Book Review – Old Venus

220px-Old_Venus_(2015)I’m a little late on this since I finished Old Venus a while back. I have a disturbing habit with anthologies of marking (in pencil) my rating out of 5 for each story. I use an X for those that I don’t finish.
The anthology includes 17 stories. My mileage varied as these things do. I think with both this and Old Mars ( still to be reviewed ) that I’m after a bit of ‘something old, something new’ which I got in part. I wanted the old Venus style world with a contemporary take saving the story from being a simple pastiche. What I didn’t like was – too many frogs. At least half of the stories feel like they are in a shared world. Venus has swamps, frog people, something called Venusport. There are Americans and Russians. It rains, there is mud. Character types seem all pulled from the same toy box as well. I started wondering the setting was part of the guidelines. You can see that my ratings go from 3/5 down to 2/5. That might have been Swamp Fatigue on my part as  opposed to the quality of the stories. But I can’t tell without going back to the stories. You can see by my ratings that it’s the later stories that really catch my attention. I was leaning towards mild despair when I read David Brin’s story. I turned to my wife and said ‘so far David wins the cup’. This is a story of colonists seeded in an ocean trench on Venus. Human directed ice meteors have been pummeling the planet for (centuries ?) Humanity lives  highly aware of the regular impacts and that the rate has changed. A heroic journey from one undersea city to another in an almost steampunk submersible leads to the first surfacing on the ocean and a  shiny new world for humanity.  This was the first story that was out of the box, made me care and still offered that old school Venus. You can see that Garth Nix, who I’ve never read and Ian McDonald who I’m well read of also got top marks. Inventive world building, a unique voice and despite ‘frog sleds’, which are very different than from frog people, they had different kinds of stories to tell. Different in a good way. My only disappointment is that only one of the stories really touches an Edgar Rice Burroughs style Venus ( “The Wizard of the Trees” by Joe R. Lansdale) , but sadly it felt like a pastiche to me and I didn’t finish it.  I recommend the collection overall. Others will find different favorites than mine I’m sure. Finally, as an artist I always have opinions about covers. I like this one very much. My preference would have been this image actually painted as opposed to digital models, but it does have a painterly feel and certainly represents the feel of the book. I enjoyed staring at when I wasn’t reading it. Since Old Mars already exists and I’d love to see a third collection, does “Old Outer Worlds” sound too awkward? I think it does, needs work, but I do want more. – Jeff

Introduction: Return to Venusport by Gardner Dozois
3/5    “Frogheads” by Allen M. Steele
3/5    “The Drowned Celestrial” by Lavie Tidhar
X       “Planet of Fear” by Paul McAuley
3/5     “Greeves and the Evening Star” by Matthew Hughes
2/5     “A Planet Called Desire” by Gwyneth Jones
2/5     “Living Hell” by Joe Haldeman
4/5     “Bones of Air, Bones of Stone” by Stephen Leigh
4/5     “Ruins” by Eleanor Arnason
5/5     “The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss” by David Brin
5/5     “By Frogsled and Lizardback to Outcast Venusian Lepers”    by Garth Nix
3/5    “The Sunset of Time” by Michael Cassutt
2/5     “Pale Blue Memories” by Tobias S. Buckell
4/5     “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” by Elizabeth Bear
X        “The Wizard of the Trees” by Joe R. Lansdale
X        “The Godstone of Venus” by Mike Resnick
5/5      “Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan” by Ian McDonald

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