I rarely write reviews long enough to merit a blog post, except of books I have loved a long time and know well enough to have mused over in idle moments. Brief and relatively unfocussed enthusiasm is more my usual mark for recent acquaintances, but as I have an advance review copy of Soul of the Universe it seems only fair to exert myself.
The most tightly themed anthology may still be little more than an excuse to combine tales that sit uneasily together. When the theme is as loose as a joint inspiration in music (and not in a single song, or in the songs of a specific group, but in a half dozen unconnected songs) there is some risk that the final collection will be a very mixed bag indeed. In some respects Soul of the Universe is that very mixed bag – brainships and mediaeval fantasy, a western, emotional dramas, the hybrid child of steampunk and a Saturday matinee – but I think one of the very best features of any anthology is that it can lead you into reading authors, even genres, you would never otherwise have considered.
The bond between these stories, in any case, is not really the stated theme, interesting though the leap from music to fiction is. The Anthology Club doesn’t aim for exclusivity, far from it, but by the nature of small beginnings this first collection has been produced by authors who are known to one another, and who share a mutual esteem. I don’t mean that this relationship gives the collection any specific shared quality, but they are, in some indefinable way, thinking on the same wavelength. If you know and love one of these authors, trust their judgement and allow them to introduce you to another three writers they respect.
And if you don’t know any of these authors, then you’re missing out.
Missing out on Michael S. Manz’s use of breath-taking scale and scope to frame and highlight a delicate, intimate tale.
On Michael Wombat’s narrative drive and his pitch perfect evocation of time and place.
On Michael A. Walker’s emotional punch and bittersweet imagery.
On Melissa Ames’s vividly imagined world and compelling storytelling.
If I have reservations about awarding a fifth star, it is only becuase the fifth star is personal. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of these stories to the right reader … but I’m not the right reader for all of them. I can, in one or two cases, appreciate their merits but not whole-heartedly adore them. That’s the other side of the coin, I suppose, the curse of the anthology: the risk that however well matched the contributors, one of them may not be really your cup of tea. There is also the matter of a tantalising incompleteness to one of the tales, but that too is a matter of taste. I wish it annoyed me less than it does, and the fault, I suspect, lies with me.