Saturday, 23 November 2019

The Forge: Fire and Ice - SciFan anthology

The Forge: Fire and IceThe Forge: Fire and Ice
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Forge: Fire and Ice is a science fiction and fantasy anthology. It has a fascinating Foreword by Doctor Who and Harry Potter actor, Simon Fisher Becker, who nicely ties in the title with the theme of the collection. The stories themselves are the winners and shortlist from a SciFan competition run by Fantastic Books Publishing plus two professional author contributions.

The five major prize winners are the stand-out stories. Forged by Dan Staniforth, a haunting tale that plays with memory, is the worthy winner. It’s a story that will stay with you. All the Time in the World by JX Plant took second place; the story of a future catastrophe told through the very tight lens of a bed-bound protagonist. Third place went to A Worm in the Toffee Apple by RL Kerrigan, a gripping story of a future society, the lens again focused down to a single protagonist.

Along with the winners, three more stories were singled out as highly commended. These were Tim Gayda’s edge-of-seat space adventure, The Button; Kitty Waldron’s Speak Before You Think, exploring the potential nightmare of AI systems gone wrong; and Boris Glikman’s The Light of Their Lives, a truly original take that explores what happens when the advertising moguls get their hands on light itself.

The professional contributors are Danuta Reah with Out Of Her Mind, a tense psychological tale; and Stuart Aken with Greed is Good, looking at mankind’s worst excesses.

The rest of the collection comprises nineteen stories from the competition shortlist: All the King's Men by Katie Lewis looking at the human story behind future genetic augmentation; Blind Alley by Emily Wootton, a spine-tingling chase through a future urban landscape; By the Grace of the Two Suns by Ed Newbould, cleverly playing with the fire and ice theme in a world of superstition and vigilante justice; The Yellow Bus by Helen Parker is a delightful tale of a mobile library with a portal to the worlds of the books it carries; Damned If You Do by Alan Paine is the futuristic tale of someone with a stark choice: death by fire, death by ice.

Elemental Sacrifice by John Hoggard brings fire, ice and drama into a well-crafted fantasy world of dwarves and wizards; Lagoon, a second story by RL Kerrigan, plays with the ideas of isolation and global threat; Responsibility Discharged (Fired and Iced) by CM Angus is another of the ones that plays ingeniously with the theme, where a fired employee has literally been put on ice. Fire and Ice by Louisa Morillo is a superbly described restaurant scene, one to avoid reading with your dinner. The Mandarin by Robin Bilton explores the machinations of a future society through the concepts of obligation and betrayal.

Frost Fires by Pierre Le Gue, set on a train journey with a difference, is one of those stories where the air of menace grows gradually; Frozen Fire by Rachel Lovat is one of several tales that uses man-made climate change as a theme albeit a far-reaching one, and is also one of those stories where the menace creeps up slowly as you shuffle ever closer to the edge of your seat. The Cold Ones by Joseph D Wheeldon again racks up the tension, taking fire and ice, heat and cold to the heart of a survival tale; Justice in the ’Pool by Jonathan Edwards has an entertaining take on the book’s theme, using it to create a futuristic police drama; one of several stories that made me smile.

Lucantha by Sue Hoffmann neatly winds the topic of the book around the idea of tales told by the fireside; The Separation of Fire and Ice by Mira Callahan is a crisply told narrative that has an interesting synergy with the winning story, Forged, although they are very different. Indeed, it is a recurring thread through the book, the way that the stories – all unique – bounce off each other as the fire and ice theme is explored.

On the Slope of Survival by Lynn McInroy is one of the stories that explores extreme climate shifts and follows a community on a treadmill of second guessing what the new seasons will bring, cleverly mirroring the real fire and ice with the ebb and flow of the main character’s key relationship; The Despoilers by Dominic Bell gives a different take on climate change where catastrophe comes from off-planet in a story with a strong sense of place that gives a global view; and finally, Adolescent Rebellion by Ann Bupryn, plays out in a single room, exploring the relationships between three generations through the focus of the fire in the grate and the ice in granny’s cup.

The stories from the competition shortlist are all worthy supporters of the excellent winning half dozen and the pair of professional contributions. All of this set of charity anthologies is professionally edited and it shows in what is overall a slick, professional collection that makes for a page-turning read.

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