Visions of Paradise

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Dark Heaven

Before the Science Fiction Book Club fell victim to a “re-organization” by their new owners a few years ago, assistant editor Andrew Wheeler was publishing a series of original collections of novellas that contained some of the best stuff being published at the time. They included four volumes of Jonathan Strahan’s Best Short Novels as well as such original novella collections as Robert Silverberg’s Between Worlds, Gardner Dozois’ One Million A.D. and Galactic Empires, Marvin Kaye’s Forbidden Planets and Mike Resnick’s Down These Dark Spaceways and Alien Crimes. For some reason, I bought the first 9 volumes in the series, but I never bought the last one, which is now unavailable through the club.

Fortunately, two of the stories in the book are available in Gardner Dozois’ The Year’s Best Science Fiction, 25th annual collection, covering sf published in 2007, including Gregory Benford’s superb novella “Dark Heaven.” This story impressed me in several ways.

The story is a noir mystery featuring a hard-boiled Louisiana detective named McKenna investigating a series of drownings which have all the earmarks of homicide, including mysterious marks on the arms of the victims. The fact that two such drownings occur within a few days of each other push the deaths past coincidence into probable murders. But there is so little evidence that McKenna seems to be spinning his wheels futily as his superiors wait impatiently for him to turn his attention to other crimes awaiting resolution.

In the background of “Dark Heaven” are a race of aliens who have come to Earth and established a basehead on an island near the murders, totally isolated by federal agents who pretty much bully anybody who dares to come near them, including local police investigating crimes. At first, the aliens seem to be mostly background, the sfnal ingredient in the story but, knowing Benford’s fiction, I knew that would not last for long.

I won’t say much more about the story without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that both the mystery aspect and the sf aspect were well-thought out and very successful. "Dark Heaven" certainly encouraged me to go read some more Benford sf. My collection of Benford books is weaker than it should be, consisting of his Galactic Cluster series and three other novels (including the fabulous Timescape). Whenever I get back to actually buying some more sf books, Benford’s stuff should percolate to the top of the list.


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