This one has an excellent balance of high quality oddball stories, and I was glad that I went out and got a hard copy rather than reading it as a set of electronic files, which is how a lot of my short fiction gets read!
My absolute highlights of the anthology for me were “Tidal Forces” by Caitlin R Kiernan, “Story Kit” by Kij Johnson, “Old Habits” by Nalo Hopkinson, and “The Panda Coin” by Jo Walton.
“Tidal Forces is a quiet story which manages to be science fictional, romantic, and all-out body horror. It’s about a woman whose lover’s body has been invaded by something which is probably a black hole, and how it slowly consumes her as well as their relationship. A very poignant exploration of how terminal illness can affect loved ones.
“Story Kit” is one of those meta stories about writing that most writers have in them – except, of course, that Kij Johnson is a genius, and so hers is a gorgeously poetic examination of the internal creative process, with a subplot about the Dido and Aeneas myth, one I’ve been deeply attached to since I had to translate that particular book of the Aeneid at uni. So basically this is a story pretty much written to appeal to me. Cheers, Kij!
Many stories in this collection represent a collision (or possible a crash tackle) between mundane, everyday life and the dark fantastical. “Old Habits” is about ghosts haunting a shopping mall, and it has a biting sense of humour as well as some very bleak themes. The idea of ghosts having to go through the motions of their deaths as if they are characters in a play, and how that obligation, as well as entropy itself, might wear at their sense of self.
“The Panda Coin” isn’t inherently light or fluffy, but it has a sense of playfulness to it that I appreciated. Walton has taken the technique of telling a mosaic story through different people’s interactions with a physical object (in this case, a memorable foreign coin) and used it to build the image of a space age culture where androids are sex workers and surgeons, and people themselves are expendable cogs in the system. Through glimpses of different relationships and characters, a novel’s worth of world is conveyed in a startlingly short period of time. I wanted to know more, but I very much enjoyed what I got from this piece.
Other stories I very much enjoyed in Eclipse were:
“Slow as a Bullet” by Andy Duncan, a surreal rural fable about a man who stupidly bets he can run faster than a bullet, and then has a year to find or create a really slow bullet in order to survive.
“Fields of Gold,” by Rachel Swirsky, which suggests a bizarre, party-hard version of the afterlife and shows it through the story of two deeply unlikeable but weirdly compelling protagonists. There is nothing particularly in this story that I should like at all, and the fact that I really did is a testament to how well it is put together.
“Dying Young,” by Peter Ball, is a western with dragons. Yes, really. Written by an Australian. Don’t ask me why this one worked, either! But it really worked for me. I particularly liked the way that the theme of ‘dying young’ was such an emotional core to the character’s story. Plus, did I mention the dragons?
This is an anthology of the Strange and the Weird, where science fiction and horror and fantasy all hang out in a seedy bar trying to top each other for the most bizarre shaggy dog tale they can come up with. The author list is top notch, and often they’re not the kind of stories I might have expected those specific authors to have produced, but it makes for some wonderful surprises.