Dec 29, 2010

Speculative Horizons

I've had my fair share of disagreement with Pat and the stuff he writes on his Hotlist. I doubt I even register on his radar, but he has royally pissed me off on a number of occasions. However, being asked to edit a short story collection is - well let's face it - effin awesome! I can only imagine the guy's enthusiasm for the job, and in a way I'm happy for him. I know it would be a dream come true for me, and I'm pretty sure it was for him.

That said, Speculative Horizons doesn't make it easy for you to pick it up. At $20 it is only 130 pages long, with just five stories inside. Sure, they are all new and unpublished ones - and yes, one of them is by Hal Duncan!!! - but it's still pretty steep. And then there is the truly hideous cover (a lot less hideous live than it is on the screen though) - another turn-off. What made the decision for me was the fact that a portion of the proceeds goes to cancer research - I'm always up for supporting this kind of stuff, and I even bought my copy through Subterranean's site, paying the full price and all.

So, is the book worth it? I would have to say yes. Let's see:

Soul Mate by C.S. Friedman is an eerie vampiric story of a woman who finds true love, or what appears to be such. In the end it is more urban fantasy horror than anything else, and manages to be extremely disturbing in the way the tale progresses. Just like with everyone else except for Hal Duncan, this is my first time reading anything by Friedman, so I didn't know what to expect, but I find her decision to go into such a sensitive subject as the way we come to resemble the ones we love brave to say the least.

Tobias S. Buckell's The Eve of the Fall of Habesh is my favorite story in the collection. It manages to build an intricate tapestry of a corrupt and dying city where the elite rule using the life-force of children in a world where magic takes away chunks of your life every time you use it, and everyone is limited to only one type of spell. It is dark story that reeks of despair and self-destruction, and of things ending forever, and I absolutely loved it, even though the ending was probably a bit underwhelming and the main character Jazim is less than relateable.

In The Stranger, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., I was reminded yet again of why I will probably never try a book from that author. It was the Eddings experience all over again - cardboard characters, pretentious drama, tired world-building and an adequatly depicted action scene. I admit to a mild curiosity about the science-fiction elements in his Recluse world, but having read other books of that type, I just know it's not going to be worth the effort. Still The Stranger earns points for being the only actual sword and sorcery classical fantasy in the collection.

Brian Ruckley's Flint is a great story of a very young prehistoric shaman who tries to save his tribe from a mystical disease, only to find that it is a legacy of the previous shaman's dark secrets. Fighting his people's prejudice against his youth, as well as the knowledge of his own inexperience, Flint must grow up and become the man his tribe needs him to be. The tale is a beautifully structured ghost story and the prehistoric setting brings that primeval feeling of people with not even the notion of history behind them, of a life that is an endless discovery every single day.

The Death of a Love, by Hal Duncan, is the least "fantastic" story in Speculative Horizons. It is more of a magical realism kinda deal, almost a parable, as it doesn't even have an actual plot. In the world he depicts, love takes corporeal form as little cupids that flutter about the "'birds", and as such, the little bastards can be killed for any number of reasons and in many different ways, thus killing the 'birds relationship. The story is told in first-person from the perspective of a cop working for "erocide" - the police department charged with solving those murders. It is a gritty examination of how gruesome "true love" can be, and of the messed up ways in which people are capable of destroying their own relationships. There is a lot of cursing in this one, but it kind of adds to the surreal realism of the murder of cupids.

In the end, Speculative Horizons offers a broad variety in its five stories, and although that could lead to some disconnection from the collection, I am sure everyone could find something of worth there. Personally, I fell in love with Duncan's story (see what I did there), as well as with Buckel's, which made me look for other works of the guy. Also, the book is made for a good cause and that adds to its worth. I would definitely recommend it if you can afford the steep price.


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