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REVIEW: Infinities edited by Peter Crowther

REVIEW SUMMARY: Two excellent novellas, one good one and one political snoozer in a handsome volume.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anthology consisting of four 2001 novellas written by British authors.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Two excellent stories; a book with high quality production.

CONS: One story, way too political for my tastes, marred an otherwise excellent collection.

BOTTOM LINE: Worth it for the 2 excellent stories alone.


OK, I’ll admit it. Cover art sells. The reason this book caught my eye was the cool art and its unique, square cover. Picking up off the shelf revealed that the publisher, London-based Gollancz, had also printed clear, crisp text on its thick, meaty 358 pages. And the content of the book was nothing to sneeze at either. The book contains four 2001 novella-length stories by well-respected British authors. The only disappointment was that one of the stories was mired down way too much in politics. And so it goes.

STORIES IN THIS ANTHOLOGY:

  1. “A Writer’s Life” by Eric Brown [2001 novella] (Rating: 4.5/5) [Read 10/27/04]
    • Synopsis: Daniel Ellis, an unsuccessful English writer, becomes infatuated with Vaughan Edwards, a ghost story writer with a similar career who disappeared six years ago. Ellis learns more about Edwards but instead of getting answers, he only forms more questions when he learns of the strange coincidences surrounding Edwards’ life. The search for answers puts a strain on his Ellis’ complacent relationship with his girlfriend, Mina.
    • Review: Very well-written story. The story reads mostly like a combination fantasy/ghost/mystery story until science fiction rears its head within the last 10 pages. That delay was unexpected from an anthology with a spaceship prominently displayed on the cover and named Infinities. No matter – this was an excellent read. Brown’s prose is clear and thick with atmosphere. It evokes a melancholy mood. While reading this story you feel like Ellis himself when he’s sitting by his fireside reading one of Edwards’ books. Inescapable are the similarities between the lives of Ellis and Edwards. Fortunately, this was carried off in a believable fashion and was not heavy-handed. The scenes depicting the relationship with the girlfriend call out to anyone who has ever felt unrequited love in their lives. These parts, as well as Ellis’ examination of his own life and work, show a remarkable introspection on the part of the story’s author. The somewhat lackluster ending, a minor letdown to an otherwise excellent tale, keeps this story from getting the best rating.
  2. “The Human Front” by Ken MacLeod [2001 novella] (Rating: 1.5/5) [Read 10/28/04]
    • Synopsis: At the time of World War III a young Scot, John Matheson, witnesses the crash of an Allied Bomber and the child pilot. Later in life, after years of being drawn into drastic political movements, he learns that the pilot was an alien. It turns out that Martians (with the appearance of children) and women from Venus (much more humanlike in appearance) have been helping Allied forces in order to learn about the human species.
    • Review: Sigh. This was a good premise – The Allied forces of WWIII being helped by aliens in an alternate history. Unfortunately, my distaste for political fiction was seriously brought to the forefront as this story is oozing politics. While the ideas and morals behind government revolutions and/or ideologies may be interesting to others, for me it’s a surefire entertainment killer.
  3. “Diamond Dogs” by Alastair Reynolds (Rating: 5/5 ) [Read 05/21/04]
    • Note that I originally read “Diamond Dogs” 5 months ago so I did not read it again (Although I’d love to at some future date!). In the meantime, for completeness, here is the review from back then.
    • Synopsis: A ragtag group of specialists seek to solve the ever-increasing difficulties of the puzzles presented by a mysterious alien artifact.
    • Review: Wow. I just could not put this story down. Damn thing kept me up past bedtime, too. But it was worth it. The story’s main attraction is that the characters set about to solve a series of increasingly difficult puzzles as they travel from room to room inside of a huge alien tower of unknown origin that is affectingly named the Blood Spire. If this sounds familiar, it is. This is the same premise used by the SciFi Channel movie Cube. The story even mentions as such to it by way of injecting dreams into the characters during the long voyage out. The people in reefersleep dream scenes from Cube, Indiana Jones and Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys. But borrowing this idea in no way cheapens it. It still draws you in as you follow the successes and the gruesome failures. Adding to the fun are the characters. Roland Childe is the longtime puzzle-solving adversary of the narrator, Richard Swift. Dr. Trinignant is a bio-mechanical specialist who is shunned by Chasm City for his strange nanotech bio-grafting experiments when his perverse fascination drives him to operate on unsuspecting “patients”. This guy gets creepier and creepier as the story progresses. Also along are two women: an expert Hacker (Hirz) and Swift’s ex-wife Celestine (holy Space Opera, Batman!), who has gained extra mathematical prowess (good for puzzle-solving you might notice) through swims with the Pattern Jugglers. Reynold’s imagination (except for the borrowed plot) is well-exercised in this story and the ride does not disappoint. Excellent job!
  4. “Park Polar” by Adam Roberts [2001 novella] (Rating: 3/5) [Read 10/30/04]
    • Synopsis: An ecological whodunit set in a seriously overpopulated future where terrorists try to protect the last natural habitat for genetically engineered animals – the planets icy polar regions.
    • Review: Good premise and a good level of suspense, but the pacing was a bit slow. Company new-hire and genetic engineer Annalee McCullough (also the story narrator) was supposed to be the strong level-headed female lead, but it seemed that she kept making more trouble – presumably to lead the reader into thinking that she was ultimately the killer. Some other characters, Natty (the park’s caretaker; a woman with a genetically grown beard grown for warmth), Kodwo (Natty’s female lover), Bronovski and Hartmann (the two male characters) were generally well portrayed. The depiction of Park Polar was excellent with its bleached whiteness and the impact of such severe cold. The botched escape by McCullough, Natty and Kodwo was also well done as it contained lots of suspense when the gene-engineered wildebeests and snow lions attacked. Through much of the story, the locale and the whodunit reminded me of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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