Love, Time, Space, Magic: Tales of Love for the Imaginative and Fanciful (PopSeagull Publishing, Edited by Elizabeth Hirst) is a collection of science fiction and fantasy themed stories that explores ideas surrounding relationships, the different forms love can take, and the drive to connect. As an inveterate Romance Snob ™, I would not have read it if I hadn’t been asked to review it for this site. I was secretly prepared to struggle through it and do my best to give it fair shake, but I ended up really enjoying it. No one is more surprised by that than I am. [Editor’s note: I wouldn’t be so sure, Pixel.]
As with any anthology some stories connected with me more than others, but this one has a good mix of character-driven and idea stories–all with a unique flare. It opens with “I sing the Recurring Melody” by Deborah J. Walker. It is the story of Verna, who, after a childhood encounter with the mysterious traveler/ lady /minstrel Dark Hand, follows her love of music down a mystical path, sacrificing much along the way. This one really set the tone for the collection, and is the reader’s first clue that this won’t be a paint-by-numbers romance story collection. Love takes many forms.
My favorite among the more openly romantic stories was “All the Herbs in Her Garden” by Kathryn Yelinek, which follows a possibly magically gifted (and mostly blind) gardener and a mysteriously burned refugee from a magical war. It’s a very personal, character-driven story that immediately captivated me with its textured storytelling and beautiful prose. The world was interesting and grounded, and the people felt real—a bit more in the line of hurt/comfort than damsel and dashing hero, but not at all cliché. It really resonated with me.
“The Dying Place” by Melinda Selmys deals with themes of love and the grief and loss that can be its natural consequences. This was a beautiful, slipstream piece that was honestly painful in a way that any story seeking to be honest about loss will be. If you need every detail of the world explained to you this is not the story for you, but I loved it. It will feel familiar to anyone who has lost someone slowly and dealt with the pain of being the one who has to watch them go. Peaceful acceptance and surrender to death can feel like a rejection to the one left behind. This story doesn’t flinch.
“Melanie in the Underworld” by Victoria Fraser also dealt with loss in a retelling of the Orpheus myth. Melanie travels to the underworld to bring her lover back. Along the way she encounters several familiar underworld figures, shown in a new light. I fear a bit of the humor and charm of the piece was lost on me (despite being familiar with the myths involved, I still felt there were some in-jokes about the underworld that I was missing). I found it well worth reading, even so.
“Seven Days” by Stephen B. Pearl also deals with romantic loss and healing, but on a somewhat lighter level. Faun is dealing with a bad break up and a friend-who-wants-to-be-more conjures up the mystical Manic Pixie Dream Boy/Girl (it depends on the preferences of the person it comes for, and this story deftly avoids the negatives associated with the trope) who helped him heal after his own romantic trauma. I enjoyed it, but I think it would be even more fun for someone more into the paranormal/fantasy romance genre than I am.
“Leave the World to Darkness” by Fraser Sherman blurred the line between science fiction and fantasy, for me. Think of something the vein of the TV show Warehouse 13, only featuring Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla fighting evil forces. If you value historic and scientific accuracy, this story will make you tear your hair out. But if you like stories that play with period science (more electro-punk than steampunk, but in that ballpark) and trope-y Girl Friday characters, you’ll like it. I was more in the hair-pulling-out category. I know people who would absolutely adore “Leave the World to Darkness”. I admit it was well-written, but it just wasn’t my cuppa.
Of the more science fiction-y ones, my particular favorites were “Faster Than the Speed of Sleight” by Clint Spivey and “Von Neumann Choked” by Molly N. Moss. Both of these were entertaining and had very slight romantic elements. Both have strong science elements and tight, adventurous plots (though “Von Neumann Choked” is shorter (basically one scene with a tiny flashback), the stakes are high).
Most of the rest were all really tight, fun stories. “Out of Their Minds” by Ira Nayman was a humorous trip through a bizarre multiverse. Though I found it too twee to be entirely intelligible to neurologically atypical people like me, it certainly wasn’t boring (and I’m betting it would be hilarious to read aloud). “Her Vampire Lover” by Tim McDaniel made me laugh, which I think was the flash piece’s main goal. I don’t want to give it away, but if you think vampire love stories are over-done, this one is for you. “The Softest Sell of Image” by Russ Bickerstaff is about a fellow who falls for a neighbor who is not at all what she seems. “Modern Love” by Gustavo Bondoni takes a look at what dating might be like in a future dominated by personal technology. (I called it “Love in the Time of Wetware” in my head. If something sticks with you long enough to have a subtitle in your head, it’s probably good.)
*PopSeaull Publishing also has a new short story collection coming out Halloween weekend called Robotica, a science-fictional examination of love, sex and relationships among artificial life forms. For more information on PopSeagull’s doings, you can follow them on Twitter or editor Elizabeth Hirst’s blog.