Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review: Old Venus

Old Venus
edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Format: Hardcover, 589 pages
Publisher: Bantam
Cover Art: Stephen Youll
Release Date: March 3, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0345537287

George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois have previously edited an anthology titled Old Mars, of stories written in the style of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury.  Of Planetary Romance before the robotic explorers started showing us what the planets really looked like, and in the case of Mars we get a dry, red planet of canals and dead alien cities.

Old Venus is the same idea, but with Venus instead.  A Venus of rain, jungles, and dinosaurs like the stories of Leigh Brackett and C.L. Moore. Some of the stories deliberately imitate the same plots and styles of Planetary Romance, while most of them just use the basic inspiration and go for something more original. 

"Frogheads" by Allen Steele.  The first entry in the anthology follows a private investigator hired by a wealthy family to find a missing heir.  It's a somewhat dark story exposing the seedy underbelly of the illegal Venusian drug trade.  Nothing to write home about, but enjoyable enough.

"The Drowned Celestial" by Lavie Tidhar.  This is kind of an odd story about a human and a native Venusian who get involved with evil men, gods, and mysticism in the deep jungle.  It's technically well written, but I never really connected with it. 

"Planet of Fear" by Paul McAuley.  Standard strange planet mystery story.  Russian miners send a distress signal and when the military investigates they find the crew dead or missing.  The Russian distrust concerning Americans and science borders on cliche.  It's a fairly decent sci-fi story, not especially good, but not especially bad either. 

"Greeves and the Evening Star" by Matthew Hughes.  I had a rough start with this one trying to get a handle on the names and setting, but once I did I quite enjoyed it.  Victorian explorers come to Venus for adventure and to study native newts, however, the Venusian species are considerably more dangerous than their Earthly ones.  It's a straightforward alien monster story, but it helps that it's also something of a comedy so it's more enjoyable than you would think. 

"A Planet Called Desire" by Gwyneth Jones.  This is the first piece of fiction by this author that I've read.  It's also the first story in the collection that deliberately follows the same style of Planetary Romance as Edgar Rice Burroughs.  The main character uses some weird, inexplicable interplanetary mechanism to travel to Ancient Venus and has myriad adventures there with the native people, especially one woman in particular.  Rather forgettable actually.

"Living Hell" by Joe Haldeman.  Another monster story of a pilot trying to rescue some crash-landed scientists from the hostile jungle and learning a truth about Venus in the process.  Nothing particularly noteworthy, but it is written by Joe Haldeman after all so it's quite good.

"Bones of Air, Bones of Stone" by Stephen Leigh.  A man, crippled in an accident, attempts to reconnect with his former girlfriend, an adventurer who plans to dive down a deep hole in Venus's ocean after a previously failed attempt.  This story has a little bit of emotional change, a little bit of adventure, and a little bit of native mystery, but not much is really done with any of it.  Decent enough story, though I could have done with a bit more resolution. 

"Ruins" by Eleanor Arnason.  Locals are hired to guide a National Geographic team for a wildlife safari into the Jungles, but wind up with clashing with the CIA over alien ruins.  This is obstentiously a "into the jungle" story, which has some interesting stuff, but the bulk of it is really a political story about interference by America and the CIA.  It's a fairly good story if you don't mind a little preaching. 

"The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss" by David Brin.  Brin's story is quite good, though it doesn't quite fit the theme of the anthology as it's set on a Venus more like the real one.  Earth had started terraforming Venus when it was attacked by a hostile alien species.  Survivors took refuge in habitats at the bottom of Venus's newly formed ocean and are now eking out a meager existence.  Still, it's a pretty good story about hope and the future, and certainly worth reading.

"By Frogsled and Lizardback to Outcast Venusian Lepers" by Garth Nix.  Like "Ruins", this is another political story, about the American military experiments coming to light.  It doesn't follow the previous story point-for-point, and it does its own stuff, but it is similar.  That being said, it's still an interesting story. 

"The Sunset of Time" by Michael Cassutt.  I have to be honest, I've never cared for Cassutt's fiction and this story isn't any different.  It's about an engineer building a wormhole-like device on Venus, while the native Venusian population is preparing for some kind of apocalyptic event.  What really jerked me out of the story though was the planet's day.  As most fans of astronomy know, Venus has one of the strangest rotation periods in the solar system, and while all of the other stories in the anthology have days that reflect that of the real Venus or one more like Earth's, Cassutt's Venus is tidally locked with the sun like Earth and the Moon.  It's really strange.

"Pale Blue Memories" by Tobias S. Buckell.  Set during the 60s and 70s where the space race never  cooled down and now the race is on for Venus.  The Americans get there first only to crash-land and be enslaved by the natives.  A sad, but well written story about how some evils are not limited to one world and that the struggle always goes on. 

"The Heart's Filthy Lesson" by Elizabeth Bear.  A scientist has a fight with her wife and runs off into the jungle alone to prove herself by finding alien ruins.  Another "into the jungle" story, but it's really about how people, especially those who sometimes have big egos, relate and get along with each other.  A pretty decent story. 

"The Wizard of the Trees" by Joe R. Lansdale.  Like the Jones story, Lansdale copies the old style Burroughs, but is even more "faithful" and absurd, right down to the ridiculous plots and corny dialogue.  Good grief, the author could tried for something more original.  I haven't enjoyed any of Lansdale's work in the past and this one is no exception. 

"The Godstone of Venus" by Mike Resnick.  This one is actually a sequel to Resnick's short in Old Mars, though each story stands alone.  Reappearing are the two main characters: Scipio, kind of a mercenary/adventurer, and Merlin, an intelligent, telepathic, Venusian beast.  The plot is a straightforward treasure hunt into the jungle, but it's quite good and I enjoyed it.  Made me wonder if Resnick will write any more stories with these two characters. 

"Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts  by Ida Countess Rathangan" by Ian McDonald.  This story is perhaps the most creative and imaginative in the whole anthology.  McDonald pulls out all the stops to create a truly unique alternate history Venus with multiple races and humans, with politics, war, and class struggle, all as the backdrop for a Victorian widow researching Venusian flowers as a pretext for searching for her long-lost brother.  It reminded me a lot of Howard Waldrop and how he can create a truly unique story.  Absolutely fascinating and probably the best in the anthology.  

As with any anthology there are bound to be a few stinkers that a reader can't get into, but get past that and you'll find a good and interesting anthology with Old Venus.  Recommended for something a little different with a touch of nostalgia. 

Rating: 8/10.

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