My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Please, judge this book by its cover. Because it is such a wicked cool one. And in this case, it’s a good indication of what you can find inside.
Sword and Laser is a “science fiction and fantasy-themed book club, video show, and podcast,” featuring Tom Merritt and Veronica Belmont, the editors of this anthology. The anthology itself consists of twenty stories split between “sword” (fantasy) and “laser” (science fiction). It is, as a good anthology should be, a hodgepodge, rough-and-tumble collection of stories with as many polished faces as jagged edges, sparking with ideas and a lot of raw enthusiasm. Its aim is showcasing new voices in the science fiction and fantasy community.
The enthusiasm is indeed palpable and refreshing. I suppose that’s what happens with a choir of fresh, new voices. Not every story is fantastic, but many are. And the beauty of an anthology is that each reader will likely differ about which stories to put within each category. If you’re a science fiction and fantasy fan, you’ll feel like you’re in a room with a bunch of friends. And they’re telling their best stories.
The ones that stood out to me were by writers who obviously know how the genre works and can have fun with it. In this vein “Partly Petrified” by Auston Habershaw, “The Same International Orange” by Luke R. Pebler, and “Honeybun” by Austin Malone were fine examples. “Honeybun” in particular I thought was a good representation of a lot of this anthology: potential. The bones of some excellent ideas that, perhaps catalyzed by inclusion in this anthology, could spiral out into something deeper and bigger. In this respect, the cover of this work is truer than perhaps anticipated: like the shelved world-bubbles in the image, there are a lot of seeds planted here.
There are glimmers of deeper waters as well. Perhaps because I’m in the midst of stitching together the bones of my own deep space endeavor, my sympathies in this anthology leaned toward the “laser” end of the book. The concepts in “Jonah’s Daughter” by Adam Callaway, “False Lights” by Victoria Hooper, and the very strong finish to the volume, David Emery’s “Only Darkness,” sounded the depths of the weirdness and the wonder that makes great science fiction shimmer.
Then there was my piece, “How Fox Fixed the Sky,” nestled in the final half of the “sword” section. It’s a fablesque epilogue to the story of Chicken Little. What if Chicken had been right and the sky was really falling? What if Fox made a knife from a fallen fragment of sky? What if he climbed through the hole to see what was beyond? I’m probably borrowing tone from Miyazaki, but Fox’s character was put to paper before I ever saw The Fantastic Mr. Fox (though if Miyazaki were to animate this story, Clooney would be a great voice for Fox). It’s surrealist and fun, maybe even a bit haunting, and if you pick up this book I hope you like the bit I contributed.
As far as I know, the anthology isn’t yet available for general purchase. I think it’s gone out to the contributors and the folks who backed Sword and Laser’s next season via Kickstarter. Check back here for updates though, because as soon as I know how you can get your hungry mitts on a copy (besides coming over here and borrowing mine), I’ll let you know.
UPDATE: Sword and Laser Anthology is available for purchase (electronic or traditional format) here. Buy a copy! Support fledgling writers and good science fiction! If you buy a paper copy I’ll promise not to drive its value down by trying to sign it.