Thursday, October 18, 2007

Quick Takes: Gardner Dozois, Lucius Shepard, David Brin

The New Space Opera, by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan (editors): The Space Opera I have read, I have loved (Dan Simmons, Peter F. Hamilton...probably others), but I am not sure how much I have really read. This anthology of “New Space Opera”, of the new age of Space Opera being written today, has been lauded, critically acclaimed, and much praised (and yes, I know I said the same thing three different’s all for effect). So, it was with great anticipation which I opened The New Space Opera. Maybe Space Opera is something that works better in the novel length versus the short story. I’m not sure. What I do know is that there were far more misses in this anthology than hits. Perhaps this is because The New Space Opera is an original anthology of stories written specifically for this volume, rather than being a reprint anthology of the “Best” New Space Opera. Either way, this wasn’t quite the anthology I hoped it would be. To top it off, I had recently finished Fast Forward 1, an unthemed SF anthology from Pyr, and was gripped the entire way through. The New Space Opera left me cold. There were still some stories that worked: “Maelstrom”, by Kage Baker, “The Emperor and the Maula” by Robert Silverberg (and this one should not have worked for me), and “Minla’s Flowers”, by Alastair Reynolds comes to mind. Dan Simmons’ “Muse of Fire” was another well crafted story, but I am beginning to question why the “classics” remembered today (Shakespeare, Homer) are going to be remembered thousands of years from now when all else has been forgotten. It just makes me wonder. Simmons is an intelligent man with ambitious science fiction, but sometimes the intermingling of the “classics” with far future science fiction makes me twitch. Just a little bit. There is some good stuff in this anthology, but just didn’t work. Not quite a disappointment, but nothing I would really recommend, either.

A Handbook of American Prayer, by Lucius Shepard: What I consider to be Shepard’s greatest novel should probably garner more than just a Quick Take, but a bit too much time has passed between my finishing the book and my writing about it. Here’s the basic story outline: A man is sent to prison for murdering another man. It was self defense, but that doesn’t really matter. He has blood on his hands. In prison this man came up with something called “prayerstyle”, a way of clearly stating and praying one’s wishes and desires. The funky thing is that it works. The prayers, written out as poems, if working towards a specific desire, will generally come true. Outside of prison the man published a volume of prayerstyle and then something amazing happens: it becomes a pop culture phenomenon, and then it gets even bigger than that. A Handbook of American Prayer is a) this man’s journey - physical, spiritual, and psychological, b) a meditation on American pop culture and religion, c) a damn good story, d) all of the above. The first two thirds of the novel, in particular, are excellent. Things feel a bit disjointed near the end, but A Handbook of American Prayer is still a richly satisfying novel.

Sky Horizon, by David Brin: Do you remember when you were a teenager and you looked up at that sky wondering if there were aliens up there? If that strange light moving across the night sky was a UFO instead of an airplane because the light didn’t blink like any plane you had seen? When you stayed up late listening to Art Bell on the radio? Conspiracies about life that we’ve never seen, things that the government would rather keep hidden? Sky Horizon taps into all of this, only places it in a high school setting. The math geeks claim to have found a real live alien and are hiding it in their basement. Is it true? High school is filled with crazy rumors, but this school is near a military base, so you never know. Sky Horizon is novella length, but gets into the teenaged angst where a boy does what is right, but certainly not popular. The aliens do come, but mostly this is seen through the eyes of the teenagers. Sky Horizon is also the first volume in Colony High, which only makes sense at the very end. Sky Horizon doesn’t have that weighty thickness of much of Brin’s novel length work. It is a breezy novella in comparison, though still a thought out and considered work (and we’d expect no less from David Brin). It might be considered a bit too light and non-serious (or non-important), but given its length, Sky Horizon is a good story and here’s the important part: I want to know what happens next and I have every intention of reading the next volume of Colony High when it is published...hopefully still by Subterranean Press.

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