Tesseracts 8, Ed. John Clute and Candas Jane Dorsey

Tesseracts, 1999, 312 pages, C$9.95 tpb, ISBN 1-895836-61-1

The Tesseracts series is now a flagship of Canadian Science-Fiction literature. Originally conceived as a one-shot Canadian SF anthology by Judith Merill, is has mutated into an annual series of original anthologies with a different team of editors each successive year. Even allowing for the different editorship, the series tends to keep an even character, perhaps allowing for the fact that the roster of contributors is composed of either the same names, or newcomers to the publishing field.

The last few volumes of the series have seen a stabilisation in the physical presentation of the books, which has varied from regular, unremarkable paperback (Tesseracts 3) to high-quality paperback with unreadable content (Tesseracts 5) to, finally, trade paperbacks with good interior presentation (Tesseracts 7). Tesseracts 8 finally improves the interior layout to an optimal form.

As a mild Canadian SF nationalist, I can’t help but be enthusiastic about the Tesseracts series. It’s a wonderful showcase for Canadian authors in both languages (French stories are translated) and the more markets there are, the best it is for everyone, especially readers.

And yet… As a very basic reader (“me want SF stories, no pretty words”), the content of most Tesseracts anthologies usually leave me wishing for something else. Not only do Tesseract editors often express a preference for longer stories, but they also usually select a disproportionate amount of virtually unreadable material. Not unreadable in the sense of ill-conceived, badly-written trash, but in the sense of obscure experimental texts that are either incomprehensible or yawningly boring.

Tesseracts 7 and Tesseracts 8 also fall prey to this unfortunate tendency, with the result that I often found myself skimming through a story in order to get to the next. Which is why I couldn’t find enough to say about either one of the books individually, hence this joint review.

The oddest, yet most enjoyable entry in Tesseracts 7 is M.A.C. Farrant’s “Altered statements” fragments, which are inserted throughout the book. As a long-time fan of Adbusters magazine (for which Farrant is a contributor), these social satires were weirdly spot-on and worth the short read. Other good but odd tales in this volume include the Twilight-Zoneish “The Slow” (by the ever-dependable Andrew Weiner,) and Carl Sieber’s unexplainably fun “The Innocents”.

Tesseracts 8 starts out with a bang: “Strategic Dog Patterning” is military SF against a background of decaying humanity and ascending caninity. The anthology ends off with another strong story with David Nickle’s “Extispicy”, a pretty good contemporary dark fantasy.

“Moscow”, by Jan-Lars Jensen, (Tesseracts 7) reads like something straight out of a Bruce Sterling anthology: a good short story of modern SF. Pretty much like Karl Schroeder’s “The Dragon of Pripyat”, (Tesseracts 8) another post-cyberpunk romp through radioactive Russia.

Michael Skeet’s “Shelf Life” opens Tesseracts 7 with a suitably unsettling note of distorted identity, a theme that reappears often in this anthology series. Tesseracts 8 also contains an inordinate amount of water-related stories, often back-to-back-to-back.

Other standout stories include “Oh won’t you wear my teddybear” (Judy McCrosky), “The Solomon Cheats” (Allan Weiss) and Scott Ellis’ “System Crash” in Tesseracts 7. “Umprey’s Head” (Daniel Sernine), Sally McBride’s “Speaking Sea” and Cory Doctorow’s “Home Again, Home Again” are also good choices from Tesseracts 8.

Overall, I was disappointed with the sum of both anthologies, though I would give an edge to Tesseracts 7 for readability value. Then again, John “obfuscation-master” Clute and Candas Jane “likes experiments” Dorsey edited volume 8, so next year should be better…

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