Eclipse One: New Science Fiction and Fantasy is the first in what will probably be an annual anthology of short stories edited by Jonathan Strahan. Already known for some of his “Best of” anthologies, Strahan decided to create out an annual anthology book of short stories in the same vein as the old Universe anthologies edited by Terry Carr back in the ‘70s and 80s. ‘Strahan has assembled a varied collection of fantasy and science fiction short stories that defy any attempt at a theme. They’re just a collection of supposedly great stories that were submitted to him. I say “supposedly” above because, unfortunately, the collection is rather underwhelming. It will take another edition or two before I discover whether it’s the difference between my taste and Strahan’s, or whether the first edition is just an aberration. The selections are good enough that I’m definitely going to give the next edition a try as well.
Strangely enough, I was mostly let down by the authors I was familiar with and pleasantly surprised by many who I wasn’t. None of the stories are bad - this is a group of talented authors. Even as I’m finding I don’t care for a story, I can recognize the skill of the author as the story unfolds. However, too often the story just didn’t move me or make me want to care about the characters. Some of the stories are humorous and some are touching, and I’m glad I read all of them. But in the end, this is still a somewhat weak collection.
My favorite story would have to be “The Transformation of Targ” by Paul Brandon & Jack Dann, a hilarious tale about a being of pure evil whose heart just isn’t in it anymore. He controls a vast, fantastical empire, but he’s starting to feel…sympathetic to his people. Instead of ruthlessly destroying a village, he moves the villagers to a better parcel of land so that they’ll have the money to pay their taxes next year. So when you can’t be evil anymore, you go to an evil shrink, right? One who will get to the root of your problem and make you evil again. Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite work for the evil overlord Brian. It’s a shame this story comes so late in the volume, so it took me a while to get to it. Brandon and Dann’s tongues are firmly in their cheeks, and the tone is set perfectly at the start as Brian and his sadistic Captain of the Guard are forced to cool their heels in the waiting room and fill out forms. The ending twist is inspired, capping off a wonderful story.
Another favorite is “Up the Fire Road” by Eileen Gunn, though for reasons that others might not find amusing. An adventurous couple get stranded in the wilds of Washington during a rainstorm and find themselves rescued by…something. At first they think it’s a Sasquatch, but then they realize it’s not. Andrea sees it as a man, and Christy (a male) sees it as a woman. They stay out there six weeks, both having affairs with it, and then things get really strange. This story has that extra element that really makes me love it: it uses the Maury Povitch show to end the story. The wife and I are fans of the show, so to see that just made me laugh even harder. Gunn uses it well, but even the first part of the story is interesting - as her characterization skills are very good. It’s an enjoyable story, with a little extra for me.
I can’t really point to any “weak” stories in the book. All of them have at least something to draw me in, even if I didn’t necessarily care for them at the end. Some of the stories have a lesser tie to either SF or fantasy than I would like, but generally that’s not an issue. Lucius Shepard’s “Larissa Miusov” contains only a hint of either fantasy or SF, but it’s good enough that I didn’t mind.
Strahan has obtained stories from some of the current greats. Any collection with Peter S. Beagle, Bruce Sterling, Shepard, and Jeffrey Ford has to be considered a good one. However, Eclipse One has also introduced me to some new authors who I really enjoyed in this volume - or rather, they may not be new authors, but they’re new to me. Eileen Gunn, Maureen McHugh, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Paul Brandon and Jack Dann - they’re all authors who I will now look for; their stories in this anthology are especially good.
Eclipse One is a middling first edition, but I hope that subsequent volumes are more to my taste. It’s definitely worth checking out, and here’s hoping it lasts at least 17 years, to match the longevity of Strahan’s inspiration.