Normally I would post this review on Futures Past and Present, my science fiction blog, since Interspecies is most definitely science fiction and not fantasy. However, I’m making an exception for a couple of reasons. First, my friend Woelf Dietrich is a contributor, and I want the book to do well. This blog is the one that gets the most traffic. I’d also like to thank Woelf for sending me the review copy. Interspecies doesn’t go on sale until the 27th, so keep your eyes peeled. I’ll post an update here with pricing information and links when it does.
Second, Kosa Press (long “o”; I’m not sure how to get the bar over the “o”) is an interesting publishing venture, and I want to give it some exposure just on general principles. I’m a big fan of innovative publishing strategies, especially those that cut out a lot of the middle men. The authors get more money per sale that way. Kosa Press is a group of writers who have gotten together to publish not only their works but other writers as well. Interspecies is their first anthology. What’s different about this group is that some of the writers are in San Francisco, and (at least) one is in New Zealand, making this an international collaboration.
I can hear you now saying, “That’s all well and good, but what about the book?”
I’m glad you asked that.
Here’s the situation. A group of aliens called the Inlari arrive at Earth sometime in the near future. They’ve been fleeing a hostile group of different aliens across space for millenia. At first the Inlari get along with humans, but you know that doesn’t last. After a devastating war that pretty much AFAICT destroys the Northern Hemisphere, the Inlari and what’s left of humanity struggle to rebuild. During the war, starships and warp technology are lost.
The Inlari are humanoid in appearance, but they have a pair of horns growing out of their heads. There are hints that humans and Inlari can interbreed.
There are four stories, all set roughly a century after first contact, although not all in the same year. Except for the opening and closing of the last story, they’re all set on New Zealand. Unlike Australia, where Inlari and humans seem to coexist in peace, on New Zealand, the Inlari have enslaved most of the humans.
The first story, “The Memoriam” by M. J. Kelley, is told from the point of view of an Inlari being trained as a memoriam. The memoriams are the keepers of memories. It’s possible to transfer the memories of an Inlari to a memoriam. Memorians are rare. This particular memoriam is involved in peace negotiations with the only free human city on the south island. But not everyone wants peace…
In Elaine Chao‘s “Underground Intelligence”, we get an inside look at the human resistance movement. There are a handful of humans who disguise themselves as slaves. An-ting is a young woman whose friend Nate is sent on a mission to rescue one of the leaders of the human resistance who has been prisoner for a number of years. Meanwhile, An-ting is sent to steal an ansible from the home of an Inlari scientist. Only once she gets there, she finds the scientist is expecting her. Of course things go wrong with one of the missions.
In “Transmission Interrupted”, Dana Leipold shows us more of the inside of Inlari society. The Inlari have a highly structured and rigid social organization. In this one, the daughter of a high ranking military commander is meeting her lover, a human slave, when she discovers a strange device. It’s one that could be a transmitter for the aliens that have been pursuing them and seeking their destruction.
Woelf Dietrich shows how rebels are made in “Babylon’s Song”. Here the Inlari make a raid on Australia and bring back a number of children (after killing their parents) to be sold as slaves. Samantha ends up growing up much sooner than she expected, especially when things go wrong between her master and the government.
Other than Woelf Dietrich, whose work I’ve reviewed elsewhere, I was unfamiliar with the authors in this anthology. I found the work of all four to be highly professional, well beyond the journeyman level one would expect from an anthology of relative newcomers. The stories had a depth you don’t always see early in a writer’s career. The overall tone of the stories was hopeful against a dark backdrop, and they dealt with serious issues such as slavery, abuse, revenge, true love, one’s purpose in life, loyalty to oneself vs. loyalty to society. Make no mistake, these themes don’t detract from the stories, because the story was always more important than any message it contained. There’s depth to the characters. They aren’t simply generic people gong through the motions, but stand out as individuals. And the stories are entertaining.
We get glimpses of a world that’s not our own but still has echoes of our world. The authors provide a brief timeline of events that lead up to the setting. They gave me enough details to follow what was going on, but left enough tantalizing hints to make me want to read more.
Interspecies is a solid science fiction anthology that provides entertaining reading for a thinking person and sets a high bar for further stories set in this universe. It’s well worth your time. These are writers to watch.