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Redshift
edited by Al Sarrantonio
Roc Books, 544 pages

Redshift
Al Sarrantonio
Novelist, short story writer, editor, book reviewer and columnist, Al Sarrantonio is the author of 20 novels in the horror, science fiction, mystery, and western genres, as well as the editor of 5 books of horror and humour. He has been nominated for the Horror Writer Association's Bram Stoker Award as well as for the Shamus Award of the Private Eye Writers of America.

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SF Site Review: 999

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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Let's get the obvious criticism out of the way first. Editor Al Sarrantonio's claims for Redshift are overblown to the point of silliness. He promotes it as a taboo-busting book of short fiction in the tradition of Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions volumes. This is absurd -- he admits himself that the opening story (Dan Simmons' "On K2 With Kanakaredes") does not fit these parameters. Quite so, but almost none of the stories present even make an attempt at being particularly "dangerous" or (to use the more trendy term from this book's subtitle) "extreme" -- and those that do, while interesting, are certainly still publishable in today's magazines. Indeed, the most "dangerous" SF story I read in 2001 was Megan Lindholm's "Cut," from Asimov's. While here in Redshift, we are given, for example, Ardath Mayhar's "Fungi," a nice enough story that could have been published without a word changed in any early 50s magazine -- and indeed, very similar stories, with similar themes, were published in early 50s magazines. Sarrantonio's further claim, that his anthology is the best original anthology of the past 25 years, is at least defensible from the point of view of his understandable bias -- but speaking as a reviewer, I can't endorse that claim either, though this book is a fine collection of stories.

Well, enough complaining about something that really has little to do with the actual quality of the stories present. So I will say that this book is easily worth the price. The mix of stories includes a couple I don't think worthy of publishing, and several rather mediocre pieces, but quite a few very nice stories, and several outstanding efforts. Above average for a typical anthology -- good enough to call this one of the fine anthologies of the past few years -- but nothing to place it ahead of a couple of the Full Spectrum collections, or the 1997 New Worlds, or the Starlight anthologies, or Greg Bear and Martin H. Greenberg's outstanding 1995 book New Legends -- to name a few excellent 90s anthologies.

Let's highlight the excellent stories here. The three longest stories include two novellas and a long novelette. The weakest novella, surprisingly enough, is Gene Wolfe's "Viewpoint," which is a gripping enough story, about a man given $100,000 -- if he can keep it while the government and ordinary people track him with the help of the media. It's a thrilling read, but it fails due to overly strident politics and a certain lack of plausibility. The other novella is Elizabeth Hand's "Cleopatra Brimstone." This is beautifully written, line by line, but it is way too long (as Sarrantonio all but admits in his introduction). Still, it's a very pleasing read, about a woman, studying insects in college, who goes to London to recuperate from a rape, and finds that she has developed a curious sort of alter ego with a strange power. The story is absorbing throughout, but the thematic payout and the telegraphed twist ending don't really reward 20,000-plus words. Dan Simmons' long opening novelette, "On K2 With Kanakaredes," is a satisfying story of mountain climbing with an inscrutable alien guest. Simmons both tells a gripping mountain adventure, and tells an interesting SF story about contact with aliens.

Perhaps the strangest story in the book is the closing story, Neal Barrett, Jr.'s "Rhido Wars." We haven't seen much of Barrett's short fiction lately, and even his novels have been a bit less ambitious in recent years. This is a reminder of how odd and affecting the author of "Cush," Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus" and "Stairs" can be. It's difficult to precisely describe -- I'm not sure I understand it anyway. It seems to be the story of a group of humans under the control of some baboons, and a war between the main character's "tribe" and another "tribe," featuring "rhidos." The main focus is on the main character, a young man in charge of his four younger siblings. His love for his brothers and especially his sister, and his fatalistic acceptance of their position, are very well portrayed, in a bleak and moving tale.

I was also taken with a couple of more satirical pieces. James Patrick Kelly's brief "Unique Visitors" takes a look at a person awakened sometime in the future, and his slow realization of his condition. Paul Di Filippo is at his most all out viciously satirical in "Weeping Walls," about a near future businesswoman who markets the title products to help people deal with their grief fashionably. Also fine are "The Building," another of Ursula K. Le Guin's excellent essays in "anthropological" SF, with a subtle moral point; and Thomas M. Disch's "In Xanadu," an extended riff on death and cyberspace, built on references to Coleridge's poem. Another interesting take on death and the afterlife is P.D. Cacek's "Belief," which familiarly enough shows a soldier sent to the after-life to continue fighting -- but who he is fighting is a well-sprung surprise. And, finally, Stephen Baxter's "In the Un-Black" is a nearly incomprehensible but still evocative tale of the changes humans have inflected on themselves to fight their extended war with the Xeelee.

So, even if Redshift doesn't live up to the editor's hype, and even if it features quite a few stories that aren't really up to snuff, it is a long book, and the best stories in it are certainly worth the price of the book, and worth your reading attention.

Copyright © 2002 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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