The Lowest Heaven – review

So I was fortunate enough to attend one of the book launches for the Lowest Heaven – a selection of fine Sci Fi shorts drawing upon those celestial bodies we know and love (from a distance, of course) published to coincide with the Visions of the Universe exhibit at the Greenwich Observatory.  We have names ranging from Alastair Reynolds, Sophia McDougall, James Smythe, Adam Roberts, Maria Headley, Esther Saxey and so on who provide us with each slice of this cosmic pie. The pastry topping is wonderfully glorious, as you can see:


Right, whilst we’re on the subject of pie – there is a certain nostalgic value in these short stories. The yearning to explore, the unbridled optimism of flinging ourselves star wards feels very Golden Age esque at times – if this is a pie, it could be the comforting apple pie that your grandmother made (in my case, still makes). To me, that is not a bad thing per se. There’s only so much grim-dark you can take and although there is a rough side for every smooth in this collection, the excitement of expanding ourselves – the stories we would encounter, the species, the culture is something we would be foolish to miss out on. We have a mixed bag, let’s say.

I’m not going to go through all of these in order – well, maybe a line or so, let’s see how it goes – it’s hard to review a short story collection without spoiling EVERY SINGLE ONE. The one that sings out to me in the midst of typing is WWBD (What would Bradbury do) by Simon Morden, where this nostalgic message of human exploration as opposed to pure robotic scouting really hits home. Being a Bradbury phile as I am, this really warmed my cockles. We have another famous writer making an appearance of the Hardboiled styling of The Jupiter Files by Jon Courtenay Grimwood.

On the topic of nostalgia, By Way of the Moon (it’s a very long title, be warned) by Adam Roberts is most certainly harking back to the old Vernian/Wellsian yarn, complete with the tone and language. It’s rather turgid as the form would suggest, but well paced. If you like these classic authors, you’ll like this literary love child.

Esther Saxey’s Uranus had this whimsical quality to it. It reminded me very much of Star Maker but the flights of fancy are counterbalanced by this rather strained relationship. Another classic writer mentioned here, too!

Sophia McDougall’s Golden Apple – relating to the Sun – is a great yarn indeed. It reminded me of this tale in Myth Understandings, and I can’t find my copy. It’s Gywneth Jones’ Grass Princess (is this right? I’m trying to remember the title), and this need for her to assimilate with what gives her strength is well written indeed (argh, it’s so hard not to spoil the plot!)

The Krakatoan by Maria Headley is darned good fun and the ending will send shivers down your spine.

The Comet’s Tale by Matt Jones is a rather familiar premise with a little twist in its… tail, with the tripped out 80’s cult stylings and its presence shown through the angle of an unrequited relationship. Ashen Light by Archie Black seems to me to be Desperate Housewives set on Venus (dirty crimes carried out on manicured lawns).Talking of TV shows, we even have a reference to America’s Top Model in We’ll Always be Here by S.L Grey (good name!) of two sisters trapped in a orphanage. Read it, and you’ll see what I mean. Saga’s Children by E.J Swift is a little anticlimactic in its conclusion (always hard to pull off in a short story), but the emotions are well written.

We do have the Posthuman as well; Enyo-Enyo is a rather creepy but fitting portrayal of replication and division – well done. A Map of Mercury by Alastair Reynolds is a favourite of mine here, with the idea of art taken to the absolute limit – with a strong and formidable tone. From this Day Forward by David Bryer depicts a rom-com styling with clones.

Lavie Tidhar’s Only Human  without spoiling anything, explores the human condition, loyalty and what could be effectively (That’s pretty good going for SF – giving that’s what it mainly sets out to do!).

Air Water and the Grove by Karron Warren depicts a poignant tale of father and son during the events of Saturnalia. The trees are truly terrifying and beautiful, and are described thusly.

James Smythe The Grand Tour is wonderfully written – how a bike journey depicts a frail and fearful society. The ending is especially powerful and enigmatic.

Magnus Lucretius by Mark Newton was indeed an interesting tale – another favourite of mine – with the Moon being used to house an Ancient Earth as a bizarre Disney theme world. Loved the character of Felix (but then again, I would).

Sorry for the rather sparse litterings of a review – I find it so hard to write a spoiler free review on short stories! All anthologies are a pic and mix, and this one is no exception. This collection has something for everyone;  in my opinion it’s worth checking out.  There are comfort reads, light hearted reads, poignant reads, but all contain food for thought. So, what are you waiting for? Go on! Shoo!


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