I was very pleased to discover some new authors to put on my radar and I think fans of anthologies that offer a bit of everything should give this a look!
Doors are important symbols. They protect us and they open up the world. They are in science fiction openings to other worlds be they via a spaceship, a police box or a wardrobe. In the process we enter that door and follow the road outside who knows where we go as that hobbit guy used to say. In Beyond the Latch and Lever a fine selection of tales using this concept has been assembled by the editors Susanna Skarland and Elle Blackwood giving us very different ideas on what a door can mean.
Amongst the stories I liked were
Esterbell by Elle Blackwood – the starting tale in the collection is an unusual mix of character focus with an elderly lady travelling in a hire car with a chauffeur. Both of them at a crossroads in their life. I was very impressed with the character development or in this case unpeeling of their lives in this tale and the flashbacks to Esterbell’s earlier life in WW2 were fascinating as we learn a little more of how orphans were treated. Only at the end does the fantastical take place but at this point it is well-earned.
The Two Live of Agapito Cortez by Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez – this was one of my favourites a severely injured soldier who was one of the Mexican soldiers fighting for the Union awakens in an alternate US where the Spanish element of the colonisation of America takes place. I loved the thought behind this world to show us another version of America and yet also one that held flaws in particular how Mexico was being treated. A lovely mix of history and again strong character building as we feel Agapito’s confusion, despair and then hope.
The Third Quirk by Karin Larsen – the collection then moves to SF as a woman finds her missing brother’s spaceship. This tale is part mystery and part potential ghost story, but the sibling relationship gives it more heart than you’d find in an Asimov tale which makes it really work.
Home to Skjolden by Erik Amundsen – this unusual tale has the concept of a time travel portal as a young man at crossroads in his life appears to return to an earlier time in Norway and meets key figures from his past. It could have felt very sugary, but I really liked the texture and sense of doubt that characters were going through making the pay-off feel earned rather than tacked on.
Flight of the Bumblebee by Susanna Skarland – This was another favourite as it created a disturbing future where bees have become extinct and corporations now hold people to ransom for their robotic counterparts. As well as SF this tales moves into fantasy and the mixture is really well handled so you don’t feel the story has been overloaded.
Between Hell and Fire by Bobbie Peyton – this story moves into horror in a tale of Filipina farmworkers working in the US during the 1960s. It is very interesting how it shows the naked racism the farm-owners show their staff and that they viewed life as cheap and also very firmly want people to never get out of line otherwise violence will take place. It’s a nightmarish trip and the US is definitely not a new home for this group. Troubling but illuminating on a piece of history that I was unaware of from the UK.
This was a fine anthology read and there are a host of other stories playing with the concept. I was very pleased to discover some new authors to put on my radar and I think fans of anthologies that offer a bit of everything should give this a look!
–Matt, Runalong the Shelves Book Reviews