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Book Review: Speculative Horizons edited by Patrick St-Denis

Genre: Anthology, Short Fiction
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: Subterranean; Deluxe Hardcover Edition edition
Publication Date: November 30, 2010
ISBN-10: 159606336X
ISBN-13: 978-1596063365
Editor’s Website: Patrick St-Denis

Patrick St-Denis is probably best known as the Canadian blogger of Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, a six-year old science fiction and fantasy review blog. However, when his mother began her battle with breast cancer, he also became an advocate for breast cancer research. Knowing this, Subterranean Press contacted St-Denis about compiling a special anthology for them for which 10% of the sale price went towards his continued breast cancer research. So was born Speculative Horizons, a collection of five tales from some of St-Denis’ favorite authors.

In “Soul Mate” by C. S. Friedman, a visually-impaired woman meets the man of her dreams when he strides up to her stand selling sidewalk art. All goes well, until her friend points out that her boyfriend is adopting many of her mannerisms and quirks. The story is really creepy, a vampiric tale that is exceptionally intimate in its violation of the self. Friedman’s clever use of the protagonist’s disability at the climactic moment should have been obvious, yet wasn’t. It is an enjoyable urban fantasy that twists standard tropes only slightly, but enough to prevent unoriginality.

Tobias S. Buckell’s “The Eve of the Fall of Habesh” is the story of an old magic-user named Jazim in a world where using magic grays people prematurely. Nine-year-olds have the body of seventy-year-olds, and most wizards are limited to one spell. Jazim loves Habesh, but the “beautiful stinking whore of a city” he loves so much is also destroying him. In this narrative Buckell presents a turning point in a character’s life, a snapshot of a moment that will change him forever. When escape from the life he hates and probable death is offered Jazim, he must decide between his city and his life. The theme is sound, and Buckell fulfills it well, but I did not find Jazim very empathetic, so the story lacked any expressive punch.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr. brings to the reader a tale of Recluce in “The Stranger”. The narrative is a standard sword and sorcery about a strange man, dressed in black, who defends a poor farm. Perhaps readers more versed in the world of Recluce will see significance in the proper names, but for the uninitiated, the tale is a well-described fight scene with a little philosophy about honor included. I liked it for its simple elegance, and for being the only story in the anthology which includes swords clashing.

“Flint” by Brian Ruckley is a tale of a stone-age boy shaman who must fight the spirit of evil that is sickening the old in his village. Faced by pressure to perform, disdain for his age, and lack of experience, Flint demonstrates wisdom beyond his years. The tale is a classic theme. A boy become as man through adversity and in doing so wins the trust of his clan. Ruckley’s story is a good ghost story with an ancient setting, great for telling around a campfire at night.

Hal Duncan gets really creative in “The Death of a Love”. Written in first person from the perspective of a cop who investigates “erocide”, Duncan’s urban fantasy is an examination of relationships. In the story, love actually takes manifest form as little cupids. Since thes cupids have corporeal form, they can be killed so many different ways. Therefore, there is a division of the police that investigate these vicious felonies and discover just who or what kills a couple’s love. It is a unique way to look at an ancient theme and my favorite tale of the anthology. (For those readers sensitive to it, be aware that Duncan’s story is liberally laced with expletives, something I felt adds to the grittiness and realism of the story, but might be offensive to you.)

Patrick St-Denis’ anthology of stories is a worthy buy for those who support breast cancer research. Though these stories are not the best output of the five authors, neither are they awful. The anthology is unthemed, so readers may feel a disconnectedness between the narratives, but each one is a quick and entertaining read. I recommend Speculative Horizons as a quality anthology.