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It seems like Elastic Press has come up with another winner in Binding Energy, the collected short stories of Daniel Marcus. Marcus, a Californian, has penned many scientific articles as well as the included nineteen short stories, which could loosely be termed science fiction. I say loosely, because science fiction has become a much more elastic term since the advent of new technologies and new ways of envisaging the genre.
So whilst there are a few stories with spaceships in, these stories harkens back to the old premise that science fiction should be about the effect that technology has on human lives. That isn’t always about spaceships, but also encompasses our loves and hates, fears and hopes. These stories are about the human condition, more specifically a lot of these stories are about love and the desire for redemption and often stray into that grey hinterland between science fiction and fantasy.
Many of the stories have already been published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy and Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Marcus is able to imbue his stories with a surprising level of literate narrative complexity, so much so that there were a couple that I had to immediately reread . Not because they were obscure but because he has a way of playing with the preconceived constructs and conventions of science fiction, which makes you want to go back and savour the story all over again.
There is suitably bizarre imagery to be had. In The Dam a giant catfish, the size of a man, swims in the murky waters of the now submerged towns of Thor, Machinery, Prescott and Alice - a perfect metaphor of the dark and brooding sins of both the dam's creators and the drowned towns people who refused to leave.
Chimera Obscura at first seems to be a condemnation of a life lived in virtual reality. One of the characters, Bardo, is found dead strapped to his machine in a scene very reminiscent of Brainstorm (1983). Though, once more, this condemnation is merely the backdrop to the developing relationship between Sarah, a librarian who works with real books, and Spike, who makes money in the sleazier end of the Internet, whilst dreaming of better things. The emergency services response to the death would indicated that in this future the line between the dead and the living has been blurred and, through Sarah’s eyes, we see the disconnectedness of society, plugged permanently into the webs, these people really are alone in a crowd.
I could go through all nineteen stories, but truth to tell there isn’t a dud amongst them. Thematically their backgrounds range from recognisable science fiction worlds like Halfway House to others, which read very much like the later work of J. G. Ballard. If you have not read any of Marcus’s work before, I can’t recommend this book too highly.
It really does seem these days that stories, which push science fiction as a literary art form, are to be found with the independent publishers, like Elastic Press who are either very lucky with their choices of authors or who have very astute editors.
Buy it. Read it. You’ll enjoy it.