Temporally Out of Order
Edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray
Review by Sam Lubell
Zombies Need Brains Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781940709024
Date: 11 August 2015 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Theme anthologies used to be a publishing staple. For a long while DAW launched a new theme anthology each month and Martin H. Greenberg probably edited over a thousand anthologies in his lifetime. But lately, the major publishers have become far more reluctant to compile theme anthologies unless there is a big name attached, such as George RR Martin's Dangerous Women. Fortunately, the small press has picked up the slack and a number of anthologies have been produced through Kickstarter, an Internet site that lets users fund projects at the launch stage in return for rewards if the project succeeds. This solves the problem of reduced demand for stories compared to novels since editors can determine the pay rate for authors based on the amount raised, and if not enough is pledged, the project can be cancelled.
Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray are experienced anthologists, having produced anthologies for DAW and a previous anthology, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs Aliens for Zombies Need Brains, a new small press. Temporally Out of Order is a collection of stories about the venerable science fiction concept of time travel. But these are not stories about time machines with dials that can be set to the desired date, but instead about objects that make time go temporally out of order in unpredictable ways. The book has 17 stories by such writers as Seanan McGuire, David B. Coe, Edmund Schubert, Laura Resnick, Laura Anne Gilman, and Juliet E. McKenna. Seanan McGuire has an unusual story about the effects of getting a library card for a library with a room that reserves books backwards in time. Elektra Hammond shows a restaurant that inherits its broiler from a previous restaurant. David Coe's story about a camera that recreates old destroyed photos provides a timely reminder of the histories people prefer to deny. Faith Hunter has a story in her Jane Yellowrock fantasy series with vampires demanding that a family of witches surrender a haunted teapot to them.
Edmund Schubert asks what a 15-year old true baseball fan would do with a holographic baseball card showing that he will become a star player in the future only to suffer permanent brain damage in a game. Steve Ruskin has an artist acquire a device that lets him draw authentic historical scenes at the cost of his own art. In Sofie Bird's story the typewriter McGuffin is secondary to the ongoing conflict between a mother and her grown daughter. Laura Resnick has a very unusual love story when a Kentucky small town faces a buffalo stampede, a Union army attack, and an angry woolly mammoth. In Susan Jett's story, a malfunctioning smoke detector proves to be working in a very timely fashion.
Gini Koch has the closest thing to conventional time travel with a character occupying bodies in the past; the story even name-checks Quantum Leap! Chris Barili's story about phone calls from the past, nicely subverts the reader's expectations. The final story, by Jeremy Sim, has the very unusual gimmick of a prosthetic nose that smells the past.
Most of the stories deal with the effects of the time disruption and how it changes the characters' lives without really showing how and why the object works. This makes them more typically fantasy than science fiction. For instance, the heroine of "Black and White" when she discovers her grandfather's old camera was viewing the past does not try to take the camera apart to find out what is causing this effect.
In general, theme anthologies face two potential hazards. First, there is the possibility that the stories will be too similar. Temporally Out of Order avoids this problem through a varied set of objects produced various time-related difficulties. Unfortunately, several stories succumb to the second problem--because of the theme, the reader knows from the start that all stories involve some form of objects creating time disruption. So any story that tries to surprise the reader or that involves the characters trying to figure out what is going on, seems more obvious to the reader than the same story would in a magazine without the theme.
Fans of time travel and those interested in well-written gimmick stories will love this anthology. Readers who want hard science fiction or Sanderson-style systems of magic should look elsewhere. This book was produced through Kickstarter. People who want short stories to survive as a viable market should check Kickstarter periodically and support interesting anthology proposals. Remember, with Kickstarter, if not enough people commit to funding in advance, these books will not be available for anyone to read.
Reviewer's Note: This review is based on the Kickstarter version of the anthology. The reviewer helped fund the book through Kickstarter and his name appears in the list of funders.