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Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science-Fiction by Jetse de Vries
Review by Liz de Jager
Solaris Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781906735661
Date: 15 April 2010 List Price 7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Shine is a collection of near-future, optimistic SF stories in which some of the genres brightest stars and exciting new talents suggest the possible roads to a better tomorrow. Neither a plethora of Pollyannas nor a display of dystopias, Shine shows that positive change is far from a foregone conclusion, but instead needs to be hard-fought, innovative, robust and imaginative. Most importantly, Shine aims to demonstrate that while times are tough and outcomes are uncertain, we can still bend the future in benevolent ways if we embrace change and steer its momentum in the right direction. Let's put the 'can' back in 'We can do it', and make our tomorrows, er, shine!. I'll freely admit that science fiction and I do not get along. And I realise that the Shine anthology is one of the most hyped books of 2010 - I was therefore both terrified and excited by the prospect of reviewing it for SFRevu.

! Personally I can't ever read an anthology from the start. I have to start in the middle somewhere and move backwards and forwards through the collection. And I'm so glad I did exactly that with Shine. I looked first at The Church of Accelerated Redemption a collaboration between Gareth L Powell and Aliette de Bodard and found myself immediately sucked into their wonderfully intimate story of a computer engineer's struggle with loneliness and discontent. I like Aliette's writing having read parts of her novel Servant of the Underworld, yet in this story I found something altogether different - a main character whose search for meaning in a dead end job unexpectedly takes a turn she could not have predicted. Wonderful and full of promise, I liked her attitude and the fact that although she was pretty scared, she wasn't too scared to grab a new future for herself.

The Shine anthology was widely publicised and Jetse de Vries, the editor, had a clever attack plan, making use of social media to solicit his submissions. Man, I take my hat off to him! He must have worked his butt off when deciding what went in - and this isn't just a ramble, it's more a segue into a short story written entirely in 'Tweets' by Mari Ness called Twittering the Stars. I started reading the story from the beginning... then realised that it's written in the present and what I really should do is start at the end of the story and read forward! Make sense? (It will if you tweet yourself) And I loved it. Cleverly constructed, the author manages to tell a heartbreaking story across the time period of four years. We see the main character go from an over-excited and slightly egotistical botanist going on a space mission to a deeply thoughtful, sad and very humane being. A very clever piece of writing and one I'd recommend.

Eric Gregory's The Earth of Yunhe has to be my favourite out of all of the stories in Shine. It deals with two siblings in rebellion against their father and the current state of things. Gregory's descriptions of the world of Yunhe is tightly controlled, allowing us glimpses of a future where China could perhaps be the garden of the world. What I truly liked in this was how quickly I grew fond of the characters and to be honest, I am willing Mr. Gregory to put pen to paper and offer up a full length novel soon because he writes very well indeed.

Summer Ice by Holly Phillips is at once evocative and dreamy and maybe a bit sad - we follow the main character with the beautiful name of Manon, as she tries to come to grips with a new life in a new city. But this new city in turn is struggling to cope with the effects of climate change. It's a beautifully uplifting story in which Manon realises that she's not the outsider she feels herself to be, and that being part of a community is not too different from being part of a family.

Jason Stoddard's Overhead should be made into a movie or a TV-series at least! I rooted so hard for these guys on their moon, ignored by Earth and left to struggle in the face of adversity. I can't really explain too much as it's a pretty involved plot and so tightly written. But I've given you the gist: people on the far side of the moon; ignored by those on earth; left to fend for themselves; brimful of hope, just excellent.

Sustainable Development by Paula R Stiles had me smiling. Very tongue-in-cheek and very clever, Stiles plays with stereotypes in a small, impoverished, African village where the men are seen never to be doing any of the hard work, but the women are constantly working and seemingly working themselves into the ground. It's a very small story, but again it's well edited and cleverly written, so that the final scene makes you smile that slow steady smile of happiness.

Lavie Tidhar's The Solnet Ascendancy... what can I say? The guy is bloody brilliant. It's not a large offering but it's a story told with impact. It centres around how quickly and easily and with what devastating effect the redistribution of the future (you'll understand it later) has when it occurs at an accelerated rate in a small backwater. It's reading stories like Lavie's that cause you look at technology and progress with cautioun.

Alastair Reynolds's At Budokan is a little bit Jurassic Park-ish, a little bit Guitar Hero gone wild. I'm at a slight loss for words with this one because it's so amusing, so tongue-in-cheek... can you imagine a T-Rex bio-engineered to play guitar and sing? Yeah, I wouldn't have thought about it either, but then Mr. Reynolds did and with such great plausibility that I'm happy to trade in my doubt for a pair of tickets to the next gig Derek the T-Rex will be rocking at! But all joking aside, within the space of this short story evolution is at work and the creator of Derek realises that the dinosaur he had created was improvising the music he was forcing it to play. It wasn't something he anticipated. And it made me smile grimly because why do people insist on mucking around with nature, especially if nature has big-ass teeth?

Scheherazade Cast In Starlight by Jason Andrew is a strong,sharp story about an Iranian woman who uses her kills to tell the world of her country in all it's brutality. She recounts how her mother had been thrown in jail for drug abuse, but her only crime was being elected to the parliament. If you read this and you mistakenly think it's the one story in Shine that's downbeat, it isn't. Here we have a modern day storyteller who gets the world to listen, who empowers and who becomes the face of what a patriarchal society tries to destroy. Spikey, vivid storytelling.

Sarging Rasmussen: A report (by Organic) by Gord Sellar is unfortunately the one story I genuinely struggled with in this anthology. To be honest, I'll say that it's 150% my fault as I think it's that little bit too hard edged for me to fully get into and comprehend. However, I'm sure that should a dedicated SF reader pick this up, they'd be laughing at my failure to get it.

Eva Maria Chapman's Russian Roulette 2020 genuinely took me by surprise. I truly enjoyed her writing style and the voice of her characters. Set in the very near future, it focuses on a group of high school children who have come from an intensely high tech community to spend time at one of Russia's ground-breaking schools where technology is not the main focus of their every day lives. Chapman writes eloquently of how difficult the kids find it to relate to being outside, to talking to each other and their guides at the school, when they're more used to being linked into a the wider world and conversing by message with others all over the world. A very interesting, sobering look at how technology invades our lives. Oh, and there is a wonderful budding romance and I adored it. More please?

Madeline Ashby's Ishin is masterfully plotted with two very engaging characters that hold your attention. It's a volatile story of two men the one jaded and tired, the other optimistic and almost naive who do their best to walk the fine line between making right choices for the right reasons in a world filled with political land mines. A truly well executed set piece of story-telling.

Paul Kishosha's Children by Ken Edgett wow. Wonderfully expressive, clever and amusing, Ken's managed to create characters who reflect a humanity we're in danger of losing. Having fun learning is becoming more and more outdated and he tackles this very well in this story, with its setting in a small school in an African nation. I would make this something for most teachers to read regardless of their own reading habits! It reminds us that learning can be fun, and learning clever stuff creates enthusiasm and enthusiasm helps work out problems. It sounds simplistic but you have to read it to appreciate where I'm coming from.

Castoff World by Kay Kenyon has an amazing dreamlike feel to it. It's about a girl, her Grappa (older grandfather figure) and a boat called Nora drifting on the ocean. It's about truth and having to fend for yourself. It's a bit Big Blue in its feel and the ending made me well up and sigh that Child will now no longer be alone. Beautiful.

Seeds by Silvia Moreno-Garcia made me think of the too glib car salesman who breezes into town with his goods to sell and then unexpectedly comes up against a customer who is probably that little bit too clever for said salesman to make his sale. Tightly written with a lot of show not tell by the author, Seeds left me with a big grin on my face!

The Greenman Watches the Black Bar Go Up, Up, Up by Jacques Barcia sadly, the final short story in Shine and the second one in the anthology which I could not rap my mind around. I re-read it several times and the story became clearer but again, I strongly suspect that this is for true fans of the genre.

To round off this very long review I'm happy to report that Shine was a truly fascinating and enjoyable read. I'm not the biggest SF fan in the world, but I'll happily promote this to others who, like me, feel the same way. Here are authors with stories and characters I could relate to. But then, I suspect hardened SF readers out there will devour this with gusto. Jetse de Vries has done a truly remarkable job putting Shine together and I'd like to be signed up to read any follow-up anthology because this one has genuinely broken down some preconceived ideas I've had about the genre.


Our Readers Respond

From Andrew L.
I bought this book but was so frustrated with it that I even tried reading the stories from the back. First, the stories are hardly stories. There are no “plots”, mostly “descriptions” type of prose of scenarios. Second, many of the items in the collection are hardly coherent. I know I am “politically incorrect” not to lavish praise and swoon over it but it is deceiving to science fiction fans if I am not truthful. I threw it away after trying to read a few of its so-called stories.

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