Reading The Immersion Book of SF, ed. Carmelo Rafala

Another review from Vector, in 2010. <hr>

The Immersion Book of SF, edited by Carmelo Rafala
(Immersion Press, 2010)

Immersion Press, according to its website, specialises in “limited-edition, single-author collections and short novels”. As The Immersion Book of SF is neither, one should perhaps regard it as a calling card, introducing the Press’s authors and laying out its wares. It is a mixed bag.
The majority of these stories feel as though they belong in the Eighties rather than in the 21st century. Chris Butler’s ‘Have Guitar, Will Travel’ is a prime example, with its faux-Gibsonian plot about the consequences of a rock star becoming infected with virus software. Although competently written, the story is unsurprising. Al Robertson’s ‘Golden’ is similarly predictable, its disillusioned salesman receiving tantalising hints of a world where humans have continued into space, its ‘surprise revelation’ heavily signalled. Both stories also suffer from a sense that the sf elements are window dressing for studies of emotional upheavals rather than integral to the story.
This feeling permeates the collection. Aliette de Bodard’s ‘Father’s Last Ride’, dealing with a daughter’s coming to terms with her father’s life as an “aurora rider” might as easily use a non-sf setting and occupation and achieve the same cathartic ending Jason Erik Lundberg’s ‘The Time Traveler’s Son’ is, like the de Bodard, a nicely observed mood piece and there were hints that it is moving beyond a merely evocative account of an mostly absent father with a taste for tall tales but it doesn’t fully realise its own premise.
‘Dolls’ by Colin P Davies and ‘Grave Robbers’ by Anne Stringer are very disappointing. Davies’s story, about child pageants taken to competitive absurdity, swirls aimlessly before ending in a desultory fashion. Stringer’s story is the weakest in the collection (although Eric James Stone’s ‘Bird-Dropping and Sunday’, a leaden fairy tale, runs it a close second). The idea of grave robbers uncovering alien artefacts is not new and Stringer does little to refresh it. Gareth Owens’s ‘Mango Dictionary and the Dragon Queen of Contract Evolution’ has the most ingenious title but, as with so many of these stories, there is no sense of anything beyond the conclusion and it feels more like a writing exercise than a fully-fledged story.
Gord Sellar’s ‘The Broken Pathway’ has flaws but he works hard to create a world beyond the story and sets up an intriguing clash of cultures, expressed through geomancy and cartography. Finally, Lavie Tidhar and Tanith Lee show how it should be done. Tidhar’s ‘Lode Stars’ skilfully packs a fully-realised space opera into twenty pages of story which is full of telling detail and wrong-foots the reader throughout. Lee’s ‘Tan’ is tiny and has an improbable premise involving dead aliens and a sun tan but works because of an unforgettable final image.
But these three stories are not enough to sustain the rest of the collection. The retro feel – even down to the cover picture with its pouting female astronaut, hair floating softly, breast-shaped bulges built into her spacesuit – seems neither intentional nor ironic and as such suggests that the Immersion Press view of science fiction will be traditional rather than innovative. This might not be a bad thing in itself but let it at least be good traditional storytelling rather than, as in so many instances here, something lack-lustre and unappealing.

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  1. Pingback: First Impressions – Vector #266 | Everything Is Nice

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