stories that are true to human nature while the nature of reality changes about them. Even the very short stories that I have not mentioned here are finely crafted and worth appreciating individually. Another excellent service to the reading public has been performed by Subterranean Press.
Gareth D. Jones
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