Anthologies are always interesting beasts. They often contain stories of varying quality with a wide range of themes. In Elemental, Steven Savile and Alethea Kontis have assembled an impressive array of writers from all across the Speculative Fiction field, as well as a beautiful cover from Michael Whelan. The editorial team provides a brief bio for each writer and an introduction to each story, which contextualizes both the story and the author. Savile and Kontis recruited these authors for the quality of their writing, but also because they wanted to contribute to the rebuilding efforts in the Pacific which were a result of the devastating Tsunami in December 2004. Savile says, in his Afterword, that he considers himself lucky to be able to recruit these various authors. As readers, the luck is ours.
A lot of the authors provided short stories which allowed readers to sample the secondary, imagined worlds they created. Some of these stories worked very well without prior knowledge of the writer’s previous work. Chanting the Violet Dog Down: A Tale of Noreela was Tim Lebbon’s contribution. This dark tale centered on a Mourner – a person who assists the recently dead. With the short story here, I thought he did a nice job of depicting the characters and giving a flavor of this apocalyptic world.
William C. Dietz’s Run to Hardscrabble Station provided a quick, entertaining glimpse into the Military SF world of his Legion of the Damned stories and novels. Dietz, through a quote in the introduction to the story, relates how personal this tale was for him. I found it quite enjoyable and plan on revisiting this world in the future.
Night of the Dolls introduces readers to the grand space opera of Sean Williams and Shane Dix’s Geodesica universe. Though the milieu here is a fairly distant future and a burgeoning galaxy, the essential question, what is it to be human is posed quite nicely. Again, this story has got me interested in this saga, which recently completed publication (Geodescia: Ascent & Geodesica: Descent).
Martha Wells, in Potter’s Daughter, hints at the magical world of Ile Rien, as seen in a number of her novels, including The Death of the Necromancer and The Fall of Ilie Rien trilogy. Witchcraft and identity are central here, and served as a great reminder of how much I enjoyed the Ile Rien novels. More so, it reminded me to catch up with these books.
Savile and Kontis also recruited authors who wanted to tell tales unconnected to any of their other creations. Larry Niven’s The Solipsist at Dinner is an interesting story on the power of story and the obsessiveness that can strike many a writer. In Tough Love in 3001 by Juliet Marillier, a familiar setting is put forth, a writer’s workshop. Of course by the title one can surmise the setting is in the far future, but Marillier captures a nice feel and pays homage to Neil Gaiman in the process. Michael Marshall Smith’s The Compound, was a strange and darkly satisfying tale that for some odd reason, evoked the imagery of Metallica’s Unforgiven music video. David Gerrold’s Report from the Near Future: Crystallization takes a familiar route, isolating one moment in which an entire world changes. No doubt readers, like me, may draw comparisons to 9/11, though thankfully, Gerrold tells his tale with more humor. Jacqueline Carey’s In the Matter of Fallen Angels is a reflection of how something out of the ordinary, after enough exposure, can fall into the background of daily life until it makes itself known once again.
Other contributions include a Dune story by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, and stories by Adam Roberts, Esther M. Friesner, Brian Aldiss, Stel Pavlou, Sherrilyn Kenyon (writing as Kinley MacGregor), Joe Haldeman, Eric S. Nylund, Janny Wurts, Syne Mitchell, Sharon Shinn, David Drake, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman.
Savile and Kontis should be commended for many things on this book; the variety of stories, the genre names they’ve recruited, and the charitable donation they are making with this book. While this anthology may not define a movement in the genre, it is nonetheless one of the most important of the year; there is enough of a variety to satisfy readers who enjoy all the branches of Science Fiction and Fantasy and the quality on the whole, was very enjoyable. With the proceeds going to Save the Children Tsunami Relief Fund, the quality of most of the stories are well worth the price of admission, whether you acquire the hardcover or trade paperback. Good stories and a charitable donation – it makes sense to me.
© 2006 Rob H. Bedford