Locus subtitles itself: The Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field. According to its entry in Wikipedia, "As of 2008, Locus has won the [Hugo] award for Best Fanzine 8 times, and the award for Best Semiprozine 21 times (in the 25 years the award has been given). " [I feel like I should place the preceding close quotation mark inside the ending period in memory of the late Charles N. Brown....]
So I couldn't have been more pleased to learn that Is Anybody Out There? (Daw Books, June 1), my co-edited anthology with Nick Gevers, would be reviewed in Locus not just once -- by Gardner Dozois in the May issue -- but a second time by Rich Horton in the June issue. Gardner's review was relatively short and was included in his monthly short fiction review column. Rich Horton's review (which follows), however, was printed under the "Reviews by Divers Hands" heading and is quite lengthy, with comments covering 9 of the 15 stories included in the anthology. I suspect that the majority of mass market paperback anthologies from Daw Books do not garner two reviews, regardless of length, within the pages of Locus. So, as I said, I'm thankful for the two reviews, and for the positive, encouraging words both reviewers had to say about the anthology.
In an email I received just yesterday from Rich, he brought me up-to-date on his own edited Best of the Year anthologies: "I have Best of the Year books from 2006 through 2008 in the original form -- one for SF, one for Fantasy -- and from 2009 and 2010 combined [all from Prime Books]. Also Unplugged [Wyrm Publishing], the best SF/Fantasy from the Web, in 2009, and some hope that a new Best of the Web volume will appear this year..." Rich is a bit behind on updates to his website, but even so, he lists links to more than 100 of his online book reviews. Now, he has another to link to:
In Anybody Out There?, edited by Nick Gevers and Marty Halpern (DAW, 978-0-7564-0619-6, $7.99, mmpb, 320 pages) June 2010
Nick Gevers with his second DAW anthology (here in collaboration with Marty Halpern) cements the notion that he's an editor whose books we can look forward to. The theme of Is Anybody Out There? is straightforward enough: the Fermi Paradox. Where are the aliens? This is a very fine anthology through and through: each story is at least interesting. The theme is explored from a satisfying variety of angles.
Indeed, in "The Vampire Paradox" James Morrow (not entirely seriously) places the Fermi Paradox on a level with such other paradoxes as the Cretan Liar. A not very successful philosophy professor is recruited by a group of monks to help save the world: it seems that the ancient heretic Tertullian charged them with meditating constantly on paradoxes to that end, but some strange invaders (aliens? Who knows?) are interfering.
Most of the rest of the stories are a bit more conventional than Morrow's. The answers to the Fermi Paradox on offer here are mostly the usual: they're already here but we don't recognize them; or there aren't any aliens; or the universe is stranger than we think so travel through it will be different than we expect. For many stories the point is not so much the aliens as how yearning after aliens, or wondering about them, affects humans. And that is as central a science fictional theme as there is.
The first two stories use the idea of the alien to explore human character, a time-honored SF strategy. Alex Irvine's opening story, "The Word He Was Looking For Was Hello," does a beautiful job of briefly presenting numerous traditional SF answers to the alien question while exploring a lonely man's yearning for his daughter, given up for adoption. Michael Arsenault's "Residue," told entirely in dialogue, depicts a couple stargazing while speculating, rather whackily, on "why we haven't seen [alien life] yet." Both stories, for me, succeed both in what seems their main aim, depiction of characters and relationships, and in the more centrally SFnal aim of presenting intriguing ideas.
Other strong stories include Yves Meynard's "Good News From Antares," which offers a radical solution to the Fermi Paradox (the universe is literally almost empty, most of the stars being illusions), and a story of a once successful SF writer resenting both the loss of the SF dream and his daughter's success writing vampire stories. Jay Lake's "Permanent Fatal Errors" has a young immortal encountering evidence of possible, if very strange, alien life, only to learn that one answer to the Fermi Paradox is "We don't WANT to know." This story combines intrigue, speculation, action, and a traditional SF message very effectively. Paul di Filippo's "Galaxy of Mirrors" begins by positing that an all-human universe would eventually succumb to sheer boredom, and then falls to the temptation of concluding with a classic SF cliché -- one many SF writers seem compelled to attack at least once in their careers.
In "Whenever Two or Three" Sheila Finch pairs a disaffected teen with a dying, nearly forgotten, astronaut who claims he encountered aliens. Again, believable depiction of character melds very well with the SFnal central idea. Pat Cadigan, in "The Taste of Night," tells of a woman who has become a street person in part because she is convinced that aliens are on the way, and are communicating with her through an extra sense she is developing. It is heartbreaking in its portrayal of her decline, and her husband's despair -- but it might just be hopeful, if we can believe her obsession is real. Both those stories hint that the aliens are, after, real, and contact may be imminent -- so too with "Rare Earth," by Felicity Shoulders and Leslie What, in which a teenager and a couple of his friends, as well as his grandmother, are key factors in dealing with a curious "invasion" of unusual aliens in Portland, OR. Again, the story mixes a worthwhile SF idea with an involving human story.
-- Rich Horton, Locus, June 2010