edited by Dario Ciriello
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
According to editor Dario Ciriello’s introduction, the purpose of the Panverse series of anthologies is to afford an opportunity for publication to authors for novella length works, specifically, but not exclusively, focusing on newer authors. In this third volume of the series, Ciriello offers a mystery set against the fall of communism, an alternate history of the space program, a classic alien planet exploration, a strange high concept world, and a look at an horrible period of history. Not all of the stories work, but one of them may well be among the best stories published this year.
Jason Stoddard postulates a world in which humans had a very different space program, with the result that Mars was colonized by Soviets and Americans in the 1970s. The resulting world, however, was anything but a space-faring utopia as Earth turned isolationist before the colonies could really become self sustaining. When a spacecraft lands on Earth, piloted by Martian Michael Hughes, he is seen as a threat, but also as a tool for propaganda. Assigned a guard/traveling companion, Sasha Chislenko, Hughes is able to tour the seemingly wealthy and utopian Unity International, the worldwide government that Earth has formed, only to discover that beneath its shine and glister, it is as flawed as Mars. Stoddard's tale hints at complexities and history of his two worlds which he doesn't have time to fully explore in "Orion Rising."
"Junction 5,” by Gavin Salisbury, is the weakest story in the book, but also the most high concept. Kerr is a trader on the living train Tarsus, which travels from city to city. Upon entering Junction 5, he finds himself betrayed by some of the other traders from the train and left behind. Falling in with a coven of witches, he begins to learn more about the “statics” with whom the traders trade while plotting his vengeance against whomever on Tarsus was behind the attack. Unfortunately, while the cultures that Salisbury sketches seem as if they can be interesting, he doesn’t go into enough detail about any of them. Furthermore, told from Kerr’s point of view, Salisbury chose his least interesting character as a focus. Kerr reacts to events, but even when it comes time to face his betrayer, he never really takes control of the situation.
The most traditionally science-fictional story in the anthology is Don D'Ammassa's "Martyrs," which sets up a two-person expedition to the ruins left by an alien civilization, the Ochrans. McNabb, a haughty archaeologists whose primary goal is to destroy his rival's reputation, has hired local guide Pennington to take him to the Teardrop site. Along the way, the two discuss the possible fates of the Ochrans as well as the work previously done by McNabb's rival. Much of the story is telegraphed by these discussions, but the enjoyment comes from the way D'Ammassa crafts his narrative, the give-and-take between his characters, and seeing exactly how they achieve the denouement that is hinted at throughout the story. D'Ammassa's world harkens back to the adventure tales of Murray Leinster and James H. Schmitz.
Set against the fall of the Communist bloc in 1989, “Dust to Dust” offers a serial murderer and the Czech inspector who chases after him, even as the state the inspector works for is crumbling. Mixing alchemy, folklore, and history, Tochi Onyebuchi builds a complex story, at times a little too complex, and brings the reader along through an almost Byzantine tale and Inspector Radovan Novotny chases his suspect, Damek Vojak, with an almost Javertesque focus while his world and his marriage cease to offer the stability they once did. At times the narrative seems to get away form Onyebuchi as murders build up, characters are added, and the scene shifts from anti-Communist uprising to anti-Communist uprising. The sense of place, however, remains strong no matter where Novotny chases Vojak and even as the chase takes on other-worldly overtones, Novotny remains grounded in the world he knew and is losing.
The strongest, and most disturbing, story in the anthology is in the middle, Ken Liu’s “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary.” Liu provides a look at the atrocities committed during World War II, but rather than focusing on the Nazis, to whom most people are somewhat inured, even when condemning them, Liu looks at the similar horrifying experiments conducted by the Japanese of Unit 731 in Manchuria. The story isn’t just a recital of those acts, but also a look at who owns history. When husband-and-wife historians/physicists Eric Wei and Akemi Kirino develop a process that allows people to view historical events, both the Chinese and the Japanese governments object to the use of their method. Liu tackles a wide range of issues in his piece, and handles all of them extremely well. The matter-of-fact acceptance of the atrocities by many Japanese as well as the denial among both Japanese and man-in-the-streets is easily as disturbing as the crimes depicted.
|Jason Stoddard||Orion Rising|
|Gavin Salisbury||Junction 5|
|Ken Liu||The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary|
|Tochi Onyebuchi||Dust to Dust|
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