SYNOPSIS: The four stories featured here offer pulp nostalgia with a disturbing undertone, Martian visitors, friendship, forgetfulness and the joys of gardening.
PROS: Four well-told stories filled with imagination; each has its own sense of weight; thought-provoking; all currently available free online and linked for your convenience.
CONS: You may not thank me for the way you feel after reading one of the featured stories; not available in convenient e-reader format like some online magazines.
BOTTOM LINE: When Jonathan Strahan announced that his Eclipse series would no longer be coming out in an annual print edition I was bitterly disappointed. I still am. I had joined in with him at the start of his vision and looked forward to a time years later when I could tell young SFF fans, “I was there when it all began”. Alas, this was not to be. I had not read any of the offered stories before deciding to feature Eclipse Online here in large part because I am less enthused with reading on the computer than I am on a Kindle, and the format does not work quite as well that way. However I am glad I took the time because while Eclipse may have lost its print identity, it has not ceased to be populated by stories culled by an editor I have really grown to trust and admire over the last several years. This small sampling of the output of Eclipse Online will hopefully convince you, as it has me, that it needs to be a staple of your non-print reading.
“Loss, with Chalk Diagrams” by E. Lily Yu
Rebekah was always quiet and reserved, taking life in stride while walking a path that encouraged few risks and thus few lasting griefs. Linda was her polar opposite, riding the waves of moods and emotion, greeting life with an adventurous spirit that could leave her exalting or bleeding, but always alive. The two girls grew up together as unlikely friends, sharing a secret language in chalk long after such an implement had become anachronistic. Though they grew apart during their teen years’ circumstances brought them back together when Linda reached out through another anachronism, the post office, and started a postcard correspondence between the two.
In the future where Rebekah and Linda live a procedure ala Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind exists, known as “rewiring” that was “finely tuned to leave normal motor, memory, and cognitive processes intact, burning out only those neural pathways associated with grief and trauma”. Yu’s is a story of opposites, in which Rebekah wanders through life as if she had been rewired regularly while Linda bore the grief and pain of a normal life and gloried in the scars that go along with that. With beautiful description and effective pacing E. Lily Yu presents a touching story examining what it truly means to “live” in an increasingly technologically advanced society.
“The Advocate” by Genevieve Valentine
The Martian Embassy is situated in New York City, in an old brownstone near the United Nations. After two years in public relations for the Mars Exploration Administration Siphiwe is given a change of assignment: advocate for the Ambassador from Mars. What sounds like a prestigious assignment is anything but, in Siphiwe’s eyes, as she is assigned to live on the fourth flour of the “embassy”, a mostly empty building except for its primary resident–a small group of microscopic organisms from Mars. Siphiwe’s is a job that is hard to take too seriously, but like any efficient worker she does her duty faithfully until one day when she decides that perhaps the Ambassador really does need an Advocate, especially if it means the difference between life and death.
Valentine’s is a story with touches of subtle bureaucratic humor and a plucky protagonist whose gumption makes for an interesting read.
“The Amnesia Helmet” by F. Brett Cox
Marlena was eleven and her brother Johnny was nine in the late 1930’s when the great Buster Crabbe brought the role of Buck Rogers to life in the Rialto Theater in Clarksville, Illinois. Marlena, Johnny and their friend Pete were already fans of Crabbe because of his portrayal of Flash Gordon, but the Buck Rogers serials grabbed Marlena’s attention because of the inventions, and because of Wilma Deering. Constance Moore was lovely and as Wilma Deering she wore slacks and carried a ray gun and did things that the men in the film were doing. But it was the Amnesia Helmet, weapon of Killer Kane, that caused Marlena to defy her father’s instructions and head back into his work shop to create her own amnesia helmet. Secrecy, hard work and a brief run through of the Scientific Method and Marlena had her amnesia helmet. Along with the ability to make people forget came the dawning knowledge of things that truly are better forgotten.
Cox captures the spirit of the late 30’s/early 40’s with great skill and the accounts of Marlena, Johnny and Pete being ‘wowed’ by pulp science fiction on the big screen will take readers back to their own experiences of childhood celluloid adventures. It is that charm and nostalgia that reels you in so that you don’t easily notice the darkness residing under the surface. Cox does a masterful job of driving weaving a story that I cannot rate highly because of reasons that will be obvious to you once you finish the story but that I am compelled to rate highly because of just how well crafted and effective it is. Read it.
“The Contrary Gardner” by Christopher Rowe
Rowe’s was the first story to appear in the new Eclipse Online and given that Spring has now arrived on the calendar (a fact someone should relay to Mother Nature) it seemed appropriate to read it as my last for this week’s feature. Kay Lynne is a gardener in an interestingly anachronistic future. Rowe’s imagination has brought forth a very homey and earthy small-town story with science fictional trappings including some newly arrived robotic workers. Kay is not a big fan of her father’s presence in her life and knows that her decision to plant root vegetables this year will rile him up for certain–perhaps that is part of why the idea is appealing. When he offers to forgo giving her grief about her choices and respect her wishes to only arrive on her property with permission, if she’ll just do him the favor of meeting with a few of his “friends”, the offer proves too good to resist. Unsettled by what appeared to be an independent thought of the mechanical bus driver who drove her to the meeting, Kay Lynne is not immediately enthused by the request of her father’s friends to use Kay Lynne’s particularly effective green thumb.
Rowe’s is a story about choices, the relationships between stubborn family members, and in a small way addresses a familiar theme of artificial intelligence and humanity’s reaction to the idea. Kay Lynne is a very likeable character whose adventure feels as if it has only just begun.
Kathleen Jennings has created original images for the stories for Eclipse Online thus far and I am thrilled with the choice. Her deceptively simple drawings fit the spirit of these stories so well. If you have not experienced her work I highly recommend that you click on her name and visit her blog. Her Dalek posts are particularly fun. She draws black and white sketches of Daleks in various situations inspired by books. Each image is accompanied by a brief amount of text discussing the inspiration and they are consistently enjoyable. Her cut out artwork is also well worth the look. I plan to continue tracking her career and enjoying her work.