The New Wave of Speculative Fiction: The What If Factor by Sean Wright

ISBN 1-905100-02-7

Sean Wright aims very high with his recent anthology, The New Wave of Speculative Fiction: The What If Factor. This immediately brings to mind the SF movement of the late sixties and early seventies, and writers like M. John Harrison, Robert Silverberg, and Philip K. Dick with the movement epitomized by the Harlan Ellison edited anthology Dangerous Visions.

Astute short fiction readers may also recognize the Richard Marchand cover of this book, as I did. I couldn’t quite place it at first, but when I was looking through some of my more recent fiction magazines, I came across issue #32 of The 3rd Alternative, which is adorned with the same artwork. It is a striking image and does, somewhat, evoke the imagery in Mills’s opening story.

An uneven baker’s dozen of stories comprise this collection. However, as one might expect in an anthology, the stories do vary, somewhat. I found the mix of stories in Wright’s volume is very uneven. Perhaps the strongest story is the opener, “Tic Tac Man” by Sam Mills. Mills tells the story of a strange man, with an even more obscure and strange disease as he adjusts to his rigid life. The story examines identity and regret, and has the ambiance of a Twilight Zone episode. I wonder if Mr. Mills familiarized himself with a certain disease guide while writing this powerful and haunting story.

Lisa DuMond’s “Star Child” was also very moving, charting the story of a couple who adopt a young girl. In her story, DuMond posits a future where aliens are available for adoption, there are some resonances with today’s world and the difficulties some loving couples face when they begin the journey towards parenthood. DuMond takes the story through many heartbreaking bends in the road.

The collection is closed out by “The Numberist,” editor Sean Wright’s contribution. The tone of the story is both obsessive and confused. Wright also, seemingly, connects this story to his novel, The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor, including, at least in name, the protagonist from that novel, Lia-Va. The story follows Lou, who tries to establish contact at various turns, with other people. Throughout the story, we are given clues about when and where the story takes place, adding to the overall feel of confusion.

The remaining stories in the collection were lacking something. I don’t know if it was the quality of the three great stories far surpassing the others, or if it was just a matter of me being unable to connect with them. In summary, The What-If Factor is an eclectic collection, as is often the case with anthologies. If anything, Wright may have done himself a disservice by using the term New Wave in the anthology’s title, because of the history within the genre tied into that phrase. However, if you are looking for stories that are memorable, (or a link to Wright’s Twisted Root novel), then the three tales mentioned above may make this book one for you to try. Or perhaps the other stories can connect with you in a way they didn’t with me.

© 2006 Rob H. Bedford

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