Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Three Tachyons

If there's one thing everyone knows about Tachyons, it's that they travel faster than light. I, on the other hand, am much slower than that, so these Tachyons have been piling up faster than I could write about them.

Tachyon Publications is one of the great smaller presses in the SF field -- they don't get as much attention as some other houses, but they do excellent books, like Tim Powers's collection Strange Itineraries (one of the first books I covered here at Antick Musings) and Michael Swanwick's most recent collection The Dog Said Bow-Wow. And I have on hand right here three recent books from Tachyon that are all worthy of your time and consideration.

I think most people's favorite Peter S. Beagle novel is The Last Unicorn, but, for me, it was always A Fine and Private Place. It's a quiet tale of romance set in a graveyard, and one of the best fantasy novels of our times. Now, after many years with an odd cover, it finally has a design and look that does it justice.

If you want to turn a writer green, make him read this novel.
Then point out that it was Beagle's first novel, published in 1960, when he was twenty-one. (And so, obviously, it was written when he was even younger than that.) Plenty of fantasy writers work for decades in the hopes of getting as good as Peter Beagle was the first time out of the box.

If you've never read Beagle, start here. If you've only read The Last Unicorn, you have a real treat ahead of it. And, if you have one of the funny-looking old editions, might I suggest it's time to renew your shelves?

Harlan Ellison is one of the great short-story writers of the late 20th century. (Of this genre or that one? No, just one of the best, full stop.) And the '70s were his peak of production, both in quantity and quality. For once in my hype-filled life, I'm not going to claim that Shatterday is Ellison's very best collection -- I'd claim his previous book, Deathbird Stories, for that slot, mostly because it has a thematic consistency and power that's exceptionally rare in a short-story collection -- but Shatterday is a strong #2, and it's been out of print in the US since before I could drink legally (and, if you've seen my gray hairs recently, you'll know that's a long time). So this is a book to jump on while it's available.

Why? Well, it leads off with "Jefty Is Five," a story you might have heard of. (I certainly hope so.) It's got the amusingly nasty "How's the Night Life on Cissalda?", the nastier but also amusing "The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge," "All the Lies That Are My Life," and the title story. And about ten more stories from Ellison's peak years. There's a lot of good stuff here, raw and powerful, as Ellison is at his best.

There's also a whole generation that knows Ellison only as a media figure, with his the recent legal battles and scandals, and the years kvetching on the Sci-Fi Channel before that. Those are exactly the people -- you might even be one of them yourself -- who needs to see what Ellison is like as a writer at the top of his game. Get this book or get Deathbird Stories (or get The Essential Ellison, if you're the kind of reader who wants more of everything). Some of the stories you'll love and some of them you'll hate -- I can't say which, since every reader is different. But there's no one in the field who can be lukewarm about a Harlan Ellison story.

Sometimes I feel like I've spent the last decade or more explaining to people that cyberpunk was a specific literary movement that occurred in a time and place, and was over well before the '80s were. (Those people, who often weren't even alive then, generally don't believe me. This may be because they're mouth-breathing ahistoric morons, or perhaps I'm just still under the influence of Harlan Ellison.) But I'm hoping this anthology will make it easier to make my case.

Since here we have a big, serious anthology of post-CP stories, some of them a decade old at this point, surely -- surely -- we can agree that cyberpunk, the thing itself, had to have ended sometime before that? (I'm not sure if they'll believe me, even now, but I'll keep trying.)

Regardless of its usefulness as a rhetorical weapon against young punks, Rewired is a fine anthology of recent SF stories. What makes them all "post-cyberpunk" isn't always easy to define, though I think all of us will generally agree that the line-up of writers here is the post-CP crowd, if there is one. Rewired was edited by James Patrick Kelly (who was included in the famous canon-building Bruce Sterling CP anthology Mirrorshades, so he's officially in the movement) and John Kessel (famously one of the leaders of the alternative "humanist" movement of the mid-'80s, though he's also collaborated with Kelly several times). So, if we're dogmatic about labels (and no one could be more so than CP's zine manifesto, Cheap Truth), Rewired has a view from both inside and outside the CP fold.

There are sixteen stories in Rewired, and you've probably heard of all of them: Charles Stross's "Lobsters," Cory Doctorow's "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth," Greg Egan's "Yeyuka," David Marusek's "The Wedding Album," and so on. It does collect some of the best, most innovative SF stories of the past decade (though some of them have been anthologized a few times already, and heavy Year's Best readers might just have all of them already).

But what makes Rewired even more fascinating, and indispensable to any serious SF reader, is the excerpts from a long correspondence between Kessel and CP manifestoist Bruce Sterling, starting in 1986 and running through the early '90s. They run in-between stories for most of the book, and there's some good stuff there. I do wish we had gotten, instead, all of the letters in whole and in chronological order, but I'm a ridiculous completest anyway, so of course I'd say that.

Rewired is one of the best imaginable anthologies covering what SF is doing right now; if you've lost touch (or know someone who has), this is a great way to get back up to speed.

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