Sunday, 25 July 2010

Read:// Tides From the New Worlds by Tobias S. Buckell [ebook]

It's taken me a little while to get through this though that's down to life and children rather than any problem with the book which I enjoyed more for the leisurely read.  

If you didn't know Tobias Buckell was Caribbean born and raised, you could probably guess by the time you finished reading Tides From the New Worlds, a collection of his short stories. Influences from his life spent growing up in a different culture are clearly evident in many of the tales here and they are all the better for it. This is not the heavy-handed insertion of token 'ethnic' characters that often seems to happen in fiction, or the use of 'generic low tech culture' as a tool to show how much more advanced and therefore civilised the other cultures in a story are. This is speculative fiction written with very real feeling characters and places which just happen not to be white people living in America or America-in-space.

Not all the stories here are science fiction, if labelling is required then this would definitely sit under a speculative one but there's a real mix with alien contact stories and space habitats sitting alongside airships (gotta love airships), fantasy and what I guess people like to call magical realism though I've always thought that's just what we used to call fantasy before the Orcs took it over. Likewise not all the stories have that Caribbean flavour but for me some of the best stories are those that combine both science fiction and that clash of cultures like the quite brilliant opener The Fish Merchant.

The standard of fiction definitely doesn't rely on those elements though with my favourite story being A Green Thumb, one that reminds me of the sort of stories that got me into science fiction, it has that light hearted sense of wonder I associate with stories from the science fiction magazines I devoured whenever I could get my hands on them. It might not be considered the best story here but it puts a big grin on my face. For very different reasons I loved the moving All Her Children Fought which brings to mind Ender's Game, though it's brevity means it packs more of an emotional punch in my opinion. There's also an interesting little introduction to each story so you can get a feel for the things that inspired or influenced each of them.

Coming from a mixed background myself, I'm drawn to science fiction written with and from different cultural views. I have grown up British though I clearly don't look it, yet I don't know much of my roots abroad apart from what my father has told me so I'm always interested and slightly envious of people who have a clear understanding of where they come from. Tobias obviously has a real understanding and sense of pride in his Caribbean roots, I've read a couple of interviews and blog posts where this is obvious and it shines through in the last story in the collection Toy Planes which reads like Caribbean advocacy, it's brilliant.

I didn't like everything, The Duel whilst an interesting setting didn't grab me maybe because I know little of American history, likewise Smooth Talking didn't seem to hold my attention. The ones I liked far outweigh the odd few that didn't appeal to me though and all in all Tides From the New Worlds is the best single author collection I've read in a long time. I'd love to own that beautiful looking hardback but at this price the ebook is a steal, it's cheaper than most of the fiction magazines you can buy and way better value for money given the number of stories and overall quality.

I really, really have to hunt out his novels now, knowing that they include that seemingly effortless mix of different cultures and science fiction...and I'm pretty sure someone mentioned there were more airships. :)

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