Edited by Pete Butler

Reviewed by Jim Steel

For a while now, PARSEC-Ink (a Pittsburgh based science fiction organisation) has been producing an annual science fiction anthology. This year they have decided to throw it open to non-members, and to give it the theme of the end of time. There are many familiar names in here. One of the challenges for would-be contributors to a themed anthology is to try and interpret the theme in an original manner, which then gives the editor the opportunity to place varied or complimentary stories next to each other in a manner that gives the anthology a strong internal trajectory. Butler has managed to produce a book of such variety that the reader sometimes forgets that there is a theme.

Ian Creasey opens with A Job For Life. It's very short at a couple of pages and is a bit of a one-trick pony, but it is a well-written exploration of the ultimate extremes of life-extension. It seems longer than it is, but in a good way.

Dario Ciriello's America is Coming is the first of the stories that cheats a bit. It doesn't concern itself with the end of time, but deals instead with the possible end of civilisation. In what may be a metaphor for our times, America's rate of continental drift has increased enormously and it is careering around the world at the speed of a car, smashing other lands to pieces. It's fun, but suffers from an unsatisfactory climax.

Tim Pratt's quite wonderful Morris and the Machine concerns a man who has invented a time machine. Unfortunately it can only take him back to the same moment in time over and over, for the space of a few hours. He uses it to escape from his harridan of a wife and keeps going back to visit the teenager that she used to be. The characterisation and wit that Pratt displays are to be recommended.

Jeff Parish's That Ain't A Mosey is a Wild West zombie adventure, and fun, if a little clunky at times and hardly the most original story in the collection. One is reminded of Joe R. Lansdale's Jonah Hex adventures. Idan Cohen's Late is also a little on the light side, dealing as it does with a man who wakes up with a hangover and then attempts to get to his wedding while the apocalypse is taking place.

It's a relief to turn to the dark, dense fiction of Jetse de Vries's Near Absolute Zero. A scientist has destroyed an alien artefact, and interrogators are trying to find out why. De Vries is probably best known for his editing work at Interzone, but he is rightly starting to gain notice for his own short stories.

Michael Stone contributes a very short story, The Bridge, that concentrates on an individual, and he is followed by Kurt Kirchmeier who takes us into the viewpoint of a species that regards humanity as little more than a mayfly in Surface Tension.

D.K. Latta's Conversation In An English Pub then takes a traveller back in time to visit H.G. Wells, although there is a suspicious Jack the Ripper vibe going on at the beginning. There is a reason for this, and even when the reader realises the direction of the story, the pathos carries him onwards to the end. Matthew Johnson's When We Have Time is also a moving story, this time of adoptive parents who realise too late that they didn't spend enough time with their daughter. Sandwiched between them is Ashley Arnold's jokey Time's Arrow Is Not Your Enemy, which sneakily changes its title at the top of each page, but ultimately doesn't stick in the mind.

Rebecca Day's Hurricane Watch is one of the lush highlights of the anthology. A group of Ballardian rich people are gathered in a Virginian guesthouse awaiting a storm, but there is more going on beneath the surface than most of them realise.

This Is The Way The World Ends by Trent Walters reads like a fun piece from a fifties edition of Galaxy, and Scott Almes's Defender also has a traditional future-war aspect to it. Jessica E. Kaiser's Ice Age is reminiscent of the type of if-this-goes-on stories that Paulo Bagicalupi is producing with such stunning effect at the moment, which is no bad thing.

Another highlight is The Shopping Cart People by Terry Hayman. It's a chunk of unapologetic (sub)urban horror about a couple of teenagers who try to survive the night that the homeless rise up and slaughter the rich. Katherine Shaw's Final Episode, on the other hand, is a gentle and rewarding romance about a time traveller from the seventies who ends up in our time. Jared Axelrod's In The Belly Of The Desert suffers in comparison due to following them, but at a mere two pages, this is to be expected.

Sue Burke's Think Kindly On Our Fossils is a well-crafted look at one man's attitude towards an impending cometary impact, and the anthology finishes on a high note with Geoffrey Thorne's Eshu and The Anthropic Principle, whereby some godlike beings attempt to create something new to stifle their boredom, and end up with our universe. It's much better than I've made it sound.

Overall, it's a good selection of stories. The weaker ones tend to be the shorter ones, so even at its worst, it's not hard work. And there are around half-a-dozen stories of real quality that stand out.

Triangulation: End Of Time edited by Pete Butler. Tpb, 155pp, $12.00 plus P&P from, or PDF $4.00 from website

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