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Eclipse Two
edited by Jonathan Strahan
Night Shade Books, 287 pages

Eclipse Two
Jonathan Strahan
Jonathan Strahan was born in Belfast and moved to perth in 1968. He is the co-founder of Eidolon: The Journal of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy and is currently the reviews editor of Locus: The Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Field. He lives in Perth, Western Australia, with his family.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Eclipse One
SF Site Review: The Starry Rift
SF Site Review: The New Space Opera
SF Site Review: The Jack Vance Treasury
SF Site Review: Best Short Novels 2006
SF Site Review: Best Short Novels 2005
SF Site Review: The Locus Awards

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

The early years of the twenty-first century are a time of resurgence for non-themed anthologies, pointing to a resurgence in short fiction, from which science fiction has traditionally garnered its biggest names. Jonathan Strahan has now published Eclipse Two, the second of his non-themed anthologies published by Night Shade Press (and many of these non-themed anthologies are coming from small, or even micro-presses). The joy of this sort of anthology is in the discovery of authors or stories otherwise unknown to the reader.

Eclipse Two opens with Karl Schroeder's "The Hero," which is a story based on world-building of the Hal Clement sort. As with Terry Dowling's story near the end of the collection, the reader learns to read Schroeder's tale as it happens, mostly because the setting is not anything which the reader is expecting as Jessie and his companions from the Mistelle are seeking a great treasure, or something else, inside a bug. The plot of the story is almost lost in the explanation of the strange world Jessie inhabits.

Two brothers who have gone separate ways are the focus of Stephen Baxter's "Turing's Apples." His narrator is a family man who specializes in security, while the other brother, Wilson, leads a life more focused on his work in mathematics. When Wilson is on a team working to crack the first interstellar message, his solitude becomes a liability in a way that nobody could have foreseen, and it is up to Baxter's narrator to try to get him to return his attention to the good of the human race rather than abstract knowledge.

In a galactic empire with a religion-based imperial family, Ken Scholes looks at what the succession to the throne means in "Invisible Empire of Ascending Light." Tana Berrique is a Missionary General whose task is to interview those who make claim to being the chosen successor to the dying emperor. Her task is one of cynicism and disappointment until she meets H'ru, and discovers that when faced with what she has been looking for throughout her career, she is unsure of how to handle the situation or the individuals involves. Although Scholes keeps the story small, it hints at a much broader realm that may be of interest.

Paul Cornell examines a virtual reality game gone awry in "Michael Laurits Is: Drowning." In this world, as player Michael Laurits is on the verge of death, a friend of his manages to download Laurits into the system. The legal status of Laurits as well as the intellectual property rights of the company that runs the game are briefly explored, although Cornell doesn't look at any of the issues in detail. Told in short, almost choppy, sections, the piece seems more an experimental work or an outline for a longer, philosophical work, than a story in its own right.

"Night of the Firstlings" is Margo Lanagan's retelling of the story of the tenth plague and the flight from Egypt from the point of view of a child too young to fully understand what is happening. Lanagan has altered the setting somewhat, perhaps to allow herself more narrative freedom, but her tale of the Dukka's flight from the Gypsies is familiar. Unfortunately, that familiarity isn't broken by any real surprises as Lanagan relates the Dukka's flight across the sea bed.

Nancy Kress sketches out her characters' futures in "Elevator." Trapped in the titular mode of transportation for ten hours, the ranting of an old woman with dementia take on extra meaning once the characters escape their small prison. Seen through the eyes of one character, Kress's story seems a little slight, as if it could be expanded to show more clearly the woman's predictions' effects on the characters.

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.

In his few published short stories, Ted Chiang has set the bar for himself quite high. Fortunately, "Exhalation" does nothing to lower the bar, although it seems that there must come a time when Chiang can no longer clear the expectations he has set for himself. In "Exhalation," Chiang gets into the mind of a robot who is concerned about the extinction of his race. Set in a time when the robots have no clue about their mechanical origin, or even how they function, Chiang's protagonist decides to experiment on itself to find out what makes its memory work and, therefore, what the source of life is. Its discovery makes it realize that entropy is ever-increasing and that any attempt to slow it down will only increase the rate. Chiang's robot has very human concerns and responses to the situation in which it finds itself.

"Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" by David Moles is a look at the world of virtual gaming from the NPCs (or cast members) stuck inside the game. In Moles's world, however, these NPCs are humans who have sold themselves to the gaming company, although Moles never fully explains the procedure or reasoning. When the gaming company is sold and the "physics" of the fantasy world changes, the NPCs stage a strike and things quickly go downhill. Moles looks at the legal aspects of what is happening, filling in with looks at the personal relationships which cropped up between the NPCs during the course of their indenture.

Peter S. Beagle looks at a Rabbi's obsession with a model from a twenty-year old photo and his assistant, a young boy who sees the Rabbi's obsession as an excellent way to avoid working on his bar mitzvah lessons in "The Rabbi's Hobby." For most of the story, Rabbi Tuvim and Joseph's quest for the model's identity could have been a straight mystery, and even after her identity is revealed, there is nothing, at first, necessarily fantastic about her, but Beagle provides a twist and makes the model a key figure, not so much for Rabbi Tuvim, but for Joseph and the photographer's daughter, who has helped the two figure out the answer to their question.

The title of Jeffrey Ford's story, "The Seventh Expression of the Robot General," places, in some ways, too much emphasis on a minor part of the story. The Robot General was designed by humanity as the perfect killer and leader of men for a war against the alien Harvang. Described mostly after the war is over, Ford indicates a private loneliness, or perhaps ennui, that the Robot General suffers, depicted in his hidden seventh expression. Although Ford shows the robot as something sans peer, he never really explores the emotions and thoughts the robot seems to be having.

Richard Parks creates a wonderful rural setting for a witch who is just learning how to serve her village following the death of her grandmother, the old witch, as well as discovering a world beyond that which she knew in "Skin Deep." Ceren's life is complicated not only by the different skins she can wear to make sure she can do her jobs, but, more importantly, by the young farmer who has moved in just over the ridge from her.

"Ex Cathedra" is a story filled with big ideas about time travel, the galaxy, and the rights of man. Unfortunately, author Tony Daniel attempts to present these ideas in an almost experimental style which has a tendency to get in the way of his concepts. Daniel begins with a slow pace, introducing the reader to the concepts gradually, almost too gradually. By the end of the story, the ideas are coming fast and furious, not allowing the reader to fully internalize them before moving on to the next idea. The ideal pace for the story exists somewhere in the middle.

Terry Dowling's "Truth Window: A Tale of the Bedlam Rose" has an interesting idea... humans under alien occupation using the misheard lyrics of an ancient folk song as a rallying cry. Dowling's style has a tendency to get in the way of the story's plot and ideas, but at the same time, it is an example of the science fiction story that teaches the reader how to read it as it progresses.

"Fury" by Alastair Reynolds is a tribute to Isaac Asimov, complete with massive galactic empires, robots who protect humans, and rogue robots. When an assassin attempt to kill the nigh immortal emperor of the Galaxy, his head of security must find out what was behind the assassination attempt, only to be shocked by the length of time it had been in the works, as well as the assassin's own relationship to him. Reynolds does a good job of evoking Asimov's Foundation and Robots series without adhering slavishly to it, instead making the story, and the setting, which differs in significant ways from Asimov's, his own.

Eclipse Two has its share of standout stories, including the pieces of Reynolds, Baxter, Gregory, Chiang, Park, Beagle... In fact, most of the stories in Eclipse Two are well worth the time (and yes, sometimes, effort). With luck, Strahan will be able to continue to edit the series, and stories of this caliber, for several more volumes.

Copyright © 2009 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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