Tesseracts Sixteen (Parnassus Unbound) ed. by Mark Leslie – Review

By on January 30, 2013


Looking for a veritable banquet of the finest Canadian speculative fiction? Look no further than Tesseracts Sixteen (Parnassus Unbound) edited by Mark Leslie. Each of the previous anthologies have had their own special themes. This volume contains scintillating SF stories and poetry inspired by literature, music, art, and culture. I confess that I haven’t had the pleasure of having read any of the previous collections, but I definitely enjoyed reading the wide variety of stories and poetry in this volume. It’s a great showcase of the present state of Canadian speculative fiction and authors, and opened me up to the writing of many excellent writers who I had been unaware of before I read Tesseracts Sixteen (Parnassus Unbound) I will just touch on a four of the short stories and a couple of the poems in the anthology, but they are all of a high quality and are well worth reading.

The first tale, “Ghost in the Meme,” by Ryan Oakley, relates to our concepts of what language is, and how we interrelate with it. Two researchers discover that language is an entity unto itself, and that it is intelligent and self-aware–and, very ruthless. After you read it, you will forever wonder just how much you’re in control of what you say and write, and how much what you say and write controls you.

The second story is “Back in Black,” by Chadwick Ginther. As the title suggests, it does refer to the AC/DC song by the same name. The first person narrator of the story has amassed a collection of his favorite CDs, but he is always on the look out for further gems to add to his collection. He has heard rumours that a bootleg copy of the song “Back in Black” exists, with words that are different from the ones that are on the vinyl, and which were written by AC/DC’s new singer, Brian Johnson, about the group’s recently deceased singer, Ronald Belford “Bon” Scott.

Though Bon had died during the recording of the third best-selling album in history, Back in Black, it had been rumored in some circles that before he died, he had recorded a version of the song with his own words. The narrator becomes obsessed with discovering a copy of this version, if it exists. The result is a short story that is a gem in and of itself.

The third short story I’ll briefly discuss is “Artistic Licence” by Robert H. Beer. It’s set in a future that’s similar in ways to Orwell’s dystopian vision of a world ruled by Big Brother, 1984. In “Artistic Licence,” Thought Police are replaced by an equally (if not even more so) insidious law enforcement agency, one that can detect undesirable genes like the “artistic” one. The tale’s protagonist, Marty Doyle, only seeks to write a tech manual for “Office Star 2.0,” but his attempts to make it more relatable and understandable to the end-user gets him branded as a writer of fiction. This makes him a heinous criminal, though he had never anticipated that his writing of a manual would garnish him so much notoriety. I don’t want to give too much more of this brilliant tale away, but it’s one everyone who loves reading dystopian fiction will enjoy reading.

The fourth tale I’ll mention in this review is “Three Thousand Miles of Cold Iron Tears” by Steve Vernon. There are many other great short stories in the anthology, but I chose to include this one because I couldn’t resist the lure of a story that has as its first line: “Nothing reeks worse than a sopping wet Sasquatch.” Especially not one, like this masterpiece in miniature, whose first person narrator is a Sasquatch. I also liked the interesting premise of the story, which involves the question of the origins of our legends and myths. Do the beings and larger-than-life figures of our dreams and literature exist first, provoking the dreams and our writing about them; or, do we invent them into existence, and infuse them with life through our wishes and words?

Besides the captivating tales in Tesseracts Sixteen (Parnassus Unbound), there are several poems that are also inspired by literature, music, art, and culture by some of Canada’s premier poets. Two that I’ll mention in this review are “Zombie Descartes Writes a Personal Ad” by Carolyn Clink and “The Song of Conn and the Sea People,” by Jeff Hughes, which concludes the collection.

I’m a sucker for anything zombie-related, whcih explains, in part, my choice of including Clink’s poem in this review. Also, yeah, I dig philosophy, and who doesn’t know Descartes’ famous saying: “I think, therefore I am”? Zombies love eating brains and other assorted body parts–does that make them zombies, or is it the whole “Living Dead” schtick, or is it a combination of those two, or are other characteristics really what makes a zombie a zombie? And, perhaps even more important–at least, if you’re a zombie looking to meet another zombie of the opposite sex–is what would you include in a personal ad to achieve that desired effect? Check out this poem to find out!

I cheated in my choice of including “The Song of Conn and the Sea People” by Jeff Hughes in this review, as it’s sort of one poem, but also sort of series of poems on the same topic, combined to create a mini-epic about…er…Conn and the…Sea People. Honestly, who didn’t love and consider it a high mark of their educational experience in high school reading Beowulf and/or Homer’s The Iliad? I know I did! Ooops–I just barely dodged that last bolt of lightning….Seriously, though, Jeff Hughes’ poem is vivid in its depiction of the warrior Celtic Prince Conn and his…yes, fists of stone (yeah, okay; and his sword, Darandelle, too–all great swords of literature/poetry gotta have cool names,’natch)…and the Sea People, and his poem is one that you will remember probably far long than Beowulf. Homer…well, I’m a sucker for the Blind Poet and his epic works, but Jeff Hughes is definitely a poet to be reckoned with in today’s world of…poetry.

So, Canada, I bow down to and alternately salute your amazingly talented authors/poets, and if anyone would like to enlighten themselves and discover some of Canada’s best modern-day authors and poets, I would highly recommend that he/she get a copy of Tesseracts Sixteen (Parnassus Unbound), or the other volumes in this series. Other authors/poets I didn’t mention but who are included in this collection and who have written equally memorable and intriguing tales/poems are: Kevin J. Anderson, Robert J. Sawyer, Hugh A.D. Spencer, Sandra Kasturi, Michael Kelly, Rebecca Senese, Randy McCharles, Stephen Kotowych, J.J. Steinfeld, David Clink, L.T. Getty, Scott Overton, Sean Costello, Virginia O’Dine, Melissa Yuan-Innes, Derwin Mak, Kimberly Footit, Matthew Jordan Schmidt, and Adria Laycroft.

About Douglas Cobb

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