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ECLIPSE TWO

Edited by Jonathan Strahan

Night Shade Books

978-1-59780-136-2

287pp/$14.95/December 2008

Eclipse Two
Cover by Donato Giancola

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


“The Hero,” the opening story in Eclipse 2 is not one of the easier ones.  Karl Schroeder has engaged in Clementesque world building, creating an environment which is strange and complex enough that the reader spends as much time trying to understand the setting and enjoying the plot and the characters as they make a raid in search, at least nominally, for a treasure ship that has been lost for several years.  In fact, deciphering Schroeder’s environment is as enjoyable as any other part of the story.

Stephen Baxter's “Turing’s Apples” is set well into the twenty-first century and deals with two brothers, one of whom is part of a team which deciphers the first message from the stars.  The brothers have an intense sibling rivalry going with Baxter's narrator leading a balanced family life with some success in his own field, but still feeling overshadowed by his older brother, Wilson, who appears to have more professional, if somewhat less personal success.  Eventually, Wilson appears to have a greater desire to see what pure research can achieve without any concern for what might be best for the human race or where his research may lead.  Wilson's inhumanity is shown in greater detail by the very human contact his brother has with people.

When the anointed one finally makes an appearance, it can cause great havoc among those who wait for him, especially those already in power.  In “Invisible Empire of Ascending Light,” Ken Scholes looks at the role of Missionary General Tana Berrique, whose job is to track down potential successors to the long-dying emperor.  When she finds one who doesn’t quite fit the mold of the other potential anointed ones whom she has interviewed, she doesn’t quite know how to deal with it, until she finally accepts that he might be exactly what she is looking for.  Once satisfied, the hard part of the position occurs as she must bring the news back to those in power.  Scholes creates an interesting dilemma for his character, which would have been enhanced if he had more space in which to follow the threads at which he hinted.

“Michael Laurits Is: Drowning” is Paul Cornell’s look at what happens when the line between virtual reality software and existence is crossed.  His short sections look at the life, death, and virtual resurrection of Michael Laurits, but he fails to fully examine the situation he has set up, instead providing more of an outline for a story.

There is little suspense in Margo Lanagan’s “Night of the Firstlings,” which is essentially a retelling of the story of the tenth plague and the flight of the Israelites from Egypt.  Rather than make the story fully her own, Lanagan seems content to recast it and tell the story without any twists or surprises.

An “Elevator” serves to provide disparate people with their key to the future in Nancy Kress's story of the same title.  Trapped in an elevator for more than ten hours, there is no real connection between the people, who mostly want to escape back to their own lives.  Kress's primary character, Ian is open to communicating with his fellow prisoners, but with few exceptions, there is little comeraderie in the elevator. The wait for rescue is enlivened, and infuriated by an old woman who seems to suffer from dementia.  An interesting set-up, reminiscent in many ways of a Connie Willis story, but with little pay-off for the set up.

In “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm,” Daryl Gregory looks at the reactions people who live in a country ruled by a super villain have when the American super heroes come to attack him.  Lord Grimm is the Victor von Doom-esque ruler of Trovenia.  Although considered a terrorist by the United States, or at least the übermenchen who defend American society, most of the citizens of Trovenia are perfectly happy to live under his rule, except for the numerous invasions by the übermenchen and they way it disrupts their lives.  The story is interesting and raises many points about the idea of heroes and villains.

Ted Chiang has written another successful story with  “Exhalation,” about a robot’s quest for the source of life in a world where robots do not remember their origin.  Applying, and practically creating, the scientific method, Chiang’s protagonist discovers some of the truth about its society and environment and realizes that no matter what is done, its society can’t survive forever, and, in fact, that any steps taken to ensure its survival will only increase the rate at which the end occurs.  Chiang does an excellent job making his automaton sympathetic and human and provides a bitter sweet ending to the story.

David Moles explores the world of virtual reality from the other side in “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.” His characters have sold themselves to the gaming industry to essentially play “cast members,”  or NPCs in virtual worlds.  When the consortium which runs the world is sold and changes are made, the characters go on strike, trying to figure their way out of their situation.  Although it is clear that Moles understands the interface between the “real” world and his virtual world, it is not something he makes fully clear for the reader, requiring a level of suspension of disbelief as the characters struggle to ensure their own continuation on terms they can appreciate.

Peter S. Beagle weaves a wonderful ghost story in “The Rabbi’s Hobby” as he looks at Rabbi Tuvim’s obsession with a magazine cover model.  Rabbi Tuvim is helped along in his obsession and his quest for answers by twelve-year-old Joseph Malakoff, who would do anything to get out of studying for his bar mitzvah.  The fact that the Rabbi’s quest is as life changing for Joseph as the bar mitzvah

Jeffrey Ford explores what to do with a general when he stops being a general by creating the ultimate robot commander in “The Seventh Expression of the Robot General.”  Years after the battle against the Harvang, the general’s role is no longer required.  Ford doesn’t delve into the thought processes the general has, but from his actions, certain emotions appear to be obvious as the robot general comes to terms with his position in a world which no longer requires, or even understands, his role.

“Skin Deep” is Richard Parks's fantasy story about a young village witch, just coming into her own. Faced with the recent loss of her grandmother, the old witch, Ceren must figure out how to make her own way in the world and gain the respect of the local villagers, even as they treat her with fear and, perhaps, loathing.  A new family, setting on their homestead just over the ridge, confuses her as she must deal with her feelings as a woman, even as she is accepting her new role.  Parks does a good job quickly setting the stage and creating characters and a setting which are interesting.

Tony Daniel presents his far-future time travel story “Ex Cathedra” in a manner which makes reading it difficult.  It is one of those stories that teaches you to read it as you are, but Daniel keeps changing the rules on the reader as he progresses, picking up the pace of the story.  This is particularly disconcerting given the slow start the story has, almost begging the reader to skip ahead to find out what is going on with the Cathedral and its keeper.

 “Truth Window: A Tale of the Bedlam Rose” by Terry Dowling is a look at an Earth under occupation by aliens.  Dowling looks at a resistance religion that springs up around a mythical Lady Mondegreen, which confuses the aliens who understand where the name comes from and can’t understand how it can be a rallying cry for the new religion.  The story is complex, not in its plotting, but in its style, a science fiction story that must teach the reader how to read it while it is being read.

Alastair Reynolds pays tribute to Isaac Asimov (and, to a lesser extent, Frank Herbert) in “Fury,” a story which could almost be a part of Asimov’s Robots and Foundation series.  Beginning with the assassination of the nigh-immortal galactic Emperor, Reynolds follows Mercurio, his head of security, as he crosses star systems trying to apprehend the individual behind the assassination and comprehend the reasons behind it. 

Karl Schroeder The Hero
Stephen Baxter Turing's Apples
Ken Scholes Invisible Empire of Ascending Light
Paul Cornell Michael Laurents Is: Drowning
Margo Lanagan Night of the Firstlings
Nancy Kress Elevator
Daryl Gregory The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm
Ted Chiang Exhalation
David Moles Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
Peter S. Beagle The Rabbi's Hobby
Jeffrey Ford The Seventh Expression of the Robot General
Richard Parks Skin Deep
Tony Daniel Ex Cathedra
Terry Dowling Truth Window: A Tale of Bedlam Rose
Alastair Reynolds Fury

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