Old Mars cover

(Old Mars, George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, eds. Bantam, 2013, 486 pp., $28.00)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

The number of science fiction short story collections has exploded in recent years. Formerly, there were a relatively few “year’s best” collections of stories that had already been published in science fiction magazines. But roughly two decades ago that began to change. “Themed” sci-fi short story collections began to appear in large numbers: detective/noir; alien sex; time travel; alternate history (alternate presidents, alternate Kennedys); alternate futures (including one collection with advanced technologies, but no Internet); “positive” sci-fi; and the list goes on. Another change is that the stories in many of these collections had not already been published, and were written specifically for these anthologies.

This is somewhat unfortunate, because formerly (as in the “year’s best” collections) the stories had jumped two selection hurdles, the first to make it into magazines, the second to make it into an anthology. As well, the editors choosing the stories for “year’s best” anthologies had a plethora of material to choose from.

In themed collections, the situation is different. The stories in them, when written specifically for the anthologies, only have one selection hurdle to jump, and the editors often have to actively solicit contributions. So, at least occasionally, quality suffers. But this is much less of a problem with themed anthologies such as Old Mars, which has well established, well respected editors, and features stories by established writers.

Old Mars, as the title and cover suggest, is a collection of stories set in the romantic worlds portrayed by writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, and (in the sense that the anthology deals with “lost worlds”), H. Rider Haggard. Thus the Mars depicted in Old Mars has canals, a breathable atmosphere, humanoid Martians, terrifying beasts, cities fallen to ruin, booby-trapped royal tombs, and swashbluckling heroes–with, as additional backdrop, an ocean- and swamp-covered Venus populated by telepathic Venusians.

The most well known authors represented in Old Mars are Allen Steele and Mike Resnick. And this anthology seems an ideal vehicle for Resnick, who has written an impressive number of  sly, tongue-in-cheek tall tales, such as the “Santiago” and “Inner Frontier” stories. He doesn’t disappoint here.

Even though it’s well done, Old Mars is not for all sci-fi fans. If your interests lie in space opera, hard sci-fi, social sci-fi, cyberpunk, steampunk, or military sci-fi, you probably won’t like Old Mars. But if you’re a fan of Burroughs, Bradbury, or pulp or “golden age” sci-fi, you probably will.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia.

Free Radicals front cover

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