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Allen Ashley, Editor
Subtle Edens
Reviewed by: Mario Guslandi © 2008

Elastic Press
UK First Edition Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-0-9553181-9-1
318 pages; £ 7.99/ $ 15.00
Publication date: 10-31-2008
Date reviewed: 12-13-2008

Index: Horror  Science Fiction  Mystery  Fantasy

Here’s yet another short story anthology from the prolific UK-based imprint Elastic Press, winner of the BSF award and home of many new talents (mostly British) in the field of speculative fiction.

"Subtle Edens" is labelled as an anthology of slipstream fiction. To be frank, I’ve never understood what 'slipstream' exactly means and, although in his Introduction to the volume editor Allen Ashley makes a point to define it and explain its meaning in depth, I’m still none the wiser. Slipstream "may use the tropes and ideas of SF, fantasy and horror, but is not bound by their rules" and also "falls outside the boundaries of mainstream". In other words it is, "a genre that is not a genre." That, actually rings a bell: am I mistaken or was a similar the claim made regarding the "New Wave Fabulists?"

The truth of the matter is, if any anthology is by definition a mixed bag, a book such as "Subtle Edens," assembling twenty-two examples of slipstream fiction is bound to be as varied as an Harlequin’s costume. Which, in terms of entertainment, if you like variety, is not bad at all and never mind literary labels. But variety does not necessarily connote quality and the quality of the volume rather predictably, is extremely uneven.

So I’ll stick to those stories which, for one reason or another, struck me as more remarkable and definitely worth reading.

Mike O’Driscoll contributes the excellent, claustrophobic "And Zero at the Bone," featuring a man trying hard to refocus the reality around him, while Nina Allan provides "Darkroom" a flimsy, gentle piece driving in circles around nothing and yet managing the fascinate due to the author’s wonderful writing style.

Jeff Gardiner’s "Phobophilia " about fear, death and the inability to cope with life, is an enjoyable story, although it ultimately lacks heart. Steve Rasnic Tem’s "Welcome to Rodeomart" is a bittersweet SF piece imbued with irony describing a race to secure the latest appliance from a megastore.

In the unusual "Icarus in Nouvelleville," by Douglas Thompson, we take a pleasant journey into Greek mythology and an unexpected flight into the future while in "The House beneath Delgany Street," by Scott Brendel, a tale set in the world of hobos and homeless, we are entertained by a modern, literary version of an old Frank Capra movie.

A special mention to Joel Lane’s "Alouette", a bleak story in keeping with the author’s dark view of the universe, where videos of legalized violence are transmitted to cell phones in the middle of night, AB Goelman’s "God’s Country", a solid piece of fiction blending western and fantasy and to "Out of Time", another of Gary Fry’s superb tales of cosmic horror entwined with private, personal dramas.

My favorite story, however, is "Overturned "by Neil Ayres & Aliya Whiteley, a beautiful yarn drawing another vivid picture in the wide tableau of the human comedy. Mainstream, if you ask me...

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