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Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature and Drowned Worlds. Two Anthologies. Book Review

July 27, 2016

Ray Bradbury gave some good advice to any new writer by telling them they should write “a hell of a lot of short stories”. For anyone wanting to know how to craft well-written science fiction and fantasy stories then these two collections are certainly books you need to get for your reference library.

Both have a theme, the first Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature takes the concept of invasion from all sorts of inventive angles. The second, Drowned Worlds, centres on the ‘what if’ of global warming and the subsequent rise in sea levels. The stories engage by getting the reader quickly into the imagined worlds while managing to take them on quite an adventure, either in the sense of making them feel as if they are right in there observing, or taking part in something epic. They are also very good at delving into what makes relationships tick.


Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature Editor: Jacob Weisman

There is definitely a literary feel to these stories in their structure and use of words. This is tight writing and perfectly formed because of it. But just because these stories are written by authors who are largely literary writers does not mean that they lack the leaps of imagination required by this genre. They also demonstrate that you do not need technological fireworks to write great science fiction stories, nor do they use obvious literary techniques that get in the way of great story telling. ‘Lambing Season’ by Molly Gloss is an example of a quiet and understated story involving a shepherdess’s first-contact, where ultimately there are no earth shattering consequences, but the story is mesmerising. There are also stories like ‘Fugue State’ by Brian Evenson which pile on the terror at first in a most insidious manner until the story continues to unsettle a long time after you’ve finished it. Equally unsettling is ‘Reports Concerning the Death of the Seattle Albatross Are Somewhat Exaggerated’ by W.P. Kinsella, an apparently humorous story which turns into a tale of incredible pathos. It is evident the authors are playing with the genre, and revelling in it, and not afraid to dive in right in bringing their considerable talents to bear in making the genre their own. They also demonstrate just how much you can pack into a limited word count by careful choice and placing of words to create some really interesting approaches to science fiction and fantasy writing.

Drowned Worlds

Drowned Worlds. Editor: Jonathan Strahan

The most captivating stories are set on possible future earths. There is often humour combined with drama and a great deal about relationships, not just about man’s relationship with the earth but also each other, and the effects as a whole this might have on the Earth. Then again, not a great deal might seem to happen and yet the authors turn re-imagined Earth into such a fascinating place, you feel you want to explore beyond the boundaries of the tale. The stories set in recognisable settings evoke great atmosphere, such as ‘Venice Drowned’ by Kim Stanley Robinson, or the ethereal delicacy of ‘Dispatches from a Cradle’ by Ken Liu set in what becomes the Sea of Massachusetts. Great use is also made of the slippage between the real and strange, parallel worlds in ‘Only Ten More Shopping Days left till Ragnarök’ by James Morrow is set at the north pole where the upheaval of a sightseeing trip turns into the most glorious mythic romp that also manages to pull effective satire out of the bag. There is an emphasis on what it is to be human rather than purely a voyage into the wizardry of technology.

Both anthologies are ones to keep and see something new with every re-read, even if you are only reading for pleasure. But for anyone wanting to embark on writing imaginative and highly effective science fiction or fantasy short stories who needs exemplars of great writing, these are the books for you to study.

Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature was courtesy of Tachyon Publications. Drowned Worlds was courtesy of Rebellion. Both via NetGalley

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