Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sideways in Crime (Edited by Lou Anders)

In this compilation of alternate history stories, crime and science fiction meld seamlessly to create a collection that explores two essential questions: 'Whodunnit?' and 'What if?' Science fiction writer, editor, and Hugo and WFA nominee Lou Anders is at the helm of Sideways in Crime. The collection features 15 short stories from authors Kage Baker, John Meaney, Stephen Baxter, Paul Park, Jack McDevitt, Kathryn Rusch, Mary Rosenblum, Paul Di Filippo, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Theodore Judson, Pat Cadigan, SM Stirling, Mike Resnick & Eric Flint, Tobias S Buckwell, and Chris Roberson. When I had first picked the anthology up, I was only familiar with a few names but by the end of it, my interest in most of them had grown significantly.

Each story postulates an alternate reality, letting history fork at certain crossroads so that the world will go on a different path. This is already a daunting challenge in itself; to do so in just a few pages (the stories' length is excellent) is quite admirable. The collection offer glimpses into worlds that have highly deviated from ours (such as an England that has remained longer under the Roman Empire) and into those that are remarkably similar save for one small element (a world where Arthur Conan Doyle never published his famous detective). The results are a mixed bag, with some ultimately appealing to my tastes more than others. I found that some of these stories can intriguingly posit a 'what if' scenario only to stumble into predictable territory once the mystery elements are introduced.

In his Introduction 'Worlds of If,' Mr Anders puts forth that 'every science fiction author is a natural born mystery writer, whether they know it or not.' I won't refute that except to say that some are just more successful at the mystery part than others, while others have an easier time of luring the reader into their richly-imagined worlds. A few of my favorites in the collection were Kristine Kathryn Rusch's 'G-Men,' an investigation into a sensitive crime involving J Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson and certain lifestyle choices, as well as Paul Di Filippo's 'Murder in Geektopia,' which I thought created a believable second world through clever geek and pop culture references. Mike Resnick & Eric Flint's 'Conspiracies: A Very Condensed 937-Page Novel' opens like a hardboiled detective story and combines alien and government conspiracy references (Hoffa and Kennedy, anyone?) with much success. Mystery and science fiction fans won't go wrong with Sideways in Crime.

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