Old Venus by George RR Martin
Old Venus - edited by George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois
A collection of 16 short stories, this compendium aims to celebrate the golden age of Venus in sci fi writing, where this cloud-shrouded planet - dedicated to goddesses of love - was a swampy, Jurassic, rain-lashed world of dinosaurs, blue skinned Venusians, vast tropics and carnivorous beasts.
Unfortunately, as editor Gardner Dozois points out in his excellent introduction, these romantic, steamy visions of the 1930s-1950s were brought to an abrupt end when a series of probes from the early 1960s onwards showed that with a mean surface temperature of 462°C (863°C) and clouds of sulphuric acid, Venus was completely inhospitable to any sort of life. However, as new Venus stories emerge where mankind adapts through protective shells or floating space cities, Martin and Dozois want to celebrate the Old Venus vision of battling through the often beautiful but deadly landscape on the hunt for treasure, missing persons or a new world.
I really enjoyed this collection, which covered a wide spread of tones from futuristic planet hopping between Earth and Venus to swords and sandals style fantasy via Westerns and the Cold War, but all with the common themes of endless rain, overcast skies, muddy swamps, strange indigenous peoples and unchartered expanses of treacherous terrain.
There are many strong stories here, with Matthew Hughes’ Greeves and the Evening Star being a personal favourite of mine, a superb Wodehouse-style comedy where the English toff Greeves is highly aggrieved to find himself kidnapped by a friend and taken to Venus. His highly capable valet ends up having to rescue the incompetent aristocrats from the attentions of a murderous alien Siren, but only after a decent breakfast of kippers, naturally. David Brin’s ‘The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss’ is a strong departure from the rest with the remnants of the human race on Venus living in domed colonies at the bottom of the sea after escaping the poisonous surface generations back. Garth Nix’s By Frogsled and Lizardback to Outcast Venusian Lepers has a entertainingly grumpy pilot forced into a mission to rescue a crashed group from the middle of a permanent cyclone, whilst Tobias S Buckell’s Pale Blue Memories provides a thought-provoking twist where a rocket carrying American soldiers from a Great War that has dragged on into the Space Age accidentally crashes onto Venus, and rather than being the dominant aggressors, they end up enslaved. The collection is brought to a satisfying close with Ian McDonald’s Botanica Veneris, which is laid out as the partial memoirs of a Victorian-style female adventurer whose story is interwoven with a set of papercuts of Venusian flowers she creates whilst on her mission to uncover what really happened to the Blue Empress sapphire.
It isn’t all gold by any means, with an occasional tendency towards drippy romance, which could well just be highlighting the pulpy style of old sci fi but in one case just comes across as Flash Gordon on Venus, but all in all an excellent and enjoyable collection of what Venus was envisioned to be.
Cat Fitzpatrick, 8/10
Old Venus edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
In Old Venus an author and editor have teamed up to select sixteen all-new science fiction stories all based on or around the planet Venus. For a long time Mars has been the planet of choice when authors have written of a planet's flora and fauna, so this lends a different slant to science fiction's usual haunt. George R.R. Martin is known for being a New York Times best-selling author of the popular series of fantasy novels which have now been adapted into a hit TV series. He has also written scripts for the Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. Winner of Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker and World Fantasy Awards, he is known worldwide for being a different kind of fantasy author for people old and young alike. Gardner Dozois is an author and editor who founded The Year's Best Science Fiction anthologies from 1984 to now and was editor of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine from 1984 to 2004. He has also received many Hugo and Locus awards for them and also won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story twice and was recently inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.
A companion book to this one is Old Mars and edited by the same two authors, showing the difference between the two planets and the sort of aliens on each planet who lives there. Each story comes with its own introduction to how the story came about and the inspiration behind them, where the story has previously been published and how far back the story goes. It is a surprise that many of the stories are quite old but read as fresh as when they were first published.
In Frogheads by Allen M. Steele, a PI is sent to Venus on a mission that could prove fatal. Allen's stories have appeared in Asimov’s and Analog as well as producing some of the most insightful novels in science fiction over the past years. Ronson is used to Mars and coming to Venus shakes him just enough to make him nervous about being there. The Drowned Celestial by Lavie Tidhar where Colt is busy playing cards when he is interrupted by an explosion. This is a pulp adventure that is choc full of action and fun with a spaceman pitted against a god who has just returned from the swamps of Venus. Planet of Fear by Paul McAuley has Captain Chernot and his assistant Katja on a remote mining station on Venus where they stand guard, waiting for monsters. In Greeves and the Evening Star by Matthew Hughes, this story gives readers a very intriguing tale of Venus as the Planet of Love and how one man dreams about being there only to wake up and tell his long suffering butler, Greeves all about it. This is a comical hoot in the vein of Jeeves and Wooster. A Planet Called Desire by Gwyneth Jones is where we get back to the serious nature of a story where an explorer volunteers to be a test subject on Venus and has problems from the start. Living Hell by Joe Haldeman introduces us to a pilot’s dire situation after a disaster on Venus has him in need of being rescued and a discovery changes everything we think we know about humankind. Death seems to mean different on Venus as his friends Gloria and Julie find when they land. Bones of Air, Bones of Stone by Stephen Leigh has a man who has nothing left of his old life on Venus, goes back to a strange world where nothing is as it seems. Elements of Japan mix with other memories which are captured in this story. In Ruins by Eleanor Arnason where Hong Wu, an editor with National Geographic want to hire Ash Weatherman to do a story about the megafauna on Venus. It's a shame it's already been done, but Hong Wu has other ideas they haven't seen before.
These are just a few of the examples in this compilation of sci-fi stories. The writers featured in here are well enough known in science fiction circles; Joe Haldeman, Garth Nix, Elizabeth Bear, Joe R. Lansdale and Paul McAuley. Whether humorous of serious these writers have made their mark on the science fiction genre with their own unique style and flair, evoking the beauty of the love and dangers of Venus.
The book itself was set in Scala, a typeface made by Martin Majoor in 1991, originally designed for a music company in the Netherlands and published by the type house FS1 Fontshop. It is a very readable typeface due to its extended serifs. The cover art is painted by well-known science fiction artist Stephen Youll and shows Venus as an already established planet with lush alien vegetation and a long forgotten rocket that lies in the ground, the rough tendrils of plant life snaking around its now rusted surface.
Sandra Scholes. 8/10
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