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Tesseracts Nine, edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Geoff Ryman, Edge, 2005, 391 pp.
Tesseracts is a long-running series that collects Canadian short fiction. The first volume was published exactly twenty years ago, and was edited by Judith Merril. In the time since then, each volume has been edited by a different pair of editors; there has been a lettered volume, Tesseracts Q, that collected short stories originally written in French; and there was even a short run as a yearly collection, Tesseracts 6 through 8. Most of the earlier books were published by Tesseract Books, an imprint that has now been folded into Edge. And I must say, the series is in pretty good hands with Hopkinson and Ryman, who are the editors this time out.
Tesseracts Nine starts out with a strong run of stories. The opening story, "Lemmings in the Third Year" by Jerome Stueart is an unusual mix of humour and pathos, handled with a light touch and no shortage of feeling. A small group of scientists has been stranded in an alternate version of the Arctic; in this reality, the animals all speak, and the story isn't quite what the premise leads you to expect. In one sense, the story is a long joke about the scientific method!
Next up is "Principles of Animal Eugenetics" by Yves Meynard. This story is also an unusual mix, but this time it's something like The Island of Dr. Moreau meets Kafka or Orwell. There are talking animals again but Meynard's story couldn't be more different. An agent named Kelly has been sent from the Centrality to a remote area to investigate Doctor Jonas and his experiments with animals. Kelly is accustomed to the power of his office and the state he represents, but he's immediately adrift in his investigation. A story with eerie power and smooth writing.
Candas Jane Dorsey follows with a shorter and whimsical piece called "Mom and Mother Teresa." Mother Teresa inexplicably survives the heart attack that should have killed her, and then decides to move in with the main character's mother. Meanwhile E.L. Chen's "Fin-de-siecle" is also set in Canada. It's the story of two young people, Libby and Scott, trying to get by in Toronto and it's a nifty character piece.
After these stories, I ran into quite a surprise: the majority of the remaining stories in Tesseracts Nine have a distinct theme. The theme is how people might deal with the loss of someone close. I'm not used to seeing thematically related stories like this in a Tesseracts collection, so I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Taken as a bunch, these stories tread a little too closely on each other's territory. On its own, each story spins an interesting variation on theme, so let's take a look.
"Thought and Memory" by Alette J. Willis follows two lovers, Jo and Eileen, who have moved out to the country and are trying to make a living. Jo is in a funk, and we're not sure why; Eileen is not around and we gradually come to understand what happened to her. Jo is a researcher in crow behaviour and she gets some help in overcoming her denial and guilt from two unusual crows.
"Jimmy Away to Me" by Sarah Totton is the story of Emma and how she loses her friend Jimmy. Emma can see into another world or reality and when she tells Jimmy about it, Jimmy gets too entranced. "Before the Altar on the Feast of Souls" by Marg Gilks is about a woman living in a southern country who wants to see her dead husband at the Feast of Souls this year; instead, a pair of tourists show up, and they don't realize that their nearby road accident was fatal. But if Pascuala helps them, will she miss her chance to see her husband?
Three shorter stories are more loosely related by the theme of death. "Newbie Wrangler" by Timothy J. Anderson is about the confusion faced by the newly dead, and how strange life might be for ghosts. "Light Remembered" by Daniel Sernine goes back to Egypt and its death-obsessed culture for a vivid and emotional look one person's life and subsequent deathly existence. Dan Rubin's "The Singing" is a short piece about the death lament of a woman named Larlaluk.
Tesseracts Nine has three longer stories, "See Kathryn Run" by Elisabeth Vonarburg, "Mirrors" by Rene Beaulieu, and "Omphalos" by Pat Forde, clocking in at 50, 30, and 60 pages respectively. Beaulieu's story falls right after the run of lost-loved-one stories and shares some of the same characteristics. Thomas and Nancy have survived a crash on an alien planet and try to make a life for themselves with what they can salvage from the ship. After a few years to prove their ability to survive, they decide to have a baby; what will happen if Nancy doesn't survive childbirth? "Mirrors" is an odd story, and one that is filled with melancholy.
Vonarburg's "See Kathryn Run" is a detailed look at the life of Kathryn, who is a Voyager between alternate Earths. When she gets to a new version of Earth, she doesn't know if it will currently support the technology to send her along in the next step of her journey. She has become an expert in the ways she can bootstrap a society to the necessary level of scientific knowledge. Vonarburg tells the story in multiple strands, appropriately enough, as Kathryn finds it easy to lose her sense of self amidst all the changes (and also the uncanny similarities between the various Earths).
Pat Forde's "Omphalos" is a few pages longer than the Vonarburg story. And "Omphalos" starts off feeling very much like a novel or an excerpt from a novel. I say that because there seemed to be a whole other story going on that was more important than the one being told, but then Forde somehow wraps it all together in a tight conclusion, neat as could be. "Omphalos" starts a few years in the future, as a wealthy man named Kevin Dunbar is put on trial for creating a DUTT -- dual use technology, something peaceful and constructive that can also be used for military or destructive purposes. The majority of the story flashes back to the first Gulf War in 1991 to see how Dunbar's technology in question, an advanced simulation, was used in the war. The prosecutors are using their attack on Dunbar to get to a powerful organization called Immensity, and the stuff about Immensity was the part of the story that seemed lopsided. But Dunbar has a keen sense of history and the ending brings the focus back to his powers of observation. A story that is intricate yet clear.
Tesseracts Nine also has stories by Steve Stanton, Nancy Kilpatrick, Casey Wolf, Claude Lalumiere, Derryl Murphy, Peter Watts, and Allan Weiss.
Tesseracts Nine has poetry by Sandra Kasturi and Rhea Rose-Fleming. A short-short story by Sylvie Berard ends the collection, and a series of short mood pieces by Anthony McDonald and Jason Mehmel pop up here and there in the book. Geoff Ryman introduces the book with "A Canadian identity? No, thanks," a look at why Canadian science fiction might be better off without an overbearing sense of its defining features. Nalo Hopkinson's "Final Thoughts" round out the book with a mix of personal remarks and a note that Canadian sf can also be quite funny. At the very back of the book, Tesseracts Nine has biographies of each of the contributors, and these bios, as always, make for interesting reading.
Tesseracts Nine is a solid collection of short sf works, and I'll be curious to see where the series goes next.
Last modified: July 2, 2005
Copyright © 2005 by James Schellenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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