(Note: this is part of a series in which I discuss works of the contributors to The Other Half of the Sky. Links to other entries in the series appear at the end of this discussion.)
Bloodchildren is a collection of eleven stories by the recipients of the Carl Brandon scholarship, established in Octavia Butler’s honor to enable SFF writers of color to attend one of the Clarion workshops. The stories were edited by Nisi Shawl, herself a practitioner of many literary arts; they’re front-ended by a haunting cover by Laurie Toby Edison, by moving testimonials from Nalo Hopkinson and Vonda McIntyre and by Butler’s story “Speech Sounds”.
The collection is titled after Butler’s groundbreaking story “Bloodchild”, one of the most original and disquieting explorations of interspecies contact: spacefaring humans stranded on a planet with its own advanced sentient species have been reduced to breeding vessels along the lines of hosts for parasitic wasps or the Alien über-predator, though they generally survive the ordeal. Men are preferred as incubators so that women can produce more breeders, although bonds of reciprocal need, loyalty and affection have slowly developed between humans and their native masters.
Note: this review originally appeared on the blog of Starship Reckless, as part of a series in which Athena Andreadis discusses works of the contributors to The Other Half of the Sky.
Shimmering Kaleidoscopes: Cat Rambo’s “Near + Far”
by Athena Andreadis
Cat Rambo’s recent collection, Near + Far (Hydra House, $16.95 print, $6.99 digital), is a tête-bêche book containing 2×12 stories of wildly different lengths that previously appeared in such venues as Abyss & Apex, Clarkesworld, Clockwork Phoenix, Crossed Genres, Daily SF and Lightspeed.
Before I discuss the stories themselves, I’ll mention two secondary but important aspects of the book. One is the attention paid to the presentation; as one example, the text ornaments are almost distracting in their beauty. The other is that each story has an afterword in which Rambo gives its backstory and worldpath. Personally, I greatly enjoy such fore/afterwords (I still fondly recall Harlan Ellison’s needle-sharp, needling introductions) and find that they invariably deepen my understanding and appreciation of the tale – provided that the writer knows their craft. Which brings us to the content of the collection.
[Athena Andreadis was born in Greece and lured to the US at age 18 by a full scholarship to Harvard, then MIT. She does basic research in molecular neurobiology, focusing on mental retardation and dementia. She is an avid reader in four languages across genres, the author of To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek and writes speculative fiction and non-fiction on a wide swath of topics. Her work can be found in Harvard Review, Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Science in My Fiction, H+ Magazine, io9, The Huffington Post, and her own site, Starship Reckless.]
REVIEW SUMMARY: An anthology showcasing the authors of the writing group Written in Blood.
MY RATING: context-free, within the larger context.
PROS: The anthology has variety and all its stories except one are competently executed.
CONS: Most of the stories have serious flaws and almost none are memorable.
This anthology contains one story from each of the eight members of the writing group Written in Blood. All have published short stories in well-known SF/F venues and two (de Bodard, Hardy) have also brought out novels. So these are not beginners in the crafts of either writing or publishing.
Because the collection is meant to showcase the individual authors, the content and style of the stories rove freely. Given the collection’s goal, most of the story choices are puzzling because they don’t represent the authors’ best efforts. As is my habit, I’ll start from the bottom and work my way up, so that we begin with gruel and end with truffles, if not ambrosia.
[Athena Andreadis was born in Greece and lured to the US at age 18 by a full scholarship to Harvard. She does basic research in molecular neurobiology, focusing on mental retardation and dementia. She is an avid reader in four languages across genres, is the author of To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek and writes speculative fiction and non-fiction on a wide swath of topics. Her work can be found in Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Science in My Fiction, H+ Magazine, The Huffington Post, and her own site, Starship Reckless.]
REVIEW SUMMARY: Optimistic near-future SF collection
RATING: absolute, in context
PROS: A welcome change from cyberpunk/urban noir adolescent gloom. Diverse in style and content, human/e in tone and scale.
CONS: Uneven, like all tightly themed collections; few truly memorable, trailblazing stories.
An editor who undertakes to compile an anthology of optimistic SF must toil up a steep and stony hill. It has become an article of increasing faith and fashion in contemporary SF that happy endings lack sophistication and hence are fit to appear only in such déclassé subgenre ghettoes as – horrors! -romance or squarish venues like Analog. Girls can squee, but manly geeks need their angst. Not surprisingly, this mindset mirrors the declining political and financial fortunes of the Anglosaxon First World. The attitude is so pervasive that it has trickled even into Hollywood, that lowest of common denominators: with the partial exception of Star Trek, there are no functioning post-scarcity quasi-utopian societies in movies and TV.
Into this breach stepped author and editor Jetse de Vries, who broadcast his intent to publish an SF anthology that was not only optimistic but also near-future. How do you say Cruisin’ for a bruisin’ in 22nd century Spandarin? But he persevered and Shine duly appeared, with a cover of a glowing lovely young Eurasian woman who reaches toward the reader with a beguiling half-smile… but lacks nipples and is surrounded by grim gunmetal-gray skyscrapers and smokestacks. Which is an accurate visual summary of the collection’s stories and their strengths and weaknesses.