Heliotrope front cover
Ticonderoga Publications, 2011
Review by Ian Sales
UK sf author Justina Robson managed a remarkable achievement at the beginning of her career: her first two novels were both shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award. Unfortunately, she has yet to be nominated again – though both Natural History (2003) and Living Next-Door to the God of Love (2005) deserved to be. Robson has also been shortlisted three times for the BSFA Award, twice for the John W Campbell Memorial Award, and three times for the Philip K Dick Award. And yet, the only collection of her short fiction available was published in Australia.
Heliotrope was published to celebrate Robson’s appearance as international guest of honour at Swancon 36 in Perth, Australia, in 2011. It contains sixteen short stories, including the title story which is original to the collection. An introduction is provided by Adam Roberts. The stories stretch from Robson’s first in 1994, ‘Trésor’, to ‘Cracklegrackle’, which appeared in 2009’s The New Space Opera 2 anthology. This inclusiveness is both a strength and a weakness. Each story has both an introduction and an afterword by Robson herself.
By any metric, Heliotrope is a respectable collection, showcasing a breadth of genres and subgenres and themes – from the earthy fantasy of the title story to the hard science fiction of ‘Cracklegrackle’ (set in the same universe as Natural History and Living Next-Door to the God of Love). ‘Body of Evidence’ is near-future sf, based on the effects on people and society of a single small device – but it’s a resolutely personal look at those effects. ‘The Adventurers’ League’ is another story set in the Natural History‘s universe, but this one has a more steampunk-ish flavour as the Forged all present identities that harken back to late nineteenth century scientific romances.
Aliens of the Heart cover
Aliens of the Heart
Carolyn Ives Gilman
Aqueduct Press, 2007
Review by Ian Sales
Aliens of the Heart, a collection of three short stories and one novelette, is the nineteenth volume in Aqueduct Press’ Conversation Pieces, a “small paperback series” which “celebrates the speculations and visions of the grand conversation of feminist sf”. The series comprises fiction, poetry and non-fiction – “essays … speeches … interviews, correspondence and group discussions”. It currently stands at thirty-two volumes, with two more due in August this year.
The four stories in Aliens of the Heart are all set in the US mid-west, arguably the heart of the country. They are all science fiction, though in at least one case the story first appeared in a fantasy anthology. But not only does the “heart” of the title refer to the stories’ geographical location but also to the hearts of the protagonists, all women, all the heart of the relationships which form the centres of the stories, and all the hearts of the stories themselves.
‘Lost Road’ is one of those stories with a simple premise that genre fiction does so well. A middle-aged couple – he is suffering from dementia? Alzheimer’s? – drive from their farm into the nearby town of Lost Road. After their errands, they head home… but they cannot find their way. I will happily admit to a dislike of genre stories which use their central conceit as a metaphor, and then proceed to beat that metaphor to death. I call them “Clarion-style stories”, and you can often find one or two on the Hugo Award shortlist each year. ‘Lost Road’ is similar to those types of stories, but it is, above all else, subtle. As Betty Lindstrom and her husband Wayne travel further from the world they know (though the landscape remains disturbingly familiar), so Wayne seems to recover from his condition. Yet nothing is resolved; the power of the story lies in its refusal to explain or resolve. ‘Lost Roads’ originally appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, in February 1992, and was reprinted in 2002 in an anthology from Tesseract Books, Land/Space.