Review: “Sunspot Jungle Volume One,” ed. Bill Campbell

Pros: Poetic; multicultural
Cons: Some confusion
Rating: 4 out of 5

Sunspot Jungle: The Ever Expanding Universe of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Bill Campbell, is a large collection of stories with a fantastical bent to them, although the genres are not cut-and-dried. Like any multiple-author anthology, it’s unlikely the editor’s tastes will exactly match up with the reader’s, so you’ll probably find some stories better (or more to your taste) than others. That’s just the nature of the thing. It’s particularly the case here, I think, because there’s just such a wide array of genres and mixed genres and styles. There are a lot of stories in here, so I’m just going to comment on some that left a particularly strong impression on me.

N.K. Jemisin’s Walking Awake is a fascinating story about symbiotic beings that now “grow” human bodies to transfer themselves into, from the point of view of a woman, Sadie, who is caretaker at one of the facilities where bodies are grown. It’s a powerful story about freedom. Kamez Naam’s Water is a story in which people have ad-supported implants, and experience real-time manipulation of their desires. It somehow manages to make market manipulation gripping. Angela Slatter’s The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter introduces us to Hepsibah, who makes coffins designed to keep souls at bay. Blood Drive, by Jeffrey Ford, depicts a world in which students get guns for their junior year Christmas presents, and depicts an all-too-believable accidental massacre. K. Tempest Bradford’s The Copper Scarab is a bit of a steampunk Egyptian story about a woman who’s trying to unite her peoples. Geoff Ryman’s Those Shadows Laugh explores a society of parthenogenetic females, and manages to nicely explore some issues of marriage and ownership. There’s even an excellent Lovecraftian tale called A Model Apartment by Bryan Thao Worra, which explores some Hmong folklore. Charlie Jane Anders’s The Day It All Ended examines a remarkably entertaining and original look at how life as we know it might change.

“You were supposed to have your crisis of conscience three months ago.”

Jennifer Marie Brissett’s The Executioner is stunning. The method by which executions for death row prisoners are carried out is very bizarre, but the situation that arises is so poignant. I also really liked Nadia Bulkin’s Girl, I Love You, set in a future where people can direct psychic energy to harm each other. It’s a fascinating look at the results of bullying and parental protection of one’s children. Karin Lowachee’s A Good Home introduces us to a world in which we’ve used androids for warfare–but the androids have become emotionally traumatized. One man decides to adopt one of these androids, and finds not everyone is as open to the idea as he is. Another favorite story is John Chu’s How To Piss Off a Failed Super Soldier. It gives us a great look at the life of a super soldier whose symbiotic implants don’t always do the right thing for him, and how this affects his relationships. Super Duper Fly by Maurice Broaddus explores the various stereotypes of black people in literature, and how one might break free of them.

“I’m the wise janitor. I come to impart wisdom and assuage fears.” Bags emptied the trashcan. “It looked like you needed some friendly, black, optimistic advice.”

Some of the stories are too surreal for me. I know there are people who like this kind of story, but they just feel unsatisfying to me. Kuzhali Manickavel’s Six Things We Found During the Autopsy is one of these. Same with Irenosen Okojie’s Please Feed Motion, which is a bizarre story about a prisoner and some statues. I take notes while I read, and Clifton Gachagua’s No Kissing the Dolls Unless Jimi Hendrix is Playing is definitely not the only story that caused me to write simply, “huh?!” Many of the stories are also very poetic. I admit it, I’m a bit of a lug, and my mind doesn’t always wrap itself well around poetry and allusions and non-explicit imagery, so these stories didn’t work as well for me. If it’s something that works for you, then awesome.

One of the things I love most about this book is the very wide array of cultures, races, and sexualities represented. Be aware the book does contain explicit sex, rape, and torture, although not a lot of them. Overall I’m quite glad I read this.

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