“What a world,” says a character in this lively old-school sci-fi anthology. “It’s like a circle in Dante’s hell.”
Thronemaster Martin (The Ice Dragon, 2014, etc.) and anthologist/editor Dozois (Supermen: Tales of the Posthuman Future, 2002, etc.) plumb a promising premise: Given that science now tells us the humanoid extraterrestrials of classic sci-fi couldn’t really live on the methane and ammonia fumes of the actual planet, let’s return to the glory days of Burroughs, Bradbury, Brackett and company (and that’s just the B’s) and “rekindle the wonderful, gorgeously colored dream of Old Venus.” That old world presupposes an ocean populated by all kinds of wondrous dreams and structures; it implicates unimaginably ancient civilizations that unmake themselves, inexplicably disassembling their famed cities: “Where once was Twi-land,” Michael Cassutt writes in a nicely eldritch yarn that would have done Lovecraft proud, “would now be Noon, or Nightside.” The earthlings who come to Venus would be different from the ones we know, of course; Paul McAuley depicts a scenario in which the USSR and the U.S. are still bitter rivals in space, and moreover, he tells that tale from the Russian point of view: “You know there was no American plot. You know that the miners became infected with something that drove them crazy. You know the survivors are hiding, like the poor man up in the crane.” The people who come to Venus, naturally, find ways to mate with the locals, which fuels yarns propelled by beings of mixed heritage, a timely matter on Earth as well. The strategy of putting modern writers to work on old-fashioned themes could go south in all kinds of ways, but all the participants acquit themselves well, if sometimes, as with the opening to Tobias S. Buckell’s “Pale Blue Memories,” with a hint of tongue in cheek: “I grabbed the arms of my acceleration chair as we spun, our silver bullet of a rocket ship vomiting debris and air into the cold night of Venus’s stratosphere.”
Good fun all around. Now on to Mars, Saturn, Jupiter....