Low Port by Sharon Lee (ed) and Steve Miller (ed)
Meisha Merlin Trade: ISBN 1592220134 PubDate: 09/01/03
Review by Edward Carmien
368 pgs. List price $ 16
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Twenty rip-roaring stories set in various underbellies of the future in just under 400 pages? Nicely done!
Lee and Miller’s stamp upon this anthology is clear. The stories here are consistent in their setting—hence the title—and mostly consistent in their style and tone, which harkens back a bit to the good old days of science fiction, when scurvy space pirates (arr, arr) sailed the spacelanes and clever, hardworking fellows overcome surprising challenges in surprising ways.
Stories by eluki bes shahar, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Jody Lynn Nye and others show that Lee and Miller were able to attract Known Names to their anthology. Better yet, they attracted some really fine writing. Standouts (in a strong crowd) include John Teehan’s “Digger Don’t Take No Requests,” Holly Phillips’ “The Gate Between Hope and Glory,” Joe Murphy’s “Zappa for Bardog,” and others too numerous to list. While almost all stories have a future setting, don’t be surprised by Ru Emerson’s “Find a Pin” or Laura J. Underwood’s “The Gift,” set in an apparent present (magical realism—but don’t be intimidated) and in a fantasy world respectively.
The theme of the anthology lends itself to political commentary, and while a few stories utilize such themes, stellar among them Phillips’ story, readers should not worry that this anthology will overwhelm them with stories meant to enlighten. In addition, these stories are not set in Lee and Miller’s Liaden universe, so readers need not worry that there is background out there that must be digested before this meal can be attempted.
Good, clean fun—or fun ranging from dingy and unwashed to downright grubby, as this is Low Port, after all—is what makes this anthology worth reading. Lee and Miller didn’t want the “usual iconic heroes of our genre—swashbuckling swordsman, square-jawed astronaut, magic-flinging wizard or witch, world-saving physicist.” They wanted “the other people you might expect to find in a world, the people who lived with the results of the swashed buckles, the new satellite, the saved world.” What’s impressive is this text appears not only in their introduction, but also in the submission guidelines—that is to say, they didn’t move the target after the fact. Lee and Miller hit the target they aimed for, first shot.
Anthologies are like potluck. It is a rare potluck dinner that offers the average diner universally palatable dishes. But with 20 stories, it is likely most readers will like most of what they see. I myself was disappointed only once, and I see that as a rousing success, as 95% of the stories held my attention. It is easy enough to skip the odd dish that happens not to be to one’s taste if there are more than enough tasty offerings to fill one’s plate, and Low Port is a table full of such tasty morsels. Bon appetite!