(Immersion Press, 123pp, £7.99 pb)
The Immersion Book of SF, edited by Carmelo Rafala
The Immersion Book of SF is more or less exactly what it says on the tin. A collection of science-fiction short stories, from Immersion Press. Simple, right? If you haven’t heard of Immersion Press, that’s not really surprising as they only have two books currently released, but judging from this particular offering their state of unknown won’t last.
The cover is the first clue. “Features Tanith Lee, Lavie Tidhar, Aliette de Bodard, Chris Butler, Gareth Owens and more” it declares. And more? Christ, you’ve already got some of the premier writers of speculative fiction, including two authors featured in the latest issue of Interzone (Tidhar and de Bodard).
The collection kicks off with “Golden“, by Al Robertson, which at first read struck me as an odd choice for an opener. It’s a very good story, but a little bit complex, and at times confusing, dealing with an alternate reality crossing over in modern-day London. The stark contrast between the tedious humdrum of the protagonist’s world, and the excitement of the world he is allowed tantalising glimpses into works very well, opening up another universe of imagination.
Tanith Lee’s “Tan“, is a comparatively shorter and more humorous piece. It centres around, predictably, tanning and UFO appearances, and despite its brevity managed to have a certain air of significance to it, mixing entertainment and food for thought as good sci-fi should.
“Have Guitar, Will Travel” by Chris Butler is another longer tale, providing a fascinating blend of lost romance, neural hacking, and music piracy. It sounds on paper like a strange combination, but it was so well written and the characters so believable that I’d have to crown it as one of my favourites in the collection.
“The Time Traveller’s Son” from Jason Erik Lundberg is another shorter piece, and another very good story. It tells a story across a lifetime, of an absentee father and the lie (perhaps) he told to his son, to lessen the heartbreak of his absence. It does well creating an air of uncertainty about what the real truth is, and paints a rather moving piece of fiction.
Colin P. Davies’ “Dolls” was an interesting premise, about little girls in an almost-dystopia future trapped in perpetual child pageants. It’s very premise is a little disturbing, the protagonist’s frustration at not being able to grow up is very resonant, and the relationship with her father a fascinating examination. I wish that the world could have been a little more fleshed out, but all in all it was a very good story, fully deserving of its place next to the others.
The next story, Anne Stringer’s “Grave Robbers“, I’m afraid to say was one of my least favourite in the anthology. I should clarify that by no means was it bad, it just didn’t capture me in the same way that some of the others did. It follows the titular grave robbers, who make a strange discovery at a grave which begins to pull them apart. It’s a tale of obsession, but it doesn’t really explain enough. There’s no real reason given for the obsession, and to my mind there was little to mark it out as sci-fi rather than horror or fantasy.
With “Father’s Last Ride” from Aliette de Bodard, however, the anthology gets back on track. A daughter’s journey of discovery into her late father’s life is emotionally written, in a beautifully imagined world of electromagnetically-grazing alien jellyfish.
Gord Sellar’s “The Broken Pathway” is another of my favourites. It bases itself on oriental mythology, in particular acupuncture, and has such a rich level of culture that makes it instantly intriguing and (yes, yes, I know) immersive. Following a pair of monks in their investigation into strange iron spikes appearing in the mountainside, this story is definitely worth a lot.
Eric James Stone’s “Bird-Dropping and Sunday” is another light-hearted story, in the form of a telling of as an ancient fable about a young boy with an odd name. I’m sorry to say that it didn’t do a lot for me, though I can see how others might well enjoy it a lot. It also seemed to suffer the complaint of not really being sci-fi, as much as other genres (in this case, fantasy).
To follow that, “Mango Dictionary and the Dragon Queen of Constant Evolution” by Gareth Owens was another story outmatched by its greater brothers and sisters. A tale about a world terrorised by a woman-spaceship symbiosis (à la Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang series, or TV series Farscape), there was nothing bad about it, but so much that was supposed to be odd and quirky just struck me as nonsense.
The final story, and clear headliner, was “Lode Stars” by veteran sci-fi writer Lavie Tidhar. Predictably, this was my favourite offering. Tidhar’s story of a far-future religious society, devoted to a trio of black holes as the eyes of God, was a wonderful patchwork of fiction. It had clear hard sci-fi elements, along with religious conspiracy and genuine mystery. I wouldn’t have expected any less from Tidhar, but it bears saying nonetheless that this was a superb story.
So there you have it. Do I recommend this story? Absolutely. I may have sounded critical of some of the stories, but the lowest standard it reaches is still in clear competition with the products of much bigger publishing houses. And that is every bit a credit to the editor as well as the author’s; Mr Rafala has put together a blinding collection here. As a small press publisher, Immersion Press are punching well above their weight, and I am genuinely excited to watch their progress from here.