Old Venus

Old Venus
edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
New York, Bantam, 2015
Old Venus

A Review by
Colleen R. Cahill
May, 2015

Venus, a world of humid swamps, vast oceans, dangers, and riches, or at least it was thought to be before 1962. Then the Mariner 2 probe revealed the Venus was  actually a seething mass of heat and pressure where no life could evolve.  Before Venus was an inspiration for many a tale of wild land and men; not so much afterwards. But Venus’ former literary glory is with us again in Old Venus, an anthology from Tor Books edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. This collection provides stunning new works by award winning authors as they explore the old dreams of Venus.

The list of contributors are enough to make me want explore this work, including names like David Brin, Gwyneth Jones and Garth Nix. It is the stories that made this book a page turner, starting with Allen M. Steele’s Frogheads where a police detective comes to Venus in search of a rich man’s lost son. A “global ocean”, Venus is also a Russian colony and the planet has an intelligent race; the hero soon discovers there is a great evil on this planet, one that might involve his quarry.  There is a similar colonial situation with an uneasy settlement of Russians and Americans in Eleanor Arnason’s Ruins.  A local photographer is asked to lead to a group from National Geographic on a tour of Venus’ megafauna, stumbling into the edges of government conspiracies, perhaps from both sides.

There are several tales of adventurers, as in Lavie Tidhar’s “The Drowned Celestial”, where an Earthman and Venusian go from being adversaries in cards to partners against a madman reaching for god hood. Strange religion seems to be involved in Mike Resnick’s The Godstone of Venus as another human/Venusian pair of rogues head into the wilds to assist a thieving gambler and mysterious blue beauty searching for an ancient treasure.  They definitely get more than they bargained for, with only their wits between them and death.  Matthew Hughes takes a more humorous look at partners in Greeves and the Evening Star, as Bartie and Greeves are kidnapped to help a friend convince a Venusian female, who resembles a newt, to accept his love. This combination of science fiction and P.D. Wodehouse leads to more than a few chuckles along with an interesting ending.

These stories reveal Venus as a world of unexpected dangers and opportunities, where people come for many reasons.  Ian McDonald’s Botanica Veneris is a steampunkish work about an aristocratic widow, showing the steps in her search for her scoundrel brother which are highlighted with descriptions of breathtakingly beautiful papercut artwork.  The twist at the end of the story only makes the journey more poignant.

My brief descriptions do not do justice to these stories and you need to read them to thoroughly grasp the varied Venus each author has brought to this book.  All the works are amazing in their color and diversity, not only in characters and creatures, but in the emotions that they focus on, from love to greed to merciless cruelty and more.

So I heartily recommend Old Venus, for while it might not be science reality, it is a literary delight of new wonders.