Book Review: “Old Venus”

old venusI decided to check Old Venus, an anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, out of my local public library, because I’d already read their Old Mars anthology last fall and enjoyed it.

The premise of both books is to get together a bunch of modern science fiction authors and ask them to write stories about Mars (in the case of “Old Mars”) or Venus (in the case of the book being reviewed here) as if it were before about 1960.

In the early 1960s, we sent probes to Venus and Mars and discovered one disappointing fact: there’s no way in hell either planet could support life now or probably not even in the dim past.

But before we knew that, science fiction writers were crafting wonderfully imaginative tales about both worlds and how we, as well as native Martians and Venusians, could live together and have adventures. What would it be like to just “ignore the rules” and pretend you could visit Venus, with its swamps, rain forests, vast oceans, unending clouds, and dip into the indigenous flora and fauna?

“Old Venus” answers that, and in most stories, does so remarkably well.

I can’t say I have a favorite story. “Frogheads” by Allen M. Steele was pretty predictable, and “Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan” by Ian McDonald was too British to hook me and I stopped reading after a few pages (having a headache, slight fever, and recovering from yesterday’s nasal surgery probably didn’t help).

“Pale Blue Memories” by Tobias S. Buckell tugged at my heart the most because the racism experienced by our protagonist wasn’t (and isn’t) limited to a single world. Oh, it was also a story depicting an old-fashioned, missile shaped rocket ship, like the one of the cover. “Old Mars” had a similar ship on the cover, but not one story about such a 1950s classic design was between the covers. I was tempted to write such a tale, but got stuck on Arabia Terra, a story I’m not (yet) qualified to write. If you’re going to have such a ship on the cover, make sure one of your stories actually is about such a ship.

Probably more than one author contributed to both “Old Mars” and “Old Venus,” but besides Steele, the only one I recognized was Mike Resnick because his story “The Godstone of Venus” contained the same two fascinating characters, human soldier of fortune Marcus Aurelius Scorpio, and his highly unusual, sarcastic Venusian partner Merlin. As I recall, they got into pretty much the same sort of trouble on Mars as they have on Venus.

I should mention that Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Wizard of the Trees” was heavily influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ (ERB) “Barsoom series,” although in this case, “John Carter” is half African-American, half Cherokee, was mysteriously rescued as he was drowning during the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and then deposited in some slimy mud pit on Venus. Princesses and sword play swiftly followed.

It’s a great romp through the past, especially for we old timers who grew up on ERB and many other stories of what life could be like for humans as we colonized our own solar system, all without the need for underground bases, radiation protection, or even worrying about breathing an alien atmosphere.

I like that my public library gave me access to both tomes. These aren’t books I’d probably read over and over, but they are really good fun, and they point me in the direction of authors whose work I will want to read more of.

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