Reviewed by Adrian Fry

Writers, artists and editors have been 'pushing the envelope' of genre fiction for so long and so hard, it no longer looks much like an envelope. Still, if categorisations mean anything, Ian Redman's Jupiter series - of which the publication under review is the fourth - is an almost unequivocal collection of science fiction stories. Where horror is essentially visceral and slipstream a way of hijacking mainstream literary fiction by discreetly fantastical means, science fiction remains essentially cerebral, at its best intoxicating us with the novelty and / or complexity of ideas.

This collection opens - after a parish notice style editorial that need not detain us - with Lavie Tidhar's story Lake of Stars. Marston, a man in Africa collecting games for Thomas Eddison at the end of the 19th century, investigates some strange goings-on at the eponymous African lake, discovering that he is in the middle of a game for which Earth itself is the board. Well written and interpolated with gobbets of history to add to its credibility, this is a thoughtful story and an interesting parable about the seriousness of play. Simon Waller provides an apt illustration.

The poetry in this collection comes courtesy of Aurelio Rico Lopez III and Steve Sneyd, the former turning in some jokey, throwaway items, little more than entertaining one liners, the latter providing two slightly longer poems of a rather more arcane nature.

Jonathan Huston's story 'Universalisation' is narrated by an alien who comes to buy Earth's supply of salt water. Whimsically written, it's an enjoyable satire let down by an ending too limp and unsatisfying to be forgiven in a tale this short.

Christopher DJC Racknor's Stardust Road offers us a glimpse into the alienated mind of Marcus, whose ability to read the memories of others leaves him ostracized until an encounter on an alien world. An interesting character study degenerates in the plot driven second half of the story, but the whole is readable enough.

Huw Langridge provides us with The Ceres Configuration. A good old fashioned (yet high-tech) tale of approaching apocalypse, this story served to remind me just what unpretentious science fiction can do when written by someone who clearly relishes every word.

On the other hand, Dr Grew On Mars feels like a story I've read a thousand times. John Glass writes well enough, but just how many permutations on the unexpected life-on-Mars theme do there have to be before we start, um, expecting it?

The Secret Life Of The City by Richard Marlow is the unquestionable highlight of this collection. What begins as a tale of the paranoia and angst of an office worker develops into a genuinely disturbing tale of horror. This story is expertly paced, using its central character's unease to draw on and unsettle the reader.

The final story of the collection, Tom Smith's The Good TV is a comedy which pushes the concept of 'remote control' to its limits. It seemed to me that this story had more potential than its author managed to realise.

In conclusion, I'd say that although there are some good stories here, the proportion of misses to hits is a little too high and the editor might do well to restrict poets to one piece per publication to allow us a sporting chance of liking some of it. But with horror dominating the small press scene nowadays, anyone championing sf should get a medal for bravery.


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