Review: Tides From The New Worlds by Tobias Buckell
Tides From The New Worlds by Tobias Buckell is a signed hardcover limited to 500 copies published by Wyrm Publishing. I’ve read, enjoyed and reviewed his first three novels: Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose, so I jumped at the chance to pick up a short story collection. I first experienced Her, Smooth Talking and A Green Thumb over at EscapePod and I’ll take any excuse I can get to send them some traffic. They keep me sane driving up and down the 405. If you want even more of a taste before you invest in a beautiful hardcover collection, you can read some of these and some other stories (and 1/3 of each of his novels) for free at Tobias Buckell Online.
Many short story collections clock in well under 300 pages. Tides is a healthy 483, and nothing really feels just like filler. There’s plenty here that show literary muscles being flexed in preparation for the novels he wrote later, and not always where you’d suspect. In his novels, I can see echos of “Death’s Dreadlocks” and “Something in the Rock,” neither even vaguely science fiction. It’s great to see a writer I’ve come to associate so strongly with science fiction tackle the rest of speculative fiction, particularly when the genres get mixed subtlety and/or creatively, as in “Her,” “In Orbite Medievali,” “Tides,” and “A Green Thumb.” I’d totally read an urban fantasy series based on the character/setting of “Four Eyes.” After the cover art you’ll find my thoughts on the individual stories, which I wrote as I read each story and then edited a bit after reading the entire collection.
This was Tobias Buckell’s first professionally published story. It introduces the character of Pepper, the “rastafarian mercenary” that can be found in his three novels, Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose and the short story Resistance. It’s a first contact story and it’s a great introduction to his style, the mixture of the downtrodden masses and high technology. The only thing technology seems to bring to the downtrodden is pain and destruction… and possibly liberation, at a price.
In The Heart of Kalikuata
Buckell wrote this story for a “Men Writing SF as Women” anthology. I like how the political intrigue is central yet incidental to the story. I like the “family you choose” idea that finds its way into the story. And my mind is still reeling a bit from the whole 3rd world city in space. It helps that I have a vivid image in my mind of an O’Neill Habitat after reading David J. William’s The Burning Skies.
I can easily point to reading Asimov’s robot stories as what cemented my enduring love of science fiction. Elegant little stories built within the constraints of 3 simple rules. Buckell does something wonderful within those constraints. He creates a delightfully sociopathic machine. It’s almost like watching Dexter as an extraterrestrial geologist.
I love interesting aliens, and these are done well. As an exploration of what slavery teaches the enslaved, this is powerful, but even more powerful is the extrapolation of cultural homogenization. It’s a very different story exploring different issues, but I very much feel that anyone that likes this story will appreciate Ben Rosenbaum’s “Embracing the New” and vice versus.
Between this story, ‘Fish Merchant,’ ‘Necahual’ and to a certain extent In ‘The Heart of Kalikuata,’ the universe of Buckell’s longer fiction begins to emerge. The story revolves around a broken relationship, but has a TON of fun with technology while floating around in an airship. I love how Buckell likes to break his tech in interesting ways.
The Shackles of Freedom (with Mike Resnick)
This story feels like it could have just as easily been told in the present or even 20 years ago. I guess that’s the point, and it has a strong simple message, very much what you’d expect from Resnick. I found myself thinking quite a bit about Firefly in a good way.
Shoah Sry (with Ilsa Bick)
There’s some pretty neat technology showcased in this story. The meat of the story is a genetic archaeology quest in a universe where humanity hasn’t needed the male of the species for quite a while. This is a great story for discussion, as it asks many questions related to how far we’re willing to take genetic engineering. I’m sure there are other examples, but I like how some of these issues were dealt with in Tricia Sullivan’s much less far future Maul
Urban fantasy, Steampunk, and interesting uses on all the speculative fiction genres have broken down the walls that suggest that you have to write fantasy as European historical fiction with magical elements. That said, I can’t think of much that combines both elements of Space Opera and Magic Realism. The result is a delightfully literal interpretation of the phrase “mother earth.”
In Orbite Medievali
An alternate history usually has a “what if” moment in which the world of the story diverges from our own. What if Columbus actually encountered and fell off the edge of the world. I particularly like that new technology was developed during the free fall plunge. Imagining that aspect of space flight without the issues of vacuum and radiation and such is some pretty fun speculation.
The grim reaper in all his forms is a fun trope to play with. Here the setting is St. Thomas, and the vernacular is thick. I also love a good origin story. With just this taste, I’d be interested in following an urban fantasy series with this main character.
A story involving a slave ship makes me uncomfortable. Not the wrong sort of uncomfortable that oozes from poorly written horror, but an uncomfortable that exists in the face of a power I’m not meant to understand. This and “Toy Planes” strike me as companion pieces in a way.
Yay Zombies! I loved Buckell’s treatment of zombies in Sly Mongoose, but this historical setting has it’s own special charm. This stands on it’s own, but I’m really beginning to like the series of stories that start with four eyes. I like seeing the deep mysticism from a writer I’ve associated more with science fiction.
Wow. Stories within stories. The lack of quotes around the dialog gave the story a unique flow. This is another fantastical realism piece. Child soldiers, the power of death, the chaos that reigns in the space between the old and the new.
This is a quirky magical realism piece. Talking trees drive a real estate agent a bit nuts. The resolution flows pretty transparently from the premise, but it’s a fun read nonetheless.
Powerful unique piece. It has has magic, so I want to label it fantasy, but before magic was mentioned it felt more like science fiction, with the multiple suns and moons leading to chaotic tides. In either case, both the tightly restricted resources of the forests and the tight restrictions on magical knowledge seem to echo present day battles for fair distribution of resources. Sea shells, beautifully described setting, war, magic, family drama. Wow, that was a lot to pack into a short story.
Something In The Rock
Buckell handles issues related to culture clash well, so it’s no surprise that his take on the dwarves of traditional fantasy resonates. The title had me expecting a horror story despite the fantasy setting, and it didn’t disappoint. I found it kinda neat how similar the supernatural aspects of this story echoed the “lamina,” virtual reality projected over reality, in Buckell’s novels and “Aerophilia” in this collection. If you can’t trust your senses as you’ve gotten used to using them, you have to rethink how you’re using them.
A Green Thumb
Getting your first car as a teenager always has a story associated with it. The initial twist is obvious, this story is about growing a car. However, any story like this where I don’t know the genre going in, I pretty much expect that ambiguity to resolve itself. I like that the sub-genre that solidifies the genre of the story was wholly unexpected. Sorry if that’s obtuse. This is one of the stories you can find for free online, go check it out. I’d love to see this sort of engineered plant matter make an appearance in a more far future setting.
All Her Children Fought
My first thought reading this was that unmanned drones would solve the pilot weight issue better than this solution, but the simple argument against that in space warfare would be latency. Logistics aside, this short piece will tear at your heart strings, particularly in a world that already makes use of child soldiers.
I have a special place in my heart for holodeck episodes on Star Trek, and that’s very much what the setup of this story feels like. From that foundation, the story draws parallels between the chaotic early days of the United States of America and the interpersonal relationships of a few museum workers. The comparison is surprisingly strong and the added Caribbean spice lets you know it’s a Buckell story.
This story is set on the same planet as Buckell’s first novel, Crystal Rain. It takes place after Crystal Rain … possibly after the events of Ragamuffin as well, although whether it’s canonical isn’t all that important. There’s a neat reference to War of the Worlds, there’s some pretty cool technology, and there’s a parallel between fear of other cultures and fear of non-human. I particularly like the concept of tactical artificial intelligence. I don’t read much military science fiction, so that extrapolation of “need to know” compartmentalization may not be anything special. If you like this story, follow it up with Crystal Rain.
This is for all intents and purposes a call to arms for the less developed nations to reach for the stars. With private space programs in the news (even using functionally similar technology to what’s described in the story) enthusiasm may be the most important commodity for such endeavors.