Eclipse Four: New Science Fiction and Fantasy
Edited by Jonathan Strahan
Cover Artist: Jeremy Geddes
Review by Cathy Green
Night Shade Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781597801973
Date: 03 May 2011 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Eclipse Four is the latest entry in the series of non-themed science fiction and fantasy anthologies expertly edited (or perhaps curated is a better word choice) by Jonathan Strahan and published by Night Shade Books. This fourth volume in the series contains fourteen excellent stories by Andy Duncan; Caitlin R. Kiernan; Damien Broderick; Kij Johnson; Michael Swanwick; Nalo Hopkinson; Gwyneth Jones; Rachel Swirsky; Eileen Gunn; Jeffrey Ford; Emma Bull; Peter M. Ball; Jo Walton; and James Patrick Kelley. Strahan achieves a nice balance among up and coming writers such as Rachel Swirsky and Peter M. Ball, well established authors such as James Patrick Kelley and Jeffrey Ford, and authors I would categorize as "why the heck aren't they better known" such as Caitlin R. Kiernan. In Kiernan's case, despite the fact that she has written quite a number of science fiction stories, she's best known as a horror writer, and these days horror is the red-headed stepchild of the genre.
The stories in the anthology cover a wide variety of themes and styles. Andy Duncan's story "Slow as a Bullet" is an amusing tall tale in the style of Mark Twain stories such as "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County". Michael Swanwick takes the trope of the real person in a construct world and turns it into a meditation on free will in his story "The Man in Grey". In "Old Habits", Nalo Hopkinson tells a ghost story about ghosts trapped in a ghost mall who seem to be trapped there in part due to the somewhat stupid nature of their deaths.
Caitlin Kiernan's story is both a body horror story and a science fiction story. In "Tidal Forces", Emily and Charlotte's relationship takes a strange turn when Charlotte gets hit by a micro black hole that takes up residence in her body and starts growing. The two of them are watching her body be consumed from within with seemingly no way to stop it. And once the "yawning black mouth in her abdomen" completely consumes Charlotte it might keep going and swallow the world. Even without the possibility of taking the rest of the world with you, the idea of slowly being consumed by a black hole in your body is pretty horrific. There's also an indication in the story that it's not just a hole but a portal into a universe of eldritch horrors waiting for the hole to be large enough to come through. In addition, the hole acts as a metaphor for a relationship that may or may not be fraying as the characters dance around the issue of what is happening. And there's clearly a sexual metaphor involved when Emily attempts to close the whole by shoving her arm into it.
Eileen Gunn has written what turns out to be a very creepy story about the dangers of time travel in "Thought Experiment" and Kij Johnson's "Story Kit" is a very meta tale about the nature and structure of narrative and storytelling using Dido and Aeneas from Virgil's The Aeneid.
One of the things that makes anthologies great is that if the reader doesn't like a story she can either skip ahead to the next story without losing the plot or plow ahead knowing another story will start in just a few pages. In the case Eclipse Four, there isn't a weak story in the volume, although obviously if the reader does not like a particular subgenre, moving on to the next story is certainly an option. Eclipse Four includes a useful “about the authors” section in the back where in addition to basic biographical information the reader can find the authors' websites and titles of other works by the authors. Eclipse Four is yet another great entry in the series. Looking forward to Eclipse Five.