: Extreme Visions of Speculative Fiction by Al Sarrantonio (Editor)
Inspired by Dangerous Visions, Harlan Ellison's 1967 genre warping anthology of what was at least back then radical fiction, Al Sarrantonio set out to do something just as bold, just as daring, just as off the wall.
It was nice of him to try.
In the dawning days of this new millennium, though, outré has been so done that in order to come up with anything really new he'd have to gather up ultra-conservative SF, or Southern Baptist SF or something. Radical is so old at this point that its time has very much has come and gone.
Al Sarrantonio has assembled an impressive collection of award winning authors (Seven each of Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and Joseph Campbell awards); which is nothing less than the currently reigning SF establishment. Of course, asking the establishment to help you push back the boundaries of convention is an oxymoronic kind of thing to do, isn't it?
As the editor says in his introduction, after reviewing the "Ellison Revolution", "Okay, enough already -- what was my second reason for doing the book?"
To put together a really big anthology of turn of the century SF that's really good stuff.
Fortunately he succeeds far better in his second goal than his first. At over 200k words, and 544 pages it's got size going for it, though my copy of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction can beat it in a fair fight. Given the quality of the authors, including (but not limited to) Stephen Baxter, Greg Benford, Thomas Disch, Joe Haldeman, Ursula Le Guin, Larry Niven, John Shirley, Dan Simmons, Harry Turrtledove, and Gene Wolfe, it would be remarkable if it wasn't a good anthology.
I have a vegetarian cookbook that I'm fond of, though I'm hardly a vegetarian. It's called Vegetarian Epicure, and it starts out with a little anecdote that this collection reminds me of. The author tells the story of how her spouse brought home his boss, who proclaimed loudly that he didn't like vegetarian cooking...but at the first course he exclaimed, ""But I love a good pea soup!" And on and on until he'd eaten the whole dinner and forgotten that he didn't like vegetarian cooking.
This is like that.
The first story in the collection is Dan Simmons' "On K2 with Kanakaredes" and the editor points out that it could have been published any time in the history of SF and been understood and enjoyed. He mentions the Saturday Evening Post of 1968...but I seem to remember a climbing story in a Boys' Life of that era that could have kept it company. Hey, I liked Boys' Life, and it taught me about the a special case of the possessive apostrophe. This is a climbing story, with an alien in it, and it's good.
Le Guin's "The Building" is good too. And it's the sort of thing you expect from her. Humans trying to make sense of aliens, cultural anthropology among the stars, no big changes in the players, but subtle ones in the observers. I love Le Guin, always have, and this short bit is another fine example of why.
"Froggies" by Laura Whitton reminds me a bit of Nancy Kress's stuff, again, good stuff. It's also got some Andre Norton in it, actually quite a bit. The story is about a planet with an indigenous species that the courts can't quite bring themselves to declare sentient, or to protect from planetary strip mining, so a researcher sets up shop on the planet to try and raise a few of the froggies as children, ala terrestrial chimp experiments.
"What We Did That Summer" by Kathe Koja and Marry Malzberg seems to have the ring of Bradbury in it, or maybe I think that just because the word "Summer" is in the title. Well, what they did was meet the aliens, and had a lot of strange sex that laid kind of heavy on their minds. That's what.
Michael Moorcock lends a story about a bar that would fit in nicely on the Elysian fields, where God stops in for a brew and answers a few questions, Speaking of the afterlife, which that story isn't about anyway, Thomas Disch's story "Xanadu" is, or at least the uploaded posthumous sort.
James Patrick Kelly proves again what a wonderful writer he is with a very short bit about the view from a museum display, in "Unique Visitors", Harry Turtledove penned a story about Russian's in Afghanistan that's interesting for the location, but certainly predates the bombing...or does it? I think it does, but there are some interesting parallels that could be drawn in it.
Oh, I liked Catherine Well's "Bassador", and Greg Benford's "Anomalies" (which amused me as I had just finished reading Stephen Baxter's Manifold: Origin, which features the same central character.) Elizabeth Hand's "Cleopatra Brimstone" is nice if you like gothy stories set in London, and Al Saarrantonio's own "Billy the Fetus" is a determined effort to do the radical thing. Gene Wolfe's "Viewpoint" seems an update of Richard Bachman(Steven King)'s The Running Man, which I suspect was based on something from Philip K. Dick anyway.
There are thirty stories here, crissakes. I'm not going to try and tell you about every single one. It's a pretty good collection, but remind me not to tell anyone what I'm trying to do before I do it...folks would no doubt hold me to it.
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu