Dark Currents edited by Ian Whates (anthology book review).

‘Dark Currents’ is an anthology of short stories from interesting little publisher NewCon Press for which the authors were given one simple prompt: Dark currents/dark tides. They could make of that what they would and author brains being each unique, they delivered sixteen different stories and one poem. I read the hardcover version but it’s available in paperback.

After an introduction by editor Ian Whates, the show starts with some heavy weird in ‘The Fall Of Lady Sealight’ by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The British Empire rules the world but the Commonwealth is rebellious. The war takes place in the Void: ‘along and behind and within the physical world, without end, without measure.’ It’s a kind of dream-place perceived differently by each warrior.

Not many have access and most that do go mad. The few who don’t fight the Battle of Britain. Lady Sealight is a powerful force for the Crown but is severely challenged when Commonwealth scientists invent a new weapon for the Void. Tchaikovsky creates a different reality, immerses you in it and then throws in cosmic consequences and clever plot twists to boot.

I enjoyed ‘Alternate Currents’ by Rod Rees. A smooth meteor, six inches in diameter, lands in Central Park, New York in March 1895. Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt summons Nikola Tesla to investigate, meeting him at the site of the crash. Roosevelt is accompanied by Major Henry Arnaud, a former Confederate officer now working in Military Intelligence and the narrator of this story. Tesla takes the meteor back to his lab for analysis and reaches a startling conclusion. In this story, he behaves like Sherlock Holmes, making deductions that Major Arnaud, like Watson, finds astounding. Great fun with clever use of historical characters.

As an editor, Andrew Hook published diverse tales which I reviewed in ‘Elasticity: The Best Of Elastic Press’ https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/elasticity-the-best-of-elastic-press-edited-by-chris-beckett-justina-robson-and-andrew-hook-book-review/. As an author, he works in similar slipstream mode which is not my favourite genre but can be different and interesting.

‘Things That Are Here Now, Things That Were There Then’ features an artist named Constance who photographs every part of her life and keeps hard copies all over her flat. The narrator is a photographer she hired to help her in this project. I’m not sure what the story meant but it contained much beautiful writing and some interesting thoughts on art and artists. Photographing every part of your life is perfectly normal nowadays but you’re meant to post it all on Instagram. Hardcopies are so last century.

‘Loose Connections’ by Finn Clarke introduces Dark Current Therapy, a technique evolved from Electric Sensory Therapy that allows citizens of Britain to unleash their dark side vicariously in a safe space. Criminals act as ‘dummies’ to receive the bad vibes of good folks who must undergo DCT regularly. An interesting premise brought to life by vivid characters and a clever plot.

‘Sleepless In R’Lyeh by Lavie Tidhar is written in the form of a movie script with interior and exterior shots and features a couple of characters somehow involved with Lovecraft’s Old Gods, Tom via dreams and Meg by sailing to the most remote part of the Pacific Ocean. The repetition gave it a song-like quality and it was more of a mood piece than a narrative but I liked it. As with Thomas Ligotti’s work, it captured the essence of Lovecraft.

‘Lost Sheep’ by Neil Williamson is set in a far future where the most valuable commodity is new cultural experiences and agents patrol the Hegemony like gold prospectors, seeking novelty. Hope to Die is the sentient ship of Daniel Gibbs, black sheep of the Gibbs Galactic Cultures dynasty whose on the run from his family, law enforcement agencies and bounty hunters when he comes across an ancient vessel with a unique culture that could be worth a fortune; a saintly starship where sheep may safely graze. Neil Williamson gives us an entertaining romp with a dash of religious satire.

The book closed strongly with a fantasy, ‘The Bleeding Man’ by Aliette de Bodard, an author whose name seems to be on award nominations everywhere. Sarisha is twelve but sees much and when a bleeding prisoner is brought in for her mother to interrogate her curiosity is piqued. Chandni, her mother, is a blood-empath, an interrogator and executioner for the Pahate dynasty. Sarisha wants to follow this path but her mother resists. As well-written as you would expect from de Bodard and with a surprising approach to cold and hard versus warm and fluffy. Are we not all warm and fluffy nowadays? I love secondary world fantasy short stories, especially when they are this good.

It’s something different, this literary weird. The best of it has wit, a plot and some kind of catharsis at the end. The worst of it has dreary descriptions of everyday life and leaves you with a sense of futility. Happily, there are several good stories in ‘Dark Currents’. It may thrill you, stretch your mind, frustrate you and annoy you in about equal measure but it will not bore you.

Eamonn Murphy

August 2019

(pub: NewCon Press, 2012. 271 page signed limited edition hardback. Price: £19.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-907069-34-5. Also available as a paperback: £ 9.99 (UK))

check out website: www.newconpress.co.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.