Edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Cover Artist: Stephen Youll
Review by Sam Tomaino
Bantam Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345537287
Date: 03 March 2015 List Price $30.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: GRR Martin's Website / G Dozois' Facebook / Show Official Info /
Old Venus, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, is an anthology of stories about how we thought Venus might be, before Mariner 2 told us differently. Most of the stories are well-worth reading and two of them are Hugo-worthy.
"Frogheads" by Allen M. Steele -+- The year is 2018 and this Venus has a hot and humid but breathable atmosphere. It had been settled by a Soviet Space Force in the 1970s. There is no longer a Soviet Union but the Russians still control the city of Veneragrad. American P.I. Ronson has come there looking for David Henry, a rich young American who disappeared a year ago. He hires "Mad" Mikhail Kronow who is friendly with the native intelligent species called, pejoratively, frogheads. The natives recognize the picture of Henry and say they can lead them to the island where he is. It comes as no surprise what Henry is up to, especially as much time is spent discussing a drug being produced on the planet. Okay, but Steele has written better stories.
"The Drowned Celestial" by Lavie Tidhar -+- Our lead character here is a man named Colt who is losing at cards in a town on Venus called Port Smith. Then, after a series of explosions outside, a man comes through the door, falling at Colt's feet and saying "Get down." A ray-gun blast follows him through the door, killing one of his opponents. Another of his opponents says "Roog" and runs out the door where he is killed. Colt's remaining opponent a Venusian named Sharol (who had won the hand) makes an alliance with Colt. The man who came through the door says something about "treasure" and "temple" and "Roog" and dies. Colt and Sharol escape and are off on an adventure that includes a wonderful beast called a Sun Eater, a Venusian witch, robotic ants, a mass murderer called The Butcher of Europa, and the tentacled Roog. Slam-bang action and lots of invention here. Great story.
"Planet of Fear" by Paul McAuley -+- We have here a Venus with zones occupied by the Soviet Union (the region is referred to as the People's Republic), the United States, and the British Commonwealth. When this is taking place is not clear but we know that the US has nuclear rockets and supercomputers. There have been battles fought just ten years before between the People's Republic and American libertarians. The commander of the PR forces is Captain Vladimir Chernov, a hero of the war with the libertarians. At the PR station is Katya Ignatova, a scientist working with the International Biological Year, described as part of the "growing cooperation and rapprochement of the Venusian colonies". When a disaster happens to one of the PR's mining outposts, Chernov wants to blame the Americans but Katya has other ideas. We find out what happened but it makes for a very dull explanation.
"Greeves and the Evening Star" by Matthew Hughes -+- This one is a hilarious pastiche of P.G. Wodehouse. Our hapless narrator, Bartholomew "Bartie" Gloster, finds himself transported to Venus by his friends Baldie Spotts-Binkle and Slithy Tove-Whipple. Baldie has an obsession with newts and had found the ultimate on Venus, a human-sized feminine creature with a deadly siren-song. Bartie is in deep trouble but, as always, it's Greeves to the rescue! Great fun.
"A Planet Called Desire" by Gwyneth Jones -+- John Forrest is transferred from a near-future Earth to the distant past of Venus. He immediately runs into trouble and is saved by a beautiful Venusian lady named Sekṕool. She leads him on a bit of a tour and to her home. The politics of her world intrudes. They do make love. Kind of a classic tale.
"Living Hell" by Joe Haldeman -+- After a big solar flare wipes out most of the electronics, our unnamed hero must rescue a group of woman scientists in the equatorial zone of Venus. He has to fight some fierce beasties but he gets there. He and the women make an extraordinary discovery about life on Venus and the very nature of life itself. Good solid science fiction.
"Bones of Air, Bone of Stone" by Stephen Leigh -+- Tomio returns to Venus where he lost his legs 15 years before. He had been on a dive into a place called the Great Darkness, "a deep (underwater) canyon just off the shore of Blackstone Mountain", with Avariel, a woman he had fallen in love with. She was (and still is) an "adrenalin junkie" who dares the most dangerous places of the solar system. He had tagged along on her descent 15 years ago and had fallen victim to falling rocks which took his legs. She rescued him and could not complete her dive. Now she is going to dive again. Tomio meets Hasalalo, one of the native shreeliala. The Great Darkness is a scared place for the native Venusians. For those "with bones-of-stone being heavier than water", a ritual is performed after their death. Their bodies are dropped into the canyon where they sink. Those with "bones-of-air" (which includes Hasalalo) are thrown ignominiously into the Pit, "the cauldron at the top of Blackstone Mountain". They are eaten by the maggotlike Wrigglers. Amongst the bones that are left, Tomio finds a curious stone. It is a "stomach-stone" of the shreeliala. Hasalalo explains the beliefs behind these stones. Tomio tells her about his lifelong hobby of polishing stones in a cylinder that can awaken the beauty underneath. Avariel goes to her inevitable, unsurprising fate. Tomio and Hasalalo find something else that's better. Great story. This will be on my Hugo Award Short List for Novelette, next year.
"Ruins" by Eleanor Arnason -+- This is alternate history Venus in which Venus rotates the same way as the other planets with a day about as long as Earth or Mars and it has a magnetic field which prevents it from having our Venus' toxic atmosphere. Also, it was hit with a "body" that had also hit Earth, depositing Earth microbes and has an Earthlike atmosphere and flora and fauna similar to Earth. A Venus space race destroyed the Soviet Union but there is still an unreconstructed Soviet Republic on the larger of the two Venusian continents. This is where a National Geographic party winds up and finds some surprising things. It is the year 2113 and we have sentient machines with rights and cute little dinosaur-like taking animals, but we have a cold war still taking place with the CIA as probable bad guys. I found too much of the story unlikely.
"The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss" by David Brin -+- Venus was settled many years ago by sinking habitats called bubbles in ocean abysses, this one in Cleopatra Canyon. Comets had been striking Venus for centuries before humans on Old Earth had been herding them in an attempt to terraform the planet. This had been continued by the "Coss Masters" (unexplained) and residents of the habitats have grown used to the thumps, regular as clockwork. But of late, these thumps have grown less frequent and the habitats themselves have become unstable, some floating up to the surface, killing thousands. In a society where breeding is essential, woman rule and Jonah is a rascal of a male looked down upon by many. He is married off to a woman in another habitat and the adventures start. He has to prove his worth. Good solid story.
"By Frogsled and Lizardback to Outcast Venusian Lepers" by Garth Nix -+- Kelvin and his clone sister, Vinnie, have been drafted to rescue a bunch of rich college students whose ship crash landed in the middle of the Roar, "an almost perfect, swirling cyclone several hundred kilometers in diameter". Along with them is Lieutenant Mazith of the Terran Navy, a telepath whose cloned twin is on the Rotorua, a battleship in the Terran Navy that just happens to be in the area. To get into the Roar, they will need the help of the Lepers, a group that has gone native covering themselves with lichen which keep the malignant Venusian spores off of them. Vinnie herself wears the lichen in a more limited way. Kelvin and Vinnie suspect they are being lied to. Of course, they are and we get a very exciting story with wonderful invention of life on Venus.
"The Sunset of Time" by Michael Cassutt -+- Jordan Lennox is the project manager for the Lens on Venus. The Lens, nearing completion, will allow people on Earth to walk through a portal which will instantly transport them to Venus. The Venerians, a humanoid race with five genders (two of which are like ours), don't seem concerned. The reason is they believe the Sunset of Time is approaching. This happens at intervals of anything from ten thousand to a million years and happens when "the clouds fade...the Sun is clearly visible. And it sets as Venus creaks into a partial rotation, unleashing storms, floods, ‘quakes. Remaking the landscape". The Venerians are undergoing what is called the "reloquere" in which every structure is taken entirely apart, even melted down, to be reassembled wherever the new climate allows. This has been going on for two hundred years. The city which surrounds the Lens will soon cease to exist. Jor's Venerian "girlfriend" is enigmatic about everything. Terrestrian Authority's science denies any such change has happened in less than five hundred million years. While it's no surprise what happens at the end, Jor's story is a good one. Nicely imaginative invention here.
"Pale Blue Memories" by Tobias S. Buckell -+- Our narrator is Charles Stewart, whose father was half-Jamaican but who resembles his white ancestors more. He passes for white but has never forgotten where he came from. In this alternate history, the war against Hitler has stalemated. There are Allied and Nazi bases on the Moon and Charles is part of a crew headed to Venus in a rocket ship when they are shot down by a Nazi missile that followed them from Earth. They survive the crash on Venus and are taken captive by the natives who look like pale-skinned humans. Charles quickly realizes that they have become slaves. Slugs sent up their noses conveniently allow them to understand the Venusians who do not believe anything lies beyond the clouds. He is able to mate with a Venusian and has a child by her. He relives the situation of his ancestors but has hopes for his son. OK story, but the Venusian setting is pretty irrelevant.
"The Heart's Filthy Lesson" by Elizabeth Bear -+- Dharthi has a theory that the original indigenous species on Venus (called Cythereans), extinct for 10,000 years, were based in a different place than everyone thinks they were. The local University did not believe her and refused her a resource allocation so she has set out on her own in a very risky adventure, at least appropriately clad in an "adaptshell" for protection. She is incredibly jealous of her lover Kraken's success and popularity which just becomes whiny after a while. She indulges in some more Incredibly Stupid Behavior until (surprise, surprise), she finds what she is looking for. Never really got to like or care about this character.
"The Wizard of the Trees" by Joe R. Lonsdale -+- Jack Davis is a former Buffalo Soldier, half-black, half-Cherokee who finds himself aboard the Titanic when it sinks. In the water, he sees something not human, that draw him into warmth and light. He wakes up in a muddy mire. It turns out he is on Venus where he meets a beautiful yellow-skinned woman named Jerrel. Somehow, he can understand her and she can understand him. He becomes involved with her people's dispute with winged men which ends with something of an anti-climax. The story ends on what may be a happy note but may not. This one was a good read but unremarkable.
"The Godstone of Venus" by Mike Resnick -+- Marcus Aurelius Scorpio aka The Scorpion, is in his office, a bar owned by Lucius Aloisius McAnany, when the man he had arranged to meet, Rand Quintaro, comes in with a beautiful female called Sapphire. Scorpio's partner, Merlin, one of the native sentient species (a dark blue quadruped the size of a mastiff) who can read minds and communicates with Scorpio through thought, shows up. Quintaro explains that he want to hire them for: getting a rare gem called the Godstone of Venus, something neither Scorpio or Merlin has ever heard of. Merlin can read Quintaro's mind but not Sapphire's and is reluctant to go along but Scorpio convinces him to because they need the money to repair the ship. This sets off a grand adventure and an entertaining story, just what I'd expect from Resnick.
"Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan" by Ian McDonald -+- Our initial narrator here is Maureen N. Gellard, the grand-niece Ida Granville-Hyde aka Ida Countess Rathangan, whose papercut art is valued beyond all measure. Her prints are anthologized in many books, including fifteen editions of the Botanica Veneris, based on the fauna of Venus. Now, her last journal and papercuts, detailing her only trip to Venus (where she disappeared), have come into the possession of her grand-niece, who presents them without further comment. Ida's unique voice adds immeasurably to her journey across Venus, looking for her brother, Arthur, who had absconded with the family jewel (and her dowry) the Blue Empress, on the eve of her marriage to the wastrel Baron of Rathanagan. On her journey, she learns of her brother's sins and crimes, (described as a gambler, a thief, a murderer, and a seducer, by someone who likes him). She eventually finds him and his story (and hers) comes to a surprising end. This was a great story and a wonderful way to end this book. It will also be on my Hugo Award Short List for Novelette, next year.
Martin and Dozois always put together entertaining anthologies and this is one of their best. Highly recommended.