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See my review of the original Tesseracts collection, part of a column on the life of Judith Merril.

Tesseracts2, edited by Phyllis Gotlieb and Douglas Barbour, Porcepic, 1987, 296 pp.

The second Tesseracts collection is less of an eclectic collection of oddities and more of a straightforward anthology of short stories than the first collection. Thankfully, Tesseracts2 has its moments of strangeness and, yes, there is some poetry in the book. On the whole, Gotlieb and Barbour provide enough variety to make the anthology interesting, but sometimes repetition or obscurity creep in. Reading the book in 2001 can occasionally transport the reader with breathtaking clarity to the era of late '80s. This is most obvious with William Gibson's story here, as well as two cyberpunk clones, complete with monofilament weapons and overuse of Japanese catchphrases.

Many stories in Tesseracts2 have gone on to be collected elsewhere, a sign of editorial acuity on the part of Gotlieb and Barbour. Candas Jane Dorsey's "Willows" can be found in her collection Machine Sex. The aforementioned story by William Gibson, "The Winter Market", was also reprinted in Burning Chrome, Gibson's collection from 1986. Margaret Atwood's "Freeforall" was prominently featured in Northern Suns. Terence M. Green was just beginning to expand his career in 1987, and his story "Ashland, Kentucky" became the starting point for a number of successful novels from TOR. And Andrew Weiner's story "Distant Signals" became the title story for a collection of Weiner's short fiction.

The overwhelming mood of the most of the rest of the stories in the collection is despair. Esther Rochon's "Xils" tells of the inter-dimensional beings who roam around Montreal devouring humans and the immune humans known as Guardians who lead the Xils to their prey. "The Green Man of Knowledge" by Wendy G. Pearson features a repressive future in which criminals' bodies are dyed green and dissent is co-opted by radicals. Alain Bergeron's "Happy Birthday, Universe!" might be the darkest story in the collection; the human race destroys itself, and on the satellite meant to provide for humanity's future, all is madness and death. Similarly, in Stan Rogal's "A Little Thing," the backdrop is the extinguishing of all life, as a man and woman futilely attempt to find meaning in their marriage. "Rules of Conduct" by Michael Mirolla is reminiscent of Zamiatin's We, with the same repressive and logically ordered society, but with less hope, if such a thing is possible. The cumulative effect of all these stories is grim and depressing, as might be expected, but it's a kind of sophisticated downer. Some science fiction is juvenile and triumphalist, the glorious march of technology and gee-whiz spirit embodied in low-brow adventure format, but it does not necessarily follow that unhappy endings are a more valid or worthy type of science fiction. In other words, while the destruction-of-everything stories in Tesseracts2 might be a welcome antidote to certain ideas in the genre, on their own they vary in quality.

I'll briefly mention the cyberpunk stories in Tesseracts2. Gibson's "The Winter Market" leads off the anthology, and it's a story that Gibson would return to, with variations, later in his career. The corrosive qualities of fame, the alienation and dehumanization of technological advances, it's all here. Rhea Rose's "Squirrels in Frankfurter Highlight" is not strictly cyberpunk, but it is naggingly familiar. Two young kids are down and out, trying to earn passage back to the moon by playing the holosens. It's Michael Skeet's "Rain" that's the most obvious story of the type, with drugs, noodle bars, needle guns, urban decay, and the two things I mentioned before, monofilament weapons and Japanese catchphrases. I used to wonder why Bruce Sterling declared cyberpunk dead so soon after its inception, but it's a bit clearer now with hindsight that Sterling saw that the genre of science fiction as a whole needed to be widened, not narrowed by another subgenre.

Tesseracts2 is an interesting collection, with its own ups and downs yet also a continuing spirit of experimentation that encompasses cyberpunk clones, despair-as-rote-ending, and even some humour. Recommended.

Tesseracts3, edited by Candas Jane Dorsey and Gerry Truscott, Porcepic, 1990, 437 pp.

The lead story in Tesseracts3 is my favourite, a happy coincidence of taste between the editors and myself. Pat Forde contributes a lovely story, "The Gift," which can be most easily explained by a comparison to the recent movie A Beautiful Mind -- both are about scientists with trouble relating to others. Forde's story is more truthful, more painful, and the gritty human fears more vividly conveyed than in the movie.

Stories anthologized elsewhere since include "A Niche" by Peter Watts and "Under Another Moon" by Dave Duncan. The Watts story shows up in Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes, his personal collection, as do stories by Phyllis Gotlieb and Charles de Lint. James Alan Gardner is represented here by the funny and perceptive and surprising "Muffin Explains Teleology to the World At Large," and Karl Schroeder with a hard science fiction story with heart, "The Pools of Air." I enjoyed the glimpse of Quebec SF I got through the translated stories in Tesseracts3, especially Jean-Louis Trudel's "The Proscripts of Gehenna." Trudel's story is imbued with both tragedy and a long term sense of optimism.

Tesseracts3 also has stories by, in order of their appearance, Michael Skeet, Elizabeth Vonarburg, Cliff Burns, Leslie Gadallah, Claude-Michel Prevost, Eileen Kernaghan, Scott Mackay, Daniel Sernine, Ven Begamudre, Leona Gom, Ursula Pflug, and Francine Pelletier. There are short short stories (less than 8 pages, usually 2 or 3) in this collection by, in order, Phyllis Gotlieb, Margaret Atwood, John Park, Kelly Graves, Joel Champetier, P.K. Page, Colleen Anderson, Esther Rochon, and William Gibson. Tesseracts3 has poems by, in order, Leah Silverman, Tom Henighan, Judith Merril, and Lesley Choyce.

Tesseracts4, edited by Lorna Toolis and Michael Skeet, Beach Holme, 1992, 426 pp.

Tesseracts4 feels quite different than its immediate predecessor. The main change is a higher proportion of longer stories; to my taste, this makes the anthology much stronger, as each author has more time to develop themes and character. This does mean fewer poems and fewer short shorts, which can help to provide variety. Therefore, when an anthology like Tesseracts4 makes its bets on longer stories, those stories had better be good! Fortunately, there are some excellent works collected here.

The best story in Tesseracts4 is far and away "Falconer" by John Park. I really love this story, especially for its effortless evocation of the far future, something that I find is seldom done well. Like all great science fiction, this story has nifty gadgets and exciting moments but also thought-provoking speculation. "Falconer" examines the issue of the relationship between human genius and its creation.

Tesseracts4 has a number of stories that have been collected elsewhere, like works by Charles de Lint, Phyllis Gotlieb, and James Alan Gardner. Other authors who have had collections of their own short stories published are represented by stories not previously collected, like "Extras" by Robert Charles Wilson, an excellent and sobering story about the corrosive power of fame; "Eternity, Baby" by Andrew Weiner, a story that struggles to make something interesting of its premise of aging sixties rockers; and "Death of a Dream" by Candas Jane Dorsey, which does surprisingly well with the well-worn theme of dreaming (the story even has Dream Police!). Tesseracts4 also has "The Toy Mill" by David Nickle and Karl Schroeder, which the co-authors later expanded into The Claus Effect.

Other stories also take common SF themes and make them new. Elisabeth Vonarburg's "Chambered Nautilus" is a poetic and moving examination of one consciousness moving through alternate universes. "Equinox" by Yves Meynard takes place on a generation ship, while "Baruch, The Man-Faced Dog" by Mick Burrs takes place in a circus sideshow. Lesley Choyce takes on the problems of teleportation in "The Best of Both Worlds," especially the human tendency to ruin the future by making easy choices.

Tesseracts4 also has stories by Allan Weiss, Ven Begamudre, Eileen Kernaghan, Charles Shelby Goerlitz, Ursula Pflug, Tim Wynne-Jones, Derryl Murphy, and Jean-Louis Trudel. It also has poetry by M.W. Field, Tom Henighan, Dave Duncan, Carolyn Clink, and John Robert Colombo. This anthology only has one of what I would consider a short short story, in this case by Cliff Burns.

See my combined review of Tesseracts5 and TesseractsQ.

Tesseracts6, edited by Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink, Tesseract Books, 1997, 297 pp.

Tesseracts6 begins with a story by Eric Choi, “Divisions,” an alternate history story set at the point in the early 1980s when Quebec was close to separating from the rest of Canada. Choi’s work is only one of quite a number of different types of stories in the book. After this somber alternate history, the next major story is “Fracture” by Michael Vance, a hilarious pastiche of sorts, a supercharged romp through various Victorian and Jules Verne-type clichés, with the same frenetic, no-holds-barred tone as Niven’s Rainbow Mars. “The Fishmonger’s Emerald” by Katie Harse is a fantasy story about the power of gems and of the lasting nature of tragedy. Yves Meynard takes us on a reality-bending tourist trip in “Souvenirs”, while “Spirit Dance” by Douglas Smith is a vivid and wonderfully written tale about Native Canadian spirits, in the vein of Thomas King.

The diversity of the collection continues with James Alan Gardner’s tale of artificial intelligence, “Love-in-Idleness,” about an AI’s attempt to understand Shakespeare. Derryl Murphy’s “What Goes Around” is a media satire reminiscent of some of Alfred Bester’s short work. Scott Mackay’s “Like a Shadow, Like a Dream” is almost unclassifiable, like most of his other work; this story is about a magician (although that’s not clear) trying to repeatedly save the life of a woman he loves in 19th century Albany. “Prescribed Burn” by Jena Snyder is a strange, dreamlike story of environmental collapse and what might come next.

Tesseracts6 has a number of stories that have been collected by their respective authors in separate collections. “Money Tree” by Nalo Hopkinson can be found in her collection Skin Folk; it’s a story of greed, family connections, and some folk tales of submerged treasure. “Protocols of Consumption” by Robert Charles Wilson is an excellent story of psychological breakdown, pharmaceutical obsession, and some disturbing chemical signals; like the other stories in his collection, The Perseids and Other Stories, this story is set in Toronto.

Tesseracts6 also includes stories by Andrew Weiner, Catherine MacLeod, Hayden Trenholm, Candas Jane Dorsey, Elisabeth Vonarburg, and Jan Lars Jensen. The collection has two short-short stories, and they are by Sylvie Berard and Jean-Louis Trudel.

Clink provides an afterword discussing the market for SF poetry, noting that she wanted to include a great deal of poetry in this anthology. Tesseracts6 includes poetry by Jacqueline Pearce, Sandra Kasturi, Edward Baranosky, Laura Houghton, Rhea Rose, Peter Bloch-Hansen, Dora Knez, Robyn Herrington, Clelie Rich, Nancy Bennett, and Lia Pas. Each poem is presented on its own page (or pages, if longer), which is a welcome relief from collections that try to squish poetry to save space.

Tesseracts7, edited by Paula Johanson and Jean-Louis Trudel, Tesseract Books, 1998, 283 pp.

Many of the shorter works in Tesseracts7 suffer from insufficient depth. These include “The Innocents” by Carl Sieber, “Ambers and Greens” by Eduardo Frank, “Highway Closure” by Aaron Humphrey, “Widow’s Walk” by E. B. Klassen, “The Wheel of Life” by Teresa Plowright, and “A Letter from My Mother” by Yves Meynard. Another prime offender is M.A.C. Farrant’s “Altered Statements," eight short pieces interspersed throughout the book. Two shorter works that manage to fulfill some of the possibilities of the extremely short story are “The Dishwasher” by Lydia Langstaff, and “Systems Crash” by Scott Ellis; both of these stories capture a moment and leave it at that, and both work quite well.

Tesseracts7 concludes on a high note, with three excellent longer stories in a row. “Dawn” by Karl Schroeder is a vampire story that manages to say something new about vampires. Some kind of uber-predator is hunting Maddox and his other vampire friends, and the results are surprising and the psychological insights deeper than ordinary. “Tremendum” by David Annandale is the story of a literature professor with an interest in astronomy; some kind of vast, terrifying intelligence is approaching Earth, and telescopes are breaking and people are going blind when they look at the night sky. Bob Boyczuk’s "Query" possesses a cheerful absurdism and a sense of play that is very appealing to me, and all this written in a detailed reality that is convincing and credible.

Tesseracts7 also includes stories by Michael Skeet, Jan Lars Jensen, Gerald L. Truscott, Andrew Weiner, Judy McCrosky, Nancy Johnston, Natasha Beaulieu, Elisabeth Vonarburg, Cory Doctorow, Allan Weiss, Jocko Benoit, Pierre Sormany, and Candas Jane Dorsey. The poems in Tesseracts7 are written by Carolyn Clink, J. Marc Piche, Eileen Kernaghan, Mildred Tremblay, Richard Stevens, Melissa Yuan-Innes, Dora Knez, Lia Pas, and Shirley Meier. Clink and Kernaghan both have two poems in this collection, Clink’s first preceding the introduction and Kernaghan’s second following the afterword.

Jean-Louis Trudel’s introduction gives an overview of the Tesseracts series and the abundance of Canadian material for each anthology. Paula Johanson’s afterword talks about the nature of storytelling and how the stories came to her mailbox. It’s a nice wrap-up to the collection.

See my review of Tesseracts8.

First posted: October 28, 2001; Last modified: March 2, 2005

Copyright © 2001-2005 by James Schellenberg (

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