Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Microreview [anthology]: Relics, Wrecks and Ruins, ed. Aiki Flinthart

An anthology that harnesses its star power and the skills of its contributors to often strong and striking effect.

To me, successful anthologies rely on leaning hard on one of two strategies to succeed and remain relevant and memorable.  The editor can choose stories that hew very closely to a theme, an idea, a framework and so the the anthology is primarily remembered and treasured for the power of the theme and what that theme brought to the table. The early exemplar of that is the prolific Mike Resnick Alternate history anthologies, like for example, Alternate Presidents, where I remember the strength of the theme and the ways that theme gets used in a broad sense (Dukakis becomes President and turns out to be an alien spy? Ay!). Strong thematic resonance in an anthology, in both the topic chosen and how the editor(s) choose stories to hit that theme, mean that the collection overall takes precedence over individual stories.

The other choice is to keep the theme and frame as loose as possible and lean into your cast of writers and the stories that they write. This backgrounds and diminishes the overall theme you are going for, being a really loose set of requirements, and you highlight excellent stories and writers instead. Taken to an extreme, you start to wonder if the theme really is there at all. The Dangerous Visions anthologies really feel like this. Are they really “Dangerous Visions?”, now or then? It doesn’t seem so to me, but those anthologies have some of the best writers and stories of their age in them. The Jigsaw Man, Eutopia, Faith of our Fathers, When it Changed, The Word for World is Forest...Stories so good that you even don’t realize, sometimes, they were originally part of a particular anthology, they have always been part of the genre conversation since the anthology brought them to light.

So where does Aiki Flinthart’s Relics, Wrecks and Ruins fit into this bimodal classification scheme? At a first glance, it could be either. The anthology  provides a variety of locales and a framework that could work in the same way as, say, those aforementioned Resnick anthologies. On the other hand, the anthology has this as its line up:

Washing the Plaid by Juliet Marillier

The Names of the Drowned are These by Angela Slatter

The God Complex by Jan-Andrew (JA) Henderson

A Malediction on the Village by Garth Nix

In Opposition to the Foe by Pamela Jeffs

The Echo of Love by Marianne de Pierres

16 Minutes by Jasper Fforde

American Changeling by Mary Robinette Kowal

Pattern on Stone by James S.A. Corey

The Wreck of the Tartarus by Lee Murray

Six-String Demon by Sebastien de Castell

The Shard by Ian Irvine

The Wind and the Rain by Robert Silverberg

Thaw by Mark Lawrence

Morgan of the Fay by Kate Forsyth

Geisha Boy by Kylie Chan

Cosmic Spring by Ken Liu

Dreams of Hercules by Cat Sparks

River of Stars by David Farland

The Mirror in the Mirror by Jack Dann

Relic (noun): A Widow; a thing remaining from the past by Alison Goodman

Heartbreak Hotel by Dirk Flinthart

The Movers of the Stones (poem) by Neil Gaiman

Old Souls by Aiki Flinthart

As I dove into this anthology, I saw that the editorial hand of Flinthart and their genius, as it were, was assembling this group of authors and giving them the space to let their words run, and leverage an editorial hand to make the stories sing. Truly the theme is a very thin skeleton to hang the stories on, and I tried to, throughout the anthology, tie the title, or the stated theme in the forematter.

The collection doesn’t waste any time with the heavy hitters, starting off with Juliet Marillier’s story, “Washing the Plaid”. This is a story of friendship, and writing, and the subtle magic of the creation of stories, and being inspired to do so, slaying the monsters that holds one back from trying. Angela Slatter’s “The Name of the Drowned are These” is a story firmly within Slatter’s canon, of a story grounded in Tasmania, where a woman’s return to the site of the destruction of a community, a home,  opens a door that her boyfriend does not expect her to open. One of the longer pieces, "A Malediction on the Village" by Garth Nix takes her out of our world into an alternate Earth, where a young district witch finds trouble on her temporary assignment that might be biting off more than she can chew. Mary Robinette Kowal’s "American Changeling" is about Faerie immigrants to the United States, who find that the ties of their old world, the land of Faerie, are stronger than the young Kim quite realizes.

The collection is not just limited to good fantasy, either. We get a Sentients of Orion story from Marianne De Pierres, “The Echo of Love”, with a mysterious alien in a mystery ship visiting Leto Station, and a scientist’s determination to have this tricky investigation and contact as a golden opportunity to make his mark. Jasper Fforde’s "16 Minutes" is a devilish little short story of a punishment of being looped into the same 16 minutes in the same spot over and over, a Groundhog Day as a punishment tool. James S A Corey’s “Pattern on Stone” scratches that Xenoarchaeological itch that the later Expanse novels hit (although this is an independent universe, a better comparison might be to the work of Jack McDevitt). Corey mirrors discussion of the titular “Carrath Stones’ with the story of the disintegration of the main characters’ relationship, giving a smoky, somber tang to the tea of the story.  And long before his Dandelion Dynasty door stoppers, Ken Liu was one of the more prolific short story writers out there. He shows his short story bona fides are as strong as ever with a far far future story of a Universe near the end of its life cycle, in “Cosmic Spring”. 

And there is plenty here from authors I had not previous heard of, like Dirk Flinthart's AI Elvis and his crew of Rat Pack buddies, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and the rest, as they encounter an Eastern States of America force determined to repurpose his technology, in “Heartbreak Hotel”. Alison Goodman’s "Relict (noun) A Widow; a thing remaining from the past"., gives us an alternate Britain, where a series of alien ship crashes has given the Empire transportation and weapons technology far beyond its 19th century base, and tells the story of a young woman whose possession and bonding to a deadly weapon is a prize in and of itself worth killing her over. The anthology capstones itself with a gut punch to the heart of a story from Aiki Flinthart herself, a story of a future world where births and reincarnated souls lead to an inescapable destiny for the protagonist, in "Old Souls."

Relics, Wrecks and Ruins is a very strong anthology which leverages its authors and their talents to come up with a group of diverse  stories for readers who are in the mood for excellent short fiction. If you have interest in short SFF fiction at all, you will want to take a look at this volume.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for a top flight cast of authors assembled here; +1 for some truly strong stories and not just from the “big name” authors, too.

Penalties: -1 An opportunity to better and more holistically arrange the stories was missed. 

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 A standout anthology. 

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Reference: Flinthart, Aiki, Relics, Wrecks and Ruins [Cat Press, 2021]