Monday, 20 July 2015

Book Review – Old Venus

Edited by George RR Martin and Gardner Bozois

Published by Titan Books

It’s usually the authors or the editors that get me excited about anthology books, but in this case it was the subject matter itself.

A selection of authors were asked to create stories set on a Venus that exists in another reality, when the cloud-shrouded world of yesteryear was thought to be covered in steaming jungles, or oceans, or a myriad of habitable climates. A Venus before science overtook imagination and we realised that it was dead and totally hostile.

‘From pulp adventures such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Carson of Venus to classic short stories such as Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Long Rain’ to visionary novels such as C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra, the planet Venus has loomed almost as large in the imaginations of science fiction writers as Earth’s next-nearest neighbor, Mars…’

The book’s cover artwork (a glorious painting by Stephen Youll with my favourite kind of rocket ship) and blurb above set me up for sword-and-planet adventures but what we get is something totally different. There are some adventure-style stories in the vein of those classics, such as ‘Godstone’ by Mike Resnick and Joe Lansdale’s ‘The Wizard of the Trees’, sure, but the general drive of the stories reveal a sometimes harsh, sometimes mysterious and sometimes downright mystical world. Beyond the adventures - which I have to admit were some of my favourites as that style of pulp adventure appeals to me – there are some wonderfully introspective stories that examine love, the human condition and quite modern high-concept science fiction. Between the introspective, the hard sci-fi and the adventure there certainly is something for every science fiction fan.

The writing style of the authors creates a wonderfully varied selection of stories on the second world of the solar system. Characters visiting, returning to or living on the planet are given plenty of time to shine and the stories are long and involved, which most likely explains the 608 pages and the heftiness of the book; you certainly get your money’s worth. Although not all the stories are masterpieces there isn’t a single one that I did not like and that’s quite a feat for a short story collection where I’m concerned; I have a tendency to lock myself into a mindset when reading and dismiss stories if I’m ‘not in the mood’ for them, but whatever mood or sense of perception one story put me in, the next story succeeded in drawing me in and encompassing me in that new world.

The subject matter aside, Old Venus is a great book, one of the best short story collections I’ve read, and hopefully the editors are thinking about creating a follow-up on the planet of clouds.

Recommended.

Contents:

‘Frogheads’ by Allen M. Steele
‘The Drowned Celestrial’ by Lavie Tidhar
‘Planet of Fear’ by Paul McAuley
‘Greeves and the Evening Star’ by Matthew Hughes
‘A Planet Called Desire’ by Gwyneth Jones
‘Living Hell’ by Joe Haldeman
‘Bones of Air, Bones of Stone’ by Stephen Leigh
‘Ruins’ by Eleanor Arnason
‘The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss’ by David Brin
‘By Frogsled and Lizardback to Outcast Venusian Lepers’ by Garth Nix
‘The Sunset of Time’ by Michael Cassutt
‘Pale Blue Memories’ by Tobias S. Buckell
‘The Heart's Filthy Lesson’ by Elizabeth Bear
‘The Wizard of the Trees’ by Joe R. Lansdale
‘The Godstone of Venus’ by Mike Resnick
‘Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan’ by Ian McDonald