This volume collects the quartet under the lovely and somewhat Vancian title Romance on Four Worlds, a title which blithely plays with the dual meanings of romance as carnal, emotional affection, a love affair, and romance as adventure, as in “scientific romances,” that great old term that predated “science fiction.”
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The dark carnival theme has been a staple of weird fiction since the early part of the twentieth century, and over the decades numerous writers have written stories drawn from its most familiar inspirations, notably sideshow performers whose incredible feats border on the uncanny, and the grotesque physical horrors of the freak show. Several of the stories in Nightmare Carnival fit this bill, but to Datlow’s credit a number of her selections take the dark carnival theme into provocative new territory.
In 1957, with the launch of Sputnik and the dawn of the Space Age, artists in Latin America cast their eyes to the heavens just as their North American counterparts did, and began to incorporate Space Age imagery into their works. Past Futures is the physical record of an exhibition mounted at Bowdoin College which sought to reveal this hidden 1960s realm of SF-inspired painting, sculpture and installations.
Ciment’s Act of God is a compact, droll farce, light-hearted and pleasurable as a chocolate truffle, yet with a nugget of hard, somewhat unpalatable truths in the center. It is propelled into motion by a conceit that echoes, in what I am sure is a deliberate way, Jack Finney’s classic The Body Snatchers.
Trigger Warning contains perhaps a half dozen of his strongest short fictions and a handful of rather hasty ones, but by the time we’re done with it we feel like we’ve been celebrating not only Gaiman’s considerable imaginative skills, but also those of Gene Wolfe, Jack Vance, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury…
The fact that toward the book’s end Alice, revitalized, has written a novel titled The Man with the Compound Eyes speaks to the way in which larger cosmic forces flow through all living things, redeeming their inevitable losses, even through such seemingly crass instruments as a horde of seaborne trash.