Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Liberating Earth

Kate Orman (editor) Liberating Earth (2015)
Here's another one for which I painted the cover, thus once again potentially presenting a question of how impartial my review is likely to be, the answer to which is - I would hope - business as usual. The only difference would be that if I hated it, I wouldn't bother posting the review online because it's uncomfortable when someone you vaguely know produces tripe, and we all have to sit around saying well done, old bean, and nobody quite knows where to look.

Thankfully Liberating Earth is a long, long way from being tripe, as roughly anticipated on the grounds of having been edited by Kate Orman who can generally be relied upon to pull a half-decent story together with the words in the right places and everything. A few emails ago as we were discussing what was to be on the cover, I  recall references to the more metaphysical designs which so often graced the jackets of science-fiction anthologies of the fifties and sixties - the Yves Tanguy with space rockets school of illustration, roughly speaking. Such is the tendency I was hoping to channel here - and pedants with too much time on their hands may like to play spot the difference with a copy of the Consul edition of The Outer Reaches collection as edited by August Derleth - and now, having read the thing, I see the sense in this.

Liberating Earth is a collection of short stories with alternate and often genuinely weird versions of terrestrial reality as the unifying theme, all chained together as part of a larger narrative by Playing for Time, Kate Orman's own sequential contribution; so you could probably read it as either a novel or individual stories depending on your preference. I actually found it a little difficult to follow the precise details of the larger story, Playing for Time, as a consequence of it being divided into nine parts, which wasn't a problem. It seems to hold together in so much as it feels like it all adds up and is nevertheless enjoyable. Playing for Time is also more or less the token Faction Paradox element of the recipe, with the remainder relating to the mythology by slim terms, or at least at a bit of an angle and often in spirit rather than furnishings. Hopefully this shouldn't be a problem for anyone requiring a certain quota of grandfathercidal teenagers in skull masks; and it certainly wasn't for me because - to swing back around to the point begun in the previous paragraph - the collection as a whole goes a long way towards invoking the spirit of some of the great science-fiction anthologies of the fifties and sixties, less in terms of any nostalgic tendency as the sheer range of mood and theme, and the thrill of having no idea of what you're going to get. Everyone will doubtless have their favourites, and there were a couple I personally found a little chewy - which is probably more to do with my own preferences than the quality of the stories. Those which stood out as possibly exceptional for me were E.H. Timms' Dreamer in the Dark, Red Rover Red Rover by someone identifying herself only as Q, and Kelly Hale's wonderful Project Thunderbird, another presentation of evidence in the mystery of why publishers aren't simply throwing massive wads of cash at her. Similarly noteworthy is Annie's Arms by Xanna Chown presenting a sort of surreal, suburban horror which put me in mind of the stark contrasts of the first Siouxsie & the Banshees album - all very John Heartfield. Also we have the highly entertaining The Vikingr Mystique by Dorothy Ail, a sort of Thelma & Louise with space Vikings. The last thing I read involving space Vikings was a short story called Indifference by Brian Aldiss, which intrigues me slightly given that Ail's Nordic seeker of pillage is named Aldis with one s. For what it's worth, The Vikingr Mystique pisses all over the Aldiss story, in the event of there being any conscious homage involved.

Finally and possibly my favourite is Rachel Redhead's Judy's War, partially because it demonstrates the great range of the collection, and partially because it's a genuine pleasure to see her work in fancy-pants print at last. I read her self-published The Raithaduine Saga and concluded that once you're past the occasionally loose sense of grammar and the fact of it being so bloody long, it has a lot in its favour. Redhead's prose disregards established science-fiction or literary conventions, weaving a bewildering path strewn with weapons-grade jokes, huge, crazy ideas, and sudden narrative swerves which seem entirely her own. At times it reads like A.E. van Vogt channelling Vicky Pollard or maybe some of the earlier, slightly more warped John Waters movies - which I suggest as a recommendation in case that isn't obvious: she probably isn't likely to get commissioned to write anything so respectable as the next Young Bond novel, but she writes with the kind of mad genius which can't be faked, and which by definition needs to cut its own path. I hope she realises that her writing has a lot more going for it than many of the things from which I gather she has drawn influence, and I hope this is the first of many such appearances in print.

Liberating Earth is great. Now can we have a full-length Kate Orman novel, pleeeaaase.

...and in case you were wondering...

No comments:

Post a Comment