06 September 2012

Short SF&F Week: Voices from the Past edited by Scott Harrison and Lee Harris

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2011
Acquired May 2011

Read July 2012
Voices from the Past
edited by Scott Harrison and Lee Harris

Once again, I picked up this book because Paul Cornell has a story in it; I really am obsessed. Voices from the Past is the first (and apparently only) publication of H&H Books, collecting 1,500-word from almost thirty of British sf's best authors, released for charity. (Though "British sf's best authors" has a curiously high correspondence to "people who write Doctor Who tie-in fiction".) The linking theme seems to be the title itself; nearly all of the stories have literal or metaphorical "voices from the past." (Rob Shearman's, though, has a creepy man-dog creature. We love you, Rob!)

The main thing I learned is that the 1,500-word short story is immensely difficult to write; many of these stories are just an idea, but they're slightly too long to get away with only being an idea.  Worse than a story that's just an idea is a story that's just a twist, and that's an all too prevalent mode here.  Especially if that twist is just a cliche or a joke I've heard before.  I could complain about a lot of those, but instead I'll focus on the good ones, such as Alastair Reynolds's "Ascension Day," which is about a spaceship that stays in a place for years upon years... but is about to take off. But of course, like all good twists, it's not twist, but simply a revelation about what's come before.

Other good ones: Cavan Scott's "Just Do It" was striking and creepy, Jasper Fforde's "Shuttle" had a great, vivid concept, Joseph Lidster's "Success" feels like the flipside of an aliens-invade-London episode of Russell Davies Doctor Who, Maura McHugh's "Mustn't Grumble" puts a poor father/son relationship into a disturbing light, Mur Lafferty's "750,000 of Your Friends Like This" was a great idea and funny even if it wasn't much of a story, Paul Magrs's "The Curious Package" was charming fun, and Robert Shearman's "The Runt" was darkly true in that way that Shearman always is.

So there's some good stuff, but the hit ratio is slightly lower than one might hope for. They're all over quickly, which means that most of the bad ones don't outstay their welcomes (though there are some capable of doing that anyway!). It's an okay book in the end, but you'd kinda hope for better from many of these authors.

All that said, for an eBook-only release, the formatting on this thing (at least in the Kindle edition) is terrible. I can (begrudgingly) understand bad formatting on print book also released as an eBook, but when a book is only an eBook, every line of text consistently being indented on the left side is inexcusably sloppy. Check your work, people!

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