Age of Reason, edited by Kurt Roth

age-of-reason-edited-by-kurt-rothGenre: Mixed Genre Anthology
Publisher: SFF Net
Published: 1999
Reviewer Rating: fivestars
Book Review by Jack Crane

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The editor of The Age of Reason anthology, Kurt Roth, states in his intro that he believes the human race is destined to integrate imagination and logic. Furthermore, he suggests that this integration, so necessary for our survival, has begun in the immediate present, and the stories in this antho are meant to prove it.

An optimistic vision, yes, but refreshing and not much trumpeted these days. Most of the stories in this nicely edited antho hold true to Roth’s promised vision. There are nineteen stories; all of them are worth reading. Even the weakest stories, “The Leaning Towers of Venice” a grim, dystopian vignette by Geoffrey A. Landis, and “Reading is Fundamental” by Philip Brewer, neither of which really fit in this anthology, are solidly written and inventive. In light of what it would cost to lay hands on this much quality fiction by buying individual publications, The Age of Reason is worth every penny of its cover price.

“Rossia Moya”, by Vera Nazarian was my personal fave. This delicately written story ponders the rebirth of the real Russia: the Motherland of heroic myths and fairytales. After being abandoned by outside nations, Russia is left to slowly decay, its infrastructure and economy crumbling, its people sealed from the rest of the world by “the Closing” a global quarantine, with its cities left to erode, its inhabitants to die. An ex-pat, who fled Russia as young girl during the Cold War, returns to Russia for a final visit to her childhood home and finds herself unable to leave as the time of the “Closing” approaches. This haunting story, told convincingly from first-person, finishes with an uplifting twist.

Another great story was, “Vanishing Tears” by Michael A. Burstein. A father and son whose estrangement is very familiar to our own time, find forgiveness and understanding after death, via virtual reality. This story is a quick read, emotionally powerful, and blends aspects of hard science and human feelings in an imaginative, well-written narrative of reconciliation. Burstein has a gift for blending wry humor and familial tragedy in a narrative voice that both entertains and gently insists on the redeeming power of love.

“The Gender Plague: One Man’s Story”, by K.D. Wentworth was a funny and thought-provoking spin on secondary sexual characteristics and how (little) they effect the personality of the individual, despite how intensely society emphasizes them. A future society, where gender is a fluid characteristic and no-one cares, now that is optimistic…. Wentworth pens a touching and triumphant tale that will surprise, and tickle, all the while presenting a much-needed “alternative” vision to gender roles and stereotypes.

Ever wonder what it would be like to have a Messiah as a brother? “Painted Houses”, by Melissa Michaels answers that question and poses another, more interesting one: do all Saviors have to be of the Next World? Don’t we need some in the here and now, and aren’t there many degrees of salvation? I like the conclusion that all creativity is a gift and that not everyone is in such a rush to leave the place we’re in now. Perfection is a bit frightening, so what’s the hurry to attain it?

When was the last time you thought of real estate sales when you heard the words Science Fiction? I’ve got to admit that Paul Levinson’s “Location” started with a premise I never expected to encounter in this particular antho – how hard would it be to sell real estate on the moon? Forget romantic notions of moon colonies, a bright future for humanity on the romantic lunar landscape. What if access to the moon was a given and domes built, homes constructed… Now, who will be first to pack up and move to the new frontier? A very nice story that weds everyday realities with the traditional exhilaration of moon-settlement. You’ll smile at the resolution in this one.

“Lilith, Searching” by Timons Esaias justly inverts modern the modern preoccupation for acquisition with a glance back to the present from the future piece that gives you a taste of how our descendants may look back at our warlike, capitalistic society. Also, it shows the power of antiquities to affect people of any generation with the same sense of nostalgia and mystery, no matter how plebian their origin.

Brian Plante’s humorous tale of an alien seeking an education from a down-in-the mouth Ivy League university will have you wiping tears from your eyes. This satire of “political correctness” hides a dagger in a velvet sheath. You may think Plante is being obvious or even too tongue in cheek; however, the alien’s verdict on his experience with human institutions of learning made me stop laughing and realize just how serious our lack of stoicism and hardiness really is – when pitted against the formidable task of interstellar travel. Plante pokes fun, but slides in an important reminder here: no race no matter how enlightened will advance without a certain degree of “natural selection” and obstacles to fight against. “Admissions” is a fine, witty must-read.

In response to the “humans have become wimps” premise, James Bailey offers a consummate space-age Robinson Crusoe riff that will take up permanent residence in your brain after you read it. “The Ever Rising Tide” is one of the best SF pieces I have read in a very long time. Bailey works in all the needed elements for brilliant and breathtaking SF — an alien world, a rugged and likeable protagonist, looming tragedy and irrefutable heroism on the part of both man and alien life-form. Bailey’s writing is poetic and vibrant, and his conceit here, of a paradisiacal world unsuited for human life and the alien his hero encounters vault this story to the status of greatness. Buy The Age of Reason if for no other reason than to read this story. It is truly that good.

The only story that failed by my standards was “Midnight” by Lois Tilton. This story seemed to strain for an allegorical or symbolic intensity that just wasn’t there. In fact, nothing much at all occurs in this tale of an avalanche and a small Slavic village. The narrative voice here seemed a bit dated and plodding and though the story is short, it seemed to take a long time to read — for little pay-off.

A stunning collection of inventive, well-written science fiction stories awaits you in this finely edited, attractively bound collection. If you’ve been looking for more “bang” for your SF buck, this is a great place to start. I commend editor Kurt Roth and all of the writers included in The Age of Reason. This is an anthology that any lover of SF should hurry to get their hands on — you won’t be disappointed.

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