Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Where Are We Going?

edited by Allen Ashley


Where are we going? It's a question all science fiction asks in one way or another, but with a couple of notable exceptions this anthology of odd journeys doesn't take us to the far reaches of outer space or the distant future. Rather it's about finding the unexplored and the eerie right here on Earth, often in places we thought we knew.

Several stories embrace a grim, grungy tone. Gary Budgen's opening tale, Dead Country, is about two friends. One of them is sliding into drugs and despair, whilst the other is obsessed with a country called Quassia, an idyllic place that is like an addictive substance in its own way. I liked the ambiguity of this story and the way it appears to mix up the timelines its narrative with letters from the future. Joel Lane also chose to depict the grittier side of life with a story about a woman who experiences other people's nightmares of vicious abuse. A Faraway City is horrific, but I also found it fairly depressing.

One of my favourites from this collection was The Way The World Works by Ian Sales. There's a wonderful claustrophobia that builds up as the physicist Cavendish travels deep down into the Pacific with only a tiny submersible to hold back the ocean's bone-crushing pressures. We're led to believe this will be a certain type of story, and this makes the twist at the end all the more unexpected and satisfying.

Another highlight for me was Daniella Geary's Underpass, which starts out with a set of tearaway kids exploring disused tunnels in the seventies. It builds a lot of tension thanks to its location, and this only escalates when the children find the off-limits tunnels aren't unoccupied after all. It's a cautionary tale of dares gone wrong, as dark as its black underground pathways, but I found the ending intriguing and uplifting.

I suppose I'm biased towards writing that takes me somewhere upbeat. And where could be more cheerful than Shangri-La, or Xana-La as Stephen Palmer renames it in his steampunk adventure of the same name. Franclin and Pharaday are members of the Suicide Club of dedicated travellers, and they set out in a flying "machinora" in search of a legendary secret city. This irreverent story is full of eccentric chaps and gleaming with brass. Jet MacDonald also adds his characteristic streak of craziness to the anthology in Wake with the Light, in which an unemployed man starts seeing stars every time he closes his eyes. This is a fun story with an astute eye for people's foibles.

Not every story worked for me, though. Andrew Coburn's At The Rail features Cleo, a woman on a luxury liner who has spent her life being unhappy with domineering male relatives. She reflects back on her life, which was full of tragedy, but most of the time I felt like slapping some sense into this character because she's too drippy.

Nor did I get on with Frank Roger's The Chain. This story involves a can-collecting hobo, and art show in a clothes shop that attracts the wrong kind of audience, a secret code left in graffiti, and a man who tries to connect his experiences into a meaningful whole. It's full of well-meaning yet misguided characters. However they aren't very fully described and their dialogue was a little too similar, so I didn't believe in them. The idea behind this story is interesting, but the author seemed too keen to direct our conclusions about the characters. Then there's Overnight Bus by Marion Pitman, which makes a good start with an atmospheric tale of a bus trip in South Africa, but ends without really going anywhere with it.

As far as this anthology is concerned, where we're going is all over the place. There are stories about hungry islands, aliens, the supernatural, and even the odd zombie, and the action is set all around the world in imaginary pasts or futures. It's not unified by one mood. Ralph Robert Moore's post-apocalyptic <Our Island is quite sad, whilst Terry Grimwood's Journey To The Engine Of The Earth is overwhelmingly strange. Douglas Thompson's Entanglement is highbrow and puzzling, in contrast with the light tone of Xana-La or Ian Shoebridge's A Guide To Surviving Malabar. In short this is a bit of a miscellany, where the only thing guaranteed is that the destination will be new territory for all but the most jaded of readers.

23rd April 2012

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books


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4 star rating

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