To avid speculative fiction readers, Nebula-nominated author Tobias Buckell is probably best known for his shared universe novels Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose. More causal fans might know him from his work on the latest Halo novel, The Cole Protocol. Though primarily a blogger and novelist, Buckell also has a healthy career in short fiction. Tides from the New Worlds from Wyrm Publishing, a collection of twenty-one stories, shows a broad spectrum of his talent and imagination as well as his writing’s flaws. Whether those outweigh the good depends on your tastes.
The stories in Tides span Buckell’s first sale in 2000, one year after attending Clarion, to some released in 2007. Although most of the stories are science fiction to varying degrees, Buckell does include some more fantastical tales and even mashes the two genres into unique and compelling combinations. For instance, in “Her,” Buckell conceives of people wrestling with issues common to SF—environmentalism, bureaucratic competition, religion. What makes the story unusual is the planet they inhabit is a sixty-five-thousand-foot-long woman floating in space.
Buckell also engages history with an unabashed enthusiasm; whether it’s Columbus literally sailing off the edge of the Earth, zombies figuring in the time of the Haitian revolution, or a museum employee becoming friends with the exhibit reproduction of Aaron Burr, he brings the past and future together in striking ways. For all their thoughtfulness, though, his stories also embrace the kind of “good old-fashioned pulp adventure” his novels are so well-known for.
Another reviewer pointed out the strength of Buckell’s characters, and Tides continually solidifies that claim. Besides maintaining distinction among their fellows within the collection, the characters also stand out among those in the wider field of spec fic. Buckell focuses on men and women on the fringe, either in terms of class, race, or nationality. His protagonists are often the lowliest members of society (or the galaxy), and they afford us a fresh take on the world.
Though Buckell’s work is economical, it could benefit from more flourish. His descriptions are never as evocative as you might expect, his prose is efficient if ordinary, and errors mar the illusion. That may be more the fault of a light copyediting process than anything, but issues like word repetition and names misspelled within a few lines undermine the book’s credibility.
The collection is a limited edition signed hardcover; that, coupled with the forty-dollar price-tag, implies it’s meant more for collectors and completists. If you haven’t checked out Buckell’s work yet, browse his website and read some of the free stories, see if they resonate with you, before you buy the collection. If you’ve read and liked all his work so far, Tides is an inevitable purchase, and a decent read. For many, though, as gorgeous as Brian Dow’s cover art is, and as good as some of the stories are, Tides from the New Worlds won’t be the undertow to draw more fans in.