BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An anthology produced in conjunction with the Royal Observatory Greenwich, with stories set across the solar system by some of the best authors currently writing in the short SF/F market.
PROS: An incredible array of stories representing an impressive range of subgenres, settings and characters.
CONS: As with any anthology, some stories miss their mark.
BOTTOM LINE: Fans of short SF/F shouldn’t pass this one up.
If there’s one reason to pick up the latest anthology from publishers Jurassic London, it’s the incredible Joey Hi-Fi cover that graces the front of the book. It’s elegant, and shows just what you’re to expect: a collection of short stories that take place in almost every major spot in our solar system. Like the cover, the fiction that follows it rarely disappoints.
There’s been other themed anthologies about celestial bodies lately, such as A Kepler’s Dozen: Thirteen Stories About Distant Worlds that Really Exist, but where that book felt constrained by its topic, the stories of The Lowest Heaven explode with creativity and imagination as we start from the sun and work our way outward.
Sophia McDougall’s ‘Golden Apple‘ is a quiet tale of desperation when two thieves break into a laboratory where they steal some solid sunlight. It’s a curious story, closely followed by Alastair Reynolds’ fantastic posthuman story ‘A Map of Mercury’ which sees a renegade collective of artists slowly transforming themselves into something more than human on the surface of Mercury. When we reach Venus, we’re treated to a fantastic Bonnie and Clyde style murder mystery in Archie Black’s ‘Ashen Light’.
Other stellar offerings come with Maria Dahvana Headley’s story, ‘The Krakatoan’, Adam Robert’s Jules Verne-like ‘An account of a voyage from World to World again, by way of the Moon, 1726′ and Courtenay Grimwood’s ‘The Jupiter Files’, but the stories that really kept me going first came with ‘WWBD’, a fantastic, meta-like story with Ray Bradbury as a supporting character (for the planet Mars), by Simon Morden, E. J. Swift’s sterile ‘Saga’s Children’ (Ceres) and ‘Magnus Lucretius’ by Mark Charan Newton, which sees a Roman, Westworld-like theme park on the moon of Europa, with all the trappings of a good tragedy. The penultimate story, ‘The Comet’s Tale’ by Matt Jones is a heart-wrenching story of loss from a young gay teenager in the Midwest, trying to fit in while being drawn to a cult. While a majority of the stories in The Lowest Heaven are fantastic, some stories don’t quite make the grade. Robert’s story is interesting, but written in a period tone that requires a certain amount of patience, while I feel like I need to go back and re-read ‘The Grand Tour’ by James Smythe a couple of more times. ‘We’ll Always Be Here’ by S.L. Grey also didn’t quite do it for me.
Putting this book down after finishing it felt extremely satisfying to me: it’s a collection that seems to have taken the prompt of a story based around a particular orbital body as merely a suggestion: while there’s a number that take place around various planets or bodies in our solar system, these aren’t stories about the solar system. Ultimately, they’re about us, in all of our strange and weird ways of existing. That, I think, is what makes this anthology stand out the most, and it’s all the better for it.