Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In 1999, Al Sarrantonio commissioned a number of horror stories in an attempt to produce the definitive fin de cycle horror anthology, 999. Sarrantonio has now turned his attention to science fiction, attempting to present both a state of the field anthology as well as a collection of cutting edge science fiction. In his introduction, Sarrantonio points to Harlan Ellison's 1967 anthology Dangerous Visions as his inspiration. However, the visions presented in Ellison's book are hardly dangerous after nearly thirty-five years, and, while many of the stories are still fresh, others from that anthology are hopelessly dated. In Sarrantonio's case, some of the stories which appear in Redshift have drastically changed in significance even before the book was published.
Harry Turtledove's "Black Tulip" was written to draw a parallel between the United States' involvement in Viet Nam and the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. With the events of September 11 and the subsequent attack on the Taliban, the story takes on a new topicality as the US enters a war in an area which has not been conquered militarily since the Mongols. Turtledove's story contains two sympathetic characters on opposite sides of the same battle. The Soviet is armed with the latest technology, but the Afghan mujahadeen has even more powerful weapons on his side: his country and his beliefs.
Turtledove is only one of several major speculative fiction authors whose work graces Redshift. The collection opens with an interesting climb up the second tallest mountain on Earth with Dan Simmons in "On K2 with Kanakaredes," the Kanakaredes of the title being an hardly understood alien who tags along with a trio of mountaineers as they race to the top of the mountain.
The soft sciences are represented more firmly than the hard sciences, with Ursula K. Le Guin presenting an anthropological examination of a race in "The Building." Other authors follow in this vein, with Joyce Carol Oates Gormenghastian "Commencement," which looks at graduation rituals which have lost much of their meaning but are carried out nevertheless and "Weeping Walls," in which Paul di Filippo shows an increasingly ritualized mourning process which is commercialized in just the needed way.
A few of the stories are humorous in tone. Ardath Mayhar presents "Fungi," a strange sort-of first contact story in which humans visiting an apparently uninhabited planet come across creatures which have as much of a misperception of them as the humans have of the creatures. Michael Moorcock provides an interview with God during "A Slow Saturday Night at the Surrealist Sporting Club," which is an absurdist look at religion, and just about everything else.
There is a single example of a debut story in Redshift. Sarrantonio explains in his notes that Laura Whitton was brought to his attention by Dan Simmons. Her "Froggies" is another first contact story, but while Mayhar's is reasonably humorous, Whitton looks at many of the ways first contact can go wrong, even with the best of intentions. Not only does Whitton look at the problem it raises between humans and aliens, she also looks at the toll it takes on inter-human relationships.
The quality of the stories in Redshift is strong, although none of the stories really stand out as pointing the way for future speculative fiction. A few of them, notably Stephen Baxter's "In the Un-Black" build on themes and ideas presented in previously published related novels and don't fully work without an understanding of the ideas which accompany them. While Redshift may not become the touchstone science fiction anthology Sarrantonio hopes it will, it rises head and shoulders above any of the theme anthologies being published and many of its stories would be at home with those being published in the excellent Starlight series.
|Dan Simmons||On K2 with Kanakaredes|
|Ursula K. Le Guin||The Building|
|Kathe Koja & Barry N. Malzberg||What We Did Last Summer|
|Michael Moorcock||A Slow Saturday Night at the Surrealist Sporting Club|
|Thomas M. Disch||In Xanadu|
|Joyce Carol Oates||Commencement|
|James Patrick Kelly||Unique Visitors|
|Harry Turtledove||Black Tulip|
|Stephen Baxter||In the Un-Black|
|Paul Di Filippo||Weeping Walls|
|Kit Reed||Captive Kong|
|Robert E. Vardeman||Feedback|
|Nina Kiriki Hoffman||Between Disappearances|
|Elizabeth Hand||Cleopatra Brimstone|
|Peter Schneider||Burros Gone Bad|
|Rudy Rucker & John Shirley||Pockets|
|Catherine Asaro||Ave de Paso|
|Joe Haldeman||Road Kill|
|Larry Niven||Ssoroghod's People|
|Michael Marshall Smith||Two Shot|
|Al Sarrantonio||Billy the Fetus|
|Neal Barrett, Jr.||Rhido Wars|
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