A Little Exposure for the Little Guys
This is the second instalment of my survey of small press and self-published books received at the SF Site office over the past few months -- books you may not otherwise have heard about. I'm not aiming to give full reviews here; just a quick look at some of these lesser known works, and my impressions of them.
The subtitle of this collection is "The Best Unknown Science Fiction and Fantasy of 1998." What editor Brian Youmans has done is to collect the best stories and poems from F&SF small press around the globe and compile them in this very professional package. Its precursor, Best of the Rest 1990, did likewise. This time, however, the "small press" definition was expanded to include any English-language publication as long as it had a small US readership.
Selections from this anthology were originally published in such venues as Gerard Houarner's Going Postal collection, genre magazines Not One of Us, Terra Incognita, Tales of the Unanticipated, Talebones, Strange Plasma, On Spec (Canadian), Altair (Australian), Interzone (UK), and online in Eternity: The Online Journal of Speculative Imagination and the Gothic.net webzine.
I didn't get to all the selections -- yet -- but the half dozen or so that I've read so far impressed me considerably. They range from SF to dark fantasy (with some rather amusing and satirical SF poems), and are, for the most part, by unfamiliar authors. (If you read a lot of short fiction, particularly in the smaller circulation genre magazines, you're bound to recognize some of the names.) When Youmans says he's found the best, I believe him. So if you want a shortcut to what was good in small press in 1998, this is definitely it. The only unfortunate thing about this collection is that, being published itself via small press, it falls victim to the frequent small press hazard of an irregular publication schedule. Best of the Rest 1990 didn't appear until 1992; Best of the Rest 2 came out in 1999, on target for a best of '98 collection, but nevertheless several years after the first one. If Youmans could somehow manage to do a Best of the Rest regularly each year (or maybe even every second year), and of a consistently high quality, it could prove to be a real boost to the unknown writers in the more obscure venues.
As the titles suggest, these books are meant to be read as a single unit, although certainly the first one could be read in isolation. And, as Lisa DuMond said in her review of the first volume, it's a book worth reading, in spite of the proliferation of copyediting errors. I would go one step further on both counts: D'Alembert explores some exciting new SF concepts and ideas and he has the right instinct for storytelling, but the copyediting and the editing are abysmal. The whole thing reads like a sub-standard translation from another language.
If you can put your brain into the same gear that enables you to enjoy a poorly dubbed foreign film, you could potentially get a lot out of The Song of the Swan I & II. In fact, if adapted by a clever enough screenwriter, the story might even make an entertaining hard SF film. All the elements of a good story are there; it only needs to be tightened up some and then re-written more smoothly from beginning to end.
The story starts when a scientist finds a pattern in the star data from a sun that went supernova 160,000 years ago. As teams of scientists attempt to interpret the message, governments step in and turn the investigation into a technological race with a purely political agenda. The sender of the message, however, has other intentions. D'Alembert plays with intriguing concepts from fractals to creating mini black holes.
My conclusion: D'Alembert has thoughts and stories worth expressing, but he needs a qualified English editor; Universal hasn't provided him with what he needs.
This first volume of the Spectrutek Series is a very light-hearted SF murder-mystery. The author is quite frank about writing to have fun with the material, and the characters themselves take on the author's own easy-going sense of humour. It's a low-calorie, non-challenging read. The characters are fun, although there is little depth to them; the science is unrealistic and largely irrelevant to the plot; and the concept is moderately entertaining.
Paradise is a planet inhabited by 3 groups of expatriate Earthlings and/or their descendants, each living in isolation from the other groups. They are: 1) a low-tech society of granola-and-yoghurt types, followers of a mystic from Earth who taught psychic healing, etc.; 2) a (from what I gathered) predominately non-organized group of genetically altered humans who, back on Earth, had the funds to change themselves into either aquatic, avian or feline humanoids, and who subsequently found themselves to be unwelcome in regular human company; and 3) a bunch of American idealists who claim to believe in the philosophy of the Great Republic, although they live under the iron rule of a crotchety old dictator. And the whole show is supervised by a 4th group, the corporate entity known as Spectrutek. In this book, representatives of Spectrutek bring together the leaders of the 3 disparate groups for the first time; diplomacy ensues; lies are told; secrets are discovered; people are killed. Who killed them and why? The solution, I am sorry to report, is less than satisfying.
The book is quite slim at 176 pages, including several full-page black & white illustrations by Lance W. Card. I didn't find the illustrations to add much, as they are rather amateurish. There is little consistency among them -- a particular character's face, for example, will not be recognizable from one picture to the next -- but it is refreshing to see that this illustrator obviously read the text.
And since I've touched on the copyediting in the other books I've looked at,
I'll mention that this one seems to have had it's last proofreading before
the final layout was determined. Most of the errors are in relation to
spacing -- random line breaks in the middle
Overall, though, it's a light easy read, with what appear to be references to actual persons and places in the vein of inside jokes, which makes me think it probably already has a very select audience. With a little more depth to the world, the characters and the story, a larger audience could be enticed.
More to come...
Next time (SF Site mid-May issue is my target), I'll be looking at a few more small press and self-published books in the traditional paper format. Then I'll have something to say about a few books in electronic format.
If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning,
please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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