Ed.: Rhonda Parrish

I’m starting to feel pretty bad about this one. Several months ago, Ms. Parrish contacted the blog with a request to review her newest anthology, Metastasis. I’m still surprised that anyone beyond my mom and a few friends read this blog, let alone actual industry people, so I was flattered to get the email. The book seemed a bit glum though, since all of the stories are about cancer. Still, the email pointed out that most of the money made by this book will be donated to cancer research, which is certainly a cause worth getting behind. I wrote back and said I’d be happy to take a look. Then, real life at the Two Dudes exploded, all blog projects fell behind, and I am still digging out of the rubble. So, to Ms. Parrish, my humble apologies for knocking this out a few months late.

Within the last year or so, I get the feeling that cancer, always a large and scary bugbear, became more personal for the community. Between Jay Lake’s public battle and Iain M. Banks sudden passing, prominent genre voices are talking about cancer in terms of the SFF world, rather than just a disease that probably afflicts someone we know. In fact, Jay Lake was heavily involved with Metastasis, contributing a story and an afterword. The other authors are the usual mix of well known names and emerging talents, many of whom have some connection to the disease. Several of the stories were dedicated to those lost from cancer, others were written by people suffering from it themselves.

I confess to being apprehensive going into the book. There was no way stories would be anything but depressing, and there was the omnipresent risk of situations degenerating into Important Life Lessons, or possibly Redemption. (These are not guaranteed to be bad, but require a certain light touch that is all too often lacking. It is far too easy to just be Nicholas Sparks.) Indeed, the first few stories were pretty dark. Then a funny thing happened. Well, maybe not so funny, since the change is pretty obvious when the “speculative” part of speculative fiction takes over. Happy ends are still scarce, but when cancer changes from an overwhelming shadow to a spur for creativity, people come up with some pretty fascinating ideas. There are alien invasions, other dimensions and universes, identity warping cures, ghosts, and enough dark fantasy to shake a stick at. (Maybe that should be a quarterstaff, since, you know, fantasy and all.) There are also, once, puppets. Many of the stories had an Apex-y feel to them, in terms of the off-kilter view of the world.

I’m not very good at writing up anthologies. I say this every time I do, but that still hasn’t changed. They don’t fit neatly into the narratives I like to impose on the genre, so I am left with saying something like, “Stories A, B, L, and R were pretty neato. There were some others that didn’t work for me, but not everyone will agree,” which is not helpful to anyone. That said, I most enjoyed the stories that, surprise, engaged with science fiction. Multiverses, aliens, and blaster battles will always grab me harder than supernatural stuff, witches, or feelings. I was impressed that the authors were able to take a single idea, cancer, and tell so many different stories about it. Themes like “the apocalypse” or “new space opera” are open-ended enough to tell an infinite number of stories, but a disease seems to limiting. Not so in the hands of a confident and competent writer. I tip my hat to these people for coming at the topic from so many different angles and making me think so many different ways about it.

Rhonda Parrish has collected all the necessary details on her homepage, with additional thoughts, interviews, and news readily available. Metastasis definitely deserves broad exposure, and not just because it’s a way the community can help others. That is initially why I read it, of course, but the stories in the book deserve to be told, and deserve to be read. This one goes out with a Two Dudes recommendation.


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