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Book Review: Tides from the New Worlds by Tobias Buckell

#Genre: Anthology/Collection, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Magic Realism
# Hardcover
# Publisher: Wyrm Publishing; 1ST edition (2009)
# ISBN-10: 1890464074
# ISBN-13: 978-1890464073
# Author Website: Tobias S. Buckell

In Tides from the New World, Wyrm Publishing collects some of the best short fiction of critically acclaimed author Tobias Buckell. Though young, Buckell has had a meteoric rise to the top of the charts, including making the NYT Bestseller list for a recent Halo novel.

Each of the 21 pieces of fiction includes an introduction by the author, and the entire collection is introduced by well-known SF author Mike Resnick, who can be credited with fostering the nascent ability of the young Buckell at a Clarion workshop.

Buckell has a clipped style of writing, a way of packing in a lot of story into what is not written, and so his stories, while often quite short, manage to have significant depth.

In “The Fish Merchant”, Buckell tells the story of Li Hao-Chang, the titular character. Much to Li’s chagrin, he meets Pepper, Buckell’s most popular character. Pepper is being pursued by unknown forces, and Li does the honorable thing and provides a hideaway for him. But as often happens when peons get involved in big people problems, tragedy strikes Li. Buckell’s story is significant both for its non-Western characters, its non-Western locale, and its unusual perspective. The hero is nor the thrust of the story, but rather the incidental character. Buckell uses “The Fish Merchant” as a way to look at the people who are caught in the crossfire of the Jason Bournes and James Bonds of the world.

“In the Heart of Kalikuata” is a piece of fiction that looks at overpopulation and the role of women in the developing world. Though a short piece, its female protagonist is compelling in the change she undergoes. She moves from hiding her femininity in a male-dominated society to becoming something greater than her gender. This story is a piece of feminist fiction as written by a man.

An abandoned machine is the crux of “Io, Robot”. A wonderful nod to Asimov, with an update to our understanding of post-humanity, this tales has a chilling, but completely logical ending. Buckell skillfully brings the reader from a state of sympathy for the protagonist to being aghast at how the seemingly positive story wraps up. The transfer from one emotion to another is seamless, and is done with the speed and alacrity that characterizes Buckell’s work. This is one of the best stories of the collection.

“Anakoinosis” is a look, from a Caribbean born author, at slavery and industrialization and the relationship between the two. The story deals more in themes than particular characters, though one alien being does come to the fore. It is a significant tale, and requires a careful reading, as Buckell subtly weaves his theme into it, never being preachy but allowing the tale to draw its own conclusions. The alien whiffets that Buckell creates for the story really explore the “other” that is so prominent in science fiction, but with an unusual twist that stands out from its tropish counterparts.

“Aerophilia” is not the best story of the collection, but it will be popular with readers who enjoyed Buckell’s novel Sly Mongoose as it deals with a similar world, and the solid science in it will be appealing to some. The story begins with the takeover of an aircraft on a cloud world. But all is not as it seems with the supposed terrorist, and he who seems to be the villain in fact becomes the hero. The narrative, while having lots of action, also manages to take a quick peek into the nature of identity, especially in a world where man and machine are becoming one.

“Shoah Shry” (co-written with Ilsa J. Bick) is a grand adventure story set in a universe in which there are no longer any male humans, and women rule the universe in various factions. The ultimate goal of one of the factions is to find, in Indiana Jones style, the male gene and return it to the world. This tale is something of a synonym to The Children of Men by P.D. James, but set farther in the future and with a more action-adventure feel. An exciting story and unusual story.

“The Shackles of Freedom”, co-written with Mike Resnick, is an exploration of the mentality that drives some religions and peoples to reject modern science, particularly medical breakthroughs. The protagonist is a doctor who comes to a planet settled by the Amish, but finds himself struggling with the simple life that the Amish have chosen for themselves, especially when they let people die who could have lived through the new medical techniques available to them. Buckell and Resnick are careful not to pass judgment on a differing point of view, and in so doing again explore the “other” and the “alien” but within our very own race.

“Her” is a completely strange tale. Buckell calls it a mashup of science fiction and magic realism in his introduction. Its protagonist is the leader of a world, the person who drives the government in the right direction. But this world is different from all others. It is, in fact, the body of a giant naked woman floating through space. The story is totally surreal, and while not crass is graphic in some ways, and so could offend some reader. But for its originality, Buckell has to be given high marks. You’ll not find any other story quite like it.

“In Orbite Medievali” explores a “what if” scenario. What is Christopher Columbus was wrong? What if at the time he set out on his journey, the world was not yet a complete sphere, and he and his men fell off the edge of the world? Though not wholly original, the story is one of the few alternate universe stories that I have read which changes the very nature of the world.

“Four Eyes” is an urban fantasy set on the island where Buckell grew up, St. Thomas in the Caribbean. The protagonist is haunted by ghosts, able to see the dead, but unable to do anything about it. Though this style of story has been done many times, the unique setting and building of the tale on the mythos of the islands gives this particular story a unique flavor.

The first person story of “Spurn Babylon” is also set on St. Thomas. A visitor to the island becomes caught up in a strange fantasy involving an ancient ship thrust onto the island by a hurricane and the unusual behavior of the natives towards the ancient slave ship. In a way, the story is a fictionalized form of the attitude of the Caribbean peoples, looking to the future without forgetting the past.

“Trinkets” is a zombie story based on the Caribbean roots of the genre. Too, it also contains an ending twist like “Io, Robot” before it. Though short, the story manages to excite and horrify all in its few words.

“Death’s Dreadlocks” is an update to an ancient legend of the Caribbean islands. In it, a young boy encounters Death, whose dreadlocks cover the island. The story ends up being a cautionary tale about war, and the inability of anyone to conquer death, only tame it. Buckell’s tale takes and old legend and provides a modern interpretation that is especially relevant to the turbulent history of the Caribbean.

“Smooth Talking” is an environmental tale about a businessman learning the value of saving plant life after her encounters a dryad in the desk of a colleague. Although even the villains of the story are not wholly bad (lumbermen who replant two trees for everyone they cut down) there is something special about a grove of trees who have a sentience. Some readers could see this story as being preachy, but Buckell is careful to differentiate the specialness of these trees above others, and the story really becomes more about the businessman learning care for others, when before he has only cared about his next deal.

“Tides” is a fantasy of magic and people who live on stilts in the middle of the ocean. The primary thrust or the story revolves around two sisters. One who has returned from war, much aged by her use of magic, and another, petulant that a sister she doesn’t remember has taken over her room. The story is a coming-of-age tale, which sadly requires tragedy for it to come about.

An original work for the collection “Something in the Rock” is about the dwarf Grigor, a staunch traditionalist, who learns through a near death experience that the old ways are not always the best ways. The tale is about learning new ways of thinking or doing, about being open-minded. Too, it is also a great action tale of the axe-bearing dwarf versus the cave monster that is reminiscent of many a heroic adventure.

“A Green Thumb” is a story about the relationship between father and son. In this world, cars are grown from a seed. Jerry is not allowed to grow a car, so he buys one on the sly and plants it where his father can’t find it. But of course, not everything works out as planned. The narrative is a coming-of-age story that can be found anywhere, but is unique in its science fictional elements.

Chilling its though of children as space pilots, “All Her Children Fought…” is also a heartwarming tale of adoption if only for a short time. It acknowledges the need of all people to know affection and love, even if only a short while. Readers will see some similarity to the original novella of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” but the story is till wholly Buckell in its sensibility.

“The Duel” is the story of a historic theater actor who wants to live in the past. Specifically the past in which Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton have their famous duel. The duel provides a metanarrative for the protagonists love triangle, and when the hero steps from his world into theirs he learns much about facing the world, not running from it.

Set in the same universe and on the same planet as Buckell’s novel Crystal Rain, “Necahual” is a story of an imperialist who comes to love the thing he is sent to conquer, and unashamedly a new version of H. G. Wells classic War of the Worlds. It’s a pretty good tale, though nothing makes it stand out other than its relationship to Buckell’s novels.

“Toy Planes” looks at the reasons why a developing nation would want to achieve space even as their people are suffering. It’s a way of saying that those nations are important too, that they too are capable of great things, even if they aren’t the first to do them. Its hopeful theme is a good way for the collection to end, as man reaches for the stars.

If you have not read Buckell before, this collection is an excellent place to start (assuming Wyrm Publishing comes out with an edition other than their current 500 signed copy limited edition run), and fans of the young author will want to be sure to get one of the signed copies.