Embracing the Starlight, by Dave Smeds

embracing-the-starlight-by-dave-smeds coverGenre: Mixed Genre Anthology
Publisher: Dark Regions
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Fraser Ronald

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Okay. When do I get to write short stories like that?

That was my thought when I finished the first story–“Suicidal Tendancies”–in Dave Smeds’ short story collection entitled Embracing the Starlight. Dave Felts over at SFReader.com sent me the collection to review. I received, liked the cover, but was a little bit worried. I had never heard of Dave Smeds and though I knew of Dark Regions Press, I didn’t know anything about it.

It’s always nice when one gets ambushed by quality.

It wasn’t just the first story that blew me away. While not all drove me ecstatic with delight, all were certainly evocative and intelligent. Nothing in this collection yells ‘filler’. These are all excellent short stories. Not only that, but you’ve got hard science fiction–like “Termites”, a story of an Africa wasting away because of a ‘cure’ for famine– space opera–the deceptively titled “Family Values”–sword and sorcery–like “Sorceress of Gulls”, in which an orphan finds her true potential–and even magic realism (for lack of a better title)–really, for me, embodied in the two Vietnam War inspired stories, “Short Timer” and “Survivor”. Whatever your particular preference in speculative fiction, Mr. Smeds has an offering for you.

The opening story, about the effects of immortality, set the bar for the rest of the collection. Mr. Smeds offered up one possible result of nanotechnology medicine, and then turned that on its ear, all the while offering up an insightful character study. While perhaps wandering close to the precipice of melodrama, Mr. Smeds keeps his eye on the target, steers clear of maudlin sentiment, hitches his wagon to real emotions and pain, and succeeds brilliantly. He creates a story of speculative fiction that offers up rational, believable technology, as well as real people filled with real angst and anxiety. No cookie cutters for this work.

And while the bar is set pretty high by “Suicidal Tendancies”, Mr. Smeds, at times, pushes it even higher. “Termites” is a personal favourite. This story is poignant, depressing but with an all too real premise and plot. I could not only completely accept this as a possible future, the characters in it are alive. There is a moral hiding in this story, as in some of the others, though I doubt Mr. Smeds intended to trumpet it too loudly. In this, he is as apt as the famed H. G. Wells, who could also write a gripping yarn–like the Island of Doctor Moreau–that can be read for the sheer enjoyment of it, but hides its morals and message far beneath, if you care to search for it.

There is little that I can say against this work. I expected, honestly, to have a couple of stories I couldn’t finish. I expected some of the stories to bore me, so that I would skip over them once I had started. It never happened. Even when Mr. Smeds retells the Littlest Mermaid, he held me rapt. I didn’t want to leave those little bubbles of unreality he had so carefully crafted.

While the price tag on the book might seem a little high (it did to me), you get what you pay for. Actually, in this instance, you’ll get more than you pay for. If you enjoy short speculative fiction, I can’t see you not liking this collection. Perhaps I will send you in with expectations too high, but I can’t help but praise this work. I will be looking for more of Mr. Smeds work in the future.

I just hope that some day I’ll have half so many stories that are half as good.

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