Oceans: The Anthology – Frontiers of Speculative Fiction – Volume 2
Science Fiction, Fantasy
Sept. 26, 2017
A Review By Chris Fried
Oceans are one of the many bodies of water that play an important part of our planetary ecosystem as it covers over seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface. So, when an anthology about the ocean and the different ways it impacts our lives are put together by some of the best authors working in the science fiction community, I needed to see what their imagination conjures up and I wasn’t disappointed in the least.
You would think an anthology about oceans would be all about climate change and how it affects the environment but that’s only part of this collection. This collection also includes many other types of stories, from post-apocalyptic futures where oceans have been almost completely lost or have overrun the Earth. The magic and mystery that hides in their depths inform many other stories featured here as well. From the legends of old to environmentalists who spend their lives protecting the oceans and its wildlife, this anthology has a wide variety of stories to appeal to every reader. There are even stories about the intersection of magic and technology, a story about aliens (!) and a time travel story as well.
I certainly enjoyed all twelve of them but here are the ones that stood out for me the most:
Daniel Arthur Smith’s “The Titan’s Daughter” – A loving couple sailing the sea together, enraptured in each other’s love but yet bothered by something that feels a little off. One day, as a surprise, she brings out a weathered old journal for him, which shares stories about a leader of men traveling the seas. The role of the journal and its effect on their lives is incredible but why?
Alex Shvartsman’s “The Hunt for the Vigilant” – After leaking confidential government information to the public to help them guard against otherworldly threats, Kyle Palermo is imprisoned for his crimes. After being released, he’s given an offer that he cannot refuse – work for Sir Bertram Gresley’s corporation and continue his work. But this work is not what Kyle thought it would be and he’s thrown into a dangerous battle between two submarines while also fighting something supernatural!
The inventiveness of this premise was just too cool: putting government source code online so people can program incantations and spells to defend themselves against otherworldly attacks. The submarine battle is suspenseful and edge-of-your-seat exciting because of the way the story utilizes the use of technology and magic to strategize and defeat their enemies. The depth of this universe’s lore about a hidden people fighting against otherworldly incursions for millennia deep beneath the oceans was just delightful. Overall, it had just the right blend of humor, sorrow, and surprise, with unexpected twists that I never saw coming. The creative storytelling used its unique premise to maximum impact and left me catching my breath by the end.
Will Swardstrom’s “Aquagenic” – Cora is a woman who was found abandoned on the beach four months ago with no memory of her past life and a severe allergy to water. Placed in a psychiatric institution for her own care and receiving unhelpful therapy to try unlocking her memories, she knows something is wrong but she doesn’t know what. Helped by a nurse named Dana who goes above and beyond, will Cora figure out the mystery that is her life?
This story is built on a very intriguing idea: what happens to your life when you are allergic to water? The hives, the burning of the skin and the impact on your personal hygiene is explored and made me supremely empathetic to Cora’s plight, making me wonder what my life would be like if this happened to me. The role of this allergy in her life and why it exists kept me turning the pages. But the depth of the characters and their motivations are what kept my interest the most here. Cora is definitely fleshed out well and I was immersed in her feelings of confusion and questions of identity. Dana is given many insightful layers as well, more so than you would suspect and why she feels for Cora and her plight. By the time we reach the end, all has been revealed and what I found was not remoted what I anticipated and was very emotionally satisfying to read.
There are other notable stories here that made an impression on me as well. P.K. Tyler’s “Tide Sweeping” paints a lush portrait that appeals to all five senses of a woman caring for the remnants of the once vast oceans and the rituals it entails. S. Elliot Brandis’ “Girt by Sea” took me on a journey across a desiccated post-apocalyptic wasteland that gave me and highlighted a hopelessness as I felt my chances of survival dwindle with each passing day.
Hank Garner’s story completely wrecked me, leaving me spent after investing in a brother who cares for his mentally ill sister, their family history, their love of the sea and for one another. And Rysa Walker’s “Full Circle: A CHRONOS Story” that chronicles how Madi finds a time travel device that puts her in the middle of the ocean facing an unforeseen danger. Time travel shenanigans are equal parts fun and peril in this one.
There is a wide variety of stories using the ocean as a theme here and every one of them is strong, well-written and imaginative in their use of it. Each one of them takes me on a journey of discovery with new ideas, fantastical worlds and lands underwater that stimulate the imagination with their prose and the new civilizations we find in them. In that regard, the world-building is simply phenomenal as each story pulls me into the world it creates and swept me along from one story to the next.
Some of them are about climate change and protecting the creatures that live in its depths. There have been times where I’ve read fiction about the environment and sometimes it can be a little preachy and a slog to read through, turning into a laundry list of facts. For the most part, it succeeds in that endeavor. There is one story that I felt was just a little too preachy and crossed the line from storytelling to fact listing, upsetting that delicate balance between the two.
Many of the stories here talk about environmentalism, but the majority of it is cleverly embedded into the text and melded in such a way that it informs the story rather than slow it down. Some of them even offer some disturbing facts or illustrate some issue that I learned more about. Those were more upfront than others but still blended their information into an engaging story.
Others still wove it into the background as part of the set dressing while being subtle about it. Rysa Walker’s story uses time travel to demonstrate what happens to an island of the course of years and how in the future, it’s underwater. Ken Liu’s story takes place in 2645 and how the oceans have overrun the world so much, it needs terraforming to repopulate it and reclaim the lands. Joshua Ingle’s tale of an oceanographer trying to protect the planet’s biodiversity in the present so that it could provide for decades in the future was particularly effective in this. In the forefront of the story, it spotlighted a strong central character with a passion for environmental activism.
Everyone who reads this will find a story that appeals to them and uses the theme in a wide variety of ways that will grab your attention with its sheer imagination and superior storytelling skills. Any reader of speculative fiction will find this anthology to be very enjoyable, powerful, and pleasing. So, let your mind get caught up these tales of the ocean, as they contain storytelling magic within.
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