Book Review: Ken Liu and Panverse Three

Panverse Three

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Last I wrote, we were exploring story lengths, especially the novella.  Science fiction has a strong connection with the novella, and while that connection has waned in the last couple decades, it has seen a resurgence in the ebook era, as length and price restrictions begin to become a thing of the past.  This is seen in full form in Panverse Publishing’s annual novella anthology, which began with Panverse One, and has since reached volume three (and, sadly, concluded without a fourth volume).

With one of Digital Science Fiction’s authors appearing in Panverse Three, it became a book perfect for reviewing.  It just so happened that the very best of the stories in this anthology was from that very author, Ken Liu.

Panverse Three features five novellas: “Orion Rising” by Jason Stoddard, “Junction 5” by Gavin Salisbury, “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu, “Martyrs” by Don D’Ammassa, and “Dust to Dust” by Tochi Onyebuchi.  After a short introduction from editor Dario Ciriello, where he, too, acknowledges the novella’s status as “perfectly suited to Speculative Fiction, providing as it does sufficient space for the author to fully develop both setting and characters while at the same time remaining short enough to read at a single sitting,” the stories kick off.

Stoddard’s “Orion Rising” follows Michael Hughes, Martian, as he travels to Earth to meet with the International Unity in an alternate history tale in which space was reached far sooner than in our reality, written in an engaging style that flies along, unfolding mysteries at a perfect pace.  In Salisbury’s “Junction 5,” traders arrive by train at Junction 5, and meet with the head of the market, Nomen, only to be caught up in far more than they bargained for.  “Junction 5” isn’t a bad story, but it comes across too stilted at times, and is the weakest story in the anthology.

Don D’Ammassa puts up a close second to Liu’s story, with a tale a Pennington, a guide on the planet Ochre, as she takes the arrogant scientist McNabb on a research trip among ancient alien ruins.  The story flows beautifully, and is over far too soon.  “Dust to Dust” is an impressive story of a man with a stone hand in a divided Berlin.  Onyebuchi’s story is magical in more than just content, with the style and language capturing the magic perfectly, in a Neil Gaiman-like manner.

This reviewer’s favorite, however, is Ken Liu’s intriguingly titled “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary.”  The discovery of a new type of particle lets scientists look back in history and see everything that has come before.  Dr. Kirino takes a look at the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and a look in history that seems both plausible and fantastic, and imminently gripping.  Ken Liu has created a story that can’t be missed.

Fans of speculative fiction, both science fiction and fantasy, will be hard pressed to find as much strong content as is available in Panverse Three.  And with the conclusion of the series, it is the last chance to grab a handful of stories that are garnering great reviews, and reach back to the size that is so tied to the genre.  If you are looking for great stories, look here.

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