28 December 2007

Locus Magazine's Rich Horton reviews Tesseracts Eleven

from Locus Magazine, December 2007

Tesseracts Eleven, Cory Doctorow & Holly Phillips, eds. (Edge 978-1-894063-03-6, $19.95, 344pp, tpb) November 15, 2007. Cover by Jeff Johnson.

The latest in this long-running original anthology series is one of the stronger entries. Tesseracts, of course, collects only new stories by Canadian writers (Canadian sometimes defined a bit loosely). Any such volume insists on the question: is there anything different, unique, about Canadian SF? Each editor suggests, tentatively, an answer. Cory Doctorow, after admitting a certain skepticism about the necessity for a separate Canadian (or, in context, Australian) SF, opines that Canadian SF gets other cultures right more often than American SF. This is, if true (and I remain unconvinced on a smallish sample), likely due to Canadians perceiving themselves as slightly outside the mainstream relative to their huge neighbor. Perhaps more telling is a phrase from the opening paragraph of Doctorow's introduction, when he notes (self-deprecatingly) that "Canadian-ness... [was] nearly always defined in ways that we were not like Americans."

Holly Phillips suggests — less definitely — that "writers these days seem to be bring those grand ideas, those, dare I say it, moral strivings, home." "Is this a Canadian thing?", she asks, and wisely does not insist on an answer. Here she is on solid ground describing this anthology — the book does include a preponderance of stories that seem to be focused on bringing grand ideas home.

Tesseracts Eleven is a very solid anthology, full of enjoyable and thoughtful stories. Alas, no story here rocked my world, so to speak.

One story with a sure 'nuff Canadian setting is Jerome Stueart's "Bear With Me", in which a woman goes to the Yukon to visit her long-distance boyfriend for the first time. And, of course, he's a bear — a real bear, at least some of the time. Stueart plays the story completely straight, and it works well. D. W. Archambault's "The Recorded Testimony of Eric and Julie Francis" is ultimately very scary, as Eric's first person narration starts us with no idea what's going on — he and Julie are some sort of foot messengers, for an obscure government, and only very slowly do we learn what has been done to them, and we only get hints of why. Effective stuff.

The funniest piece is Randy McCharles's "Vampires of the Rockies", which treats vampires as a tourist attraction, giving his vapid tourist couple the obvious names Bram and Mina. A one-joke story, perhaps, but well done. The most straightforward SF is "Citius, Altius, Fortius", by Stephen Kotowych, about a failed sprinter with some talent who is lured to a fictional African country for a radical program of bodily alteration that makes him an Olympic champion. No real surprises here, but a solid look at an athlete's obsessions. Also nice SF is Lisa Carreiro's "The Azure Sky", about a decaying Kuiper belt station and its human derived AI controller, and pirates of a sort, and a young woman growing up in the outer system.

Kate Riedel "Phoebus 'Gins Arise" is an off-center story of middle-aged schoolteacher — dare one say spinster? — with high standards and a temper. After one particularly serious episode, she meets an odd man who seems to know more about her than he should — and about her failed ambitions. It's one of those quiet stories that seems not to be about too much, but that sticks with you. And one of the best, and most original, stories is the closing one, "(Coping With) Norm Deviation", by Hugh A.D. Spencer, in which a boy and two friends make a science fiction movie for a high-school project. The movie project — a very '70s-ish dystopian thing — is just the backdrop for a convincing look at an ordinary enough but affecting teen aged life story (complete with parents' divorce).

Read more! This is one of over two dozen reviews from the December 2007 issue of Locus Magazine. To read more, go here to subscribe or buy the issue.
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