Visions of Paradise

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Best Short Novels 2007, part 1

I am an admitted lover of novellas, so this is the best-of-the-year anthology most anticipated by me. While editor Jonathan Strahan’s taste overlaps mine, it is not totally similar, so invariably there are some stories in each edition which do not suite my taste. That is why I do not take the collection’s title "best..." too seriously, but rather consider it an annual anthology of new novellas. Under that expectaction, I have not been disappointed in the series yet.

Kage Baker is a natural storyteller who shows up in "best of the year" volumes regularly. So far I have liked all the stories of hers that I have read, whether Company stories or her Anvil of the World fantasies, or her two tales about colonizing Mars. "Where the Golden Apples Grow" is set in the same world as "Empress of Mars" and is as good as that award-nominated story. It is the tale of two boys growing up on Mars. Ford belongs to MAC, which is a group struggling to terraform Mars. Bill is the son of Billy, a largely-irresponsible independent long-distant hauler, who travels to the poles fetching water to sell to MAC. When Ford runs away from his family after his father and older brother have a fight which is broken up by Mother’s Boys security, he is rescued by Billy and joins them for a long-distance haul.

Bill and Ford are opposites. Ford is a dreamer who loves the wide open spaces which he has never experienced. Bill is a strait-laced know-it-all who is hoping to get a real education. When Billy has an accident, the two boys are left to complete the haul alone, each one getting a chance to learn life from the other’s perspective.

This is a strong story combining the boys’ joint coming-of-age with an adventure on the Martian surface, set in the same world. While it was originally written for Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann’s young adult collection Escape From Earth, the only concession it makes to that format is the juvenile protagonists. Ultimately it is a story all readers can enjoy.

Robert Reed’s "A Billion Eves" is one of two outstanding novellas he published in 2006 (the other being "Good Mountain") and a deserving Hugo winner. Its premise is that scientists invent "rippers," machines capable of opening doorways into alternate universes which are created continuously from events in our world. An undergraduate physics major has the inspiration to put a ripper in a truck which he nestles against the wall of a female sorority, opens the doorway and immediately sends himself and dozens of young women into another universe where he anticipates living happily with his harem. While events there do not go precisely as he anticipates after his mass kidnapping, ultimately it leads to a progression of societies created by other "Fathers" creating their own worlds using rippers, many as parts of groups of volunteers, others by kidnapping wives in the same manner as the First Father.

The societies created in the alternate universes all have a rigid religious foundation based on the fervent belief that founding new societies in alternate universes is the primary function of people. Another assumption in the story is the rather simplistic belief that because the first world was settled by one First Father kidnapping a group of women, then all subsequent worlds will adapt the same laissez-faire attitude towards such kidnappings. "A Billion Eves" is not long enough to explore the reasons behind these assumption, so the story needs to be taken with some serious swallowed disbelief. Fortunately, Reed’s story is fascinating and, once you accept his assumptions, believable, so I was able to enjoy it without questioning its foundations too much.

"The Voyage of Night Shining White" is part of Chris Roberson’s Celestial Empire alternate history series in which the Chinese empire is the pre-eminent power in the world, and how it expands its empire into space. This novella tells of a fleet of ships traveling to Mars in an attempt to colonize the planet. The ship Night Shining White is captained by Zheng Yi, a totally-inexperienced sailor whose main qualifications for the role seems to be his abilities as a conductor and his being a eunuch from the Forbidden City. The relationships among the 7 men on the ship–three officers and 4 crewmen–follows strict Confucian principles, and Physician Xiang Du is a Daoist as well. Xiang becomes Zheng’s confidante when they each discover that the other is an accomplished musician, so they spend their subsequent evenings playing together (which is probably not an accidental similarity to Patrick O’Brien’s Maturin-Aubrey books).

Halfway to Mars, Night Shining Light experiences a serious problem which requires two men to enter the radioactive core to repair, sacrificing their lives in the process. Afterwards, the remaining 5 men are trapped in two forward compartments as protection against rising radiation levels elsewhere. At first they bond from the closeness, and the rigid protocols slowly drop away, but gradually, with the two men lying dying elsewhere in the ship from radiation sickness, their camaraderie twists into resentment.

"The Voyage of Night Shining White" is stronger emotionally than Baker’s story, and does not have the logical flaws of Reed’s (although, not being a scientist, I might easily have missed such flaws). Its ending is strong and fitting, and the twin philosophies of Confucianism and Daoism serve the story well. This is the second story in Roberson’s Celestial Empire series that I have read, and I have liked them both a lot. I plan to seek out some of his novels in the series as well.

To be continued...


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home