Anywhere But Earth – edited by Keith Stevenson – review

At the recent NSW Writer’s Centre Speculative Fiction Festival I attended the launch of this 29 story anthology produced by Coeur de Lion and edited by Keith Stevenson. As the name implies, Anywhere But Earth has stories based on mostly human exploration and colonisation of the galaxy, with the only common theme that the stories are not set on Earth.

There are a range of authors, with a heavy weighting towards the antipodes. There seems to be reasonable gender balance in the stories, not quite 40% women authors by my count which isn’t world’s best but still a lot better than many anthologies. Each story has a little author bio attached – it did feel like a diverse range of authors had been included.

Can I get out of the way early that I loved the stories contained within this book. At the launch, my appetite had been whetted by three strong readings by:

  • Richard Harland from An Exhibition of the Plague – a great story about a visitor to a plague ridden colony. The story twists at the end – the outcome was interesting and a little disturbing. Richard gave a dramatic rendition of the story at the reading with his usual theatrical flair.
  • Alan Baxter from Unexpected Launch – a couple of space cleaners are the only survivors from an unexplained disaster on their ship. Mr Baxter provided good humour in the story and a satisfying ending – what else can you ask for?
  • Margo Lanagan from Yon Horned Moon about a space courier and a close encounter – Ms Lanagan did a beautiful reading, showcasing her flair for language. To be honest, I actually preferred hearing the story read than reading it myself. The prose had a rhythm to it that I found hard to recapture in my head when I was reading the story, but while listening to Ms Lanagan read it flowed beautifully, almost poetically. This very possibly says a lot more about the lack of poetry in my soul than anything about Ms Lanagan’s writing.

Given the strength of the readings, I was anticipating a good book. However, I was surprised at the strength of all the stories. While obviously I enjoyed some stories more than others, there wasn’t one that I didn’t enjoy on some level. I’ve mentioned a couple of stories specifically below that were particularly noteworthy or had some element I wanted to comment on.

The opening story is Murmer by Calie Voorhis. I read one of Calie’s stories recently in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine issue #51 and really liked it. This was quite a different style of story exploring the nomadic lifestyle of intergalactic diplomacy and the desire to put down roots, in this case quite literally.

Beautiful by Cat Sparks was memorable not just for the quality of the writing but also as one of the few stories that was completely human-less.

I enjoyed the world created in Rains of la Strange by Robert N Stephenson. It had the feel of a larger universe only glimpsed – I liked the clockwork style of the protagonist and the action scenes felt well written to me. I was a little ambivalent about the ending, the pursuit of “real” emotions by emotionless/controlled mechanical beings is a little overdone in modern sci-fi. But despite my hesitation at those kinds of story lines, I still liked this tale.

Continuity by Damon Shaw had an interesting plot with a good interplay between a ship AI and what remains of the human crew.

Poor Man’s Travel by Patty Jansen was a good story about mind swapping to escape the boredom of interstellar travel and the perils of offers that are too good to be true. I liked the ending of this one. And Ms Jansen was kind enough to sign my copy of the book at the launch.

I was partial to By Any Other Name by Kim Westwood. I won’t give too much away about the story, but the slow reveal was well executed and the nature of the inhabitants of the world described was good. I’m looking forward to reading Ms Westwood’s latest work (The Courier’s New Bicycle) soon.

Space Girl Blues by Brendan Duffy was another slow reveal story, exploring some interesting possibilities in cloning and warfare. The ending to this story appealed to me.

Messiah on the Rock by Jason Nahrung. Space marines fighting space vampires. Enough said.

As well as the stories mentioned above, there was also:

This is one of the better anthologies that I’ve read in some time. Strongly recommended.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

Author: mark

A writer of speculative fiction and all round good egg. Well, mostly good.

OK, sometimes good.

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