All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, Edited by David Moles and Jay Lake

Tuesday, 12 April 2005 21:04 Jason Fischer
"Voice of the Hurricane" by Paul Berger
"The Last of the Zeppelins" by Jed Hartman
"The Eckener Alternative" by James L. Cambias
"Instead of a Loving Heart" by Jeremiah Tolbert
"This is the Highest Step in the World" by Carrie Vaughn
"The Sky's the Limit" by Lawrence M. Schoen
"A Perilous Warm Embrace" by Michael Manis
"Sky Light" by David Brin
"Negation Elimination" by Robert Burke Richardson
"Why a Duck" by Leslie What
"Matriarch" by Forrest Aguirre
"Aerophilia" by Tobias S. Bucknell
"The Jewels of Lemuria" by Richard A. Lupoff
"Counting Zeppelins" by Eric Marin
"Love in the Balance" by David A. Levine
"Where and When" by James Van Pelt
"Seven Dragons Mountains" by Elizabeth Bear
"Silk" by Lee Battersby
"Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes' by Benjamin Rosenbaum" by Benjamin Rosenbaum
"You Could Go Home Again" by Howard Waldrop

This anthology, the latest effort by All-Star Stories, is a fantastic read.  There are a whopping twenty stories in this book, ranging in quality between okay and terrific.  What can I say?  Get this book, if only to laugh at the cheesy front cover!

"Voice of the Hurricane" by Paul Berger
This is a brilliant story, full of evocative nautical imagery. So cleverly conceived, it is easy for the reader to suspend their disbelief despite this story’s impossible setting. The story has the feel of a 19th century whale-hunt–but instead they are chasing living zeppelins across the sky! Berger has provided some excellent narration and authentic characters, and this was the perfect choice to open this anthology.

"The Last of the Zeppelins" by Jed Hartman
Hartman’s cheesy adventure story is quite a chuckle, but the tongue-in-cheek humor has been laid on much too thickly. A hero named Hugh Betcha, a Nazi plot involving a Zeppelin and a death ray, a Bond-esque villain and a ferret sidekick, this story has it all. It’s an entertaining read but really needs to be reined in with a subtle touch. Hartman makes his point with this story, but this does not need to be reinforced so strongly.

"The Eckener Alternative" by James L. Cambias
Zeppelins and time-travel this time around. Despite not accounting for causality paradoxes, the time-jumping side to this story is well considered. The research put into historical events fleshes this piece out nicely, and the idea of a hero changing history to save the zeppelin industry is unique enough.

"Instead of a Loving Heart" by Jeremiah Tolbert
A war-time story with elements of Frankenstein, this story only very loosely fits in with the rest of the anthology. Zeppelins are only mentioned in passing as a means of transport, and it would appear that this story has been modified for submission to this anthology. This aside, the protagonist is an interesting enough character, and with a bit more work this could have really hit the mark elsewhere. As it stands, the ending is slightly anticlimactic.

"This is the Highest Step in the World" by Carrie Vaughn
A fictional account of Joseph Kittinger Jr’s. record-breaking skydive from a balloon, this is a well-paced, finely crafted tale. An encounter with a hallucination of Icarus on the way down makes this story special, and this is one of the better stories in the book.

"The Sky’s the Limit" by Lawrence M. Schoen
Gangsters, illegal gaming on a zeppelin, and a mob boss staking his best girl on a poker hand. Not bad for a winner-takes-all style of story. Grounded more in the real world than other stories in this anthology, it makes for a nice contrast.

"A Perilous Warm Embrace" by Michael Manis
The whole concept of super-intelligent apes assembling a balloon to escape a zoo is highly improbable. It is a novel idea, but the suspension of the reader’s disbelief didn’t fly as well as the balloon did. Some nice moments of human-ape interaction, but not enough to lift this story.

"Sky Light" by David Brin
A very nice piece indeed! Heavy on the tech, but still quite plausible. An interesting setting, with a depth of detail that is presented at the correct pace. The "world village" style of information sharing and communication ties in nicely with the tech-gadgets. A personal favourite, and one of the best tales to be found in Zeppelin Adventure Stories.

"Negation Elimination" by Robert Burke Richardson
It is nice to have a pseudo-Indian/Russian setting instead of the standard Europe/US based SF. A Hindi Captain in a stolen airship, a time-travelling professor, and aerial warfare makes for a great setting, but the concept behind the malleable time-stream is a little too complicated. A brave and unique effort though.

"Why a Duck" by Leslie What
A pair of ghosts bound to haunt different balloons makes for a chuckle. The contrasts between the pair are nicely executed, and while not a very deep or challenging read, the light relief is a much needed addition to the darker stories in this volume.

"Matriarch" by Forrest Aguirre
It is interesting to see flash fiction (short-short stories) in an anthology, which there should be more of! The abstract images in Matriarch certainly do provoke the reader’s imagination, and the only thing grating is the final line, which seems unneccesary.

"Aerophilia" by Tobias S. Buckell
The Fight Club style protagonist immediately lets this story down. Internal conflict is one thing, but an out-of-control Id forcing a person to hijack a zeppelin is hard to swallow. Like Sky-Light, this story introduces similar standards of implant-tech, though not handled as well as in the other story. It’s all right, but there are better stories in here.

"The Jewels of Lemuria" by Richard A. Lupoff
With the feel of a comic book, we are presented with a unique protagonist, the Crimson Wizard. Reminiscent of characters such as The Shadow and Mandrake the Magician, the African sorceror undoes a foul plot with the help of Kpalim¾ , his enchanted zeppelin. Brilliant!

"Counting Zeppelins" by Eric Marin
The second flash fiction story to grace these pages, this is short, sharp, and shiny. A good example of what flash fiction is capable of, doing less with more. A real thought-provoker!

"Love in the Balance" by David D. Levine
The formality of this setting, interhouse warfare with the feel of Dune, and love between a man and an intelligent airship forced to fight make this a truly great SF tale.

"Where and When" by James Van Pelt
An interesting take on time travel, with a good focus on the causality paradox. This works a bit better than The Eckener Alternative, in that the science of the time-travel is better fleshed out. Not too bad.

"Seven Dragons Mountains" by Elizabeth Bear
Fantasy in Oriental settings can go horribly wrong–Oriental settings in an alternative history even more so–but this story works quite well. Sorcery is subtly blended with the Victorian intrusion into the orient, to make a highly visual showdown between east and west.

"Silk " by Lee Battersby
Perhaps an extreme example of home renovation going bad, the protagonists find a silk barrage balloon under the floorboards. Unwittingly, they transport themselves back to the years of World War II, and the horrid process of their journey is painted quite nicely.

"Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-planes' by Benjamin Rosenbaum" by Benjamin Rosenbaum
Coining a fantastic phrase ("Plausible Fable") Rosenbaum crafts an outstanding alternative Earth. Dominated by Eastern influences, the new world has zeppelins where we have planes. Rosenbaum, himself the protagonist in his story, has been commissioned to write of the unimaginable, a world without zeppelins. Segues such as this make this story amusing as well as breathtaking. Simply excellent.

"You Could Go Home Again" by Howard Waldrop
A reprint of a classic SF story, this is a great end to a good anthology. An ageless piece, it blends seamlessly with the other stories. It was a real pleasure to read this, a superb mixture of historical facts and real people with just a twist of an alternative universe. It is interesting to read the afterword by Waldrop, where he describes the origin of the story, as well as what music he listened to while writing it!

Zeppelin Adventure Stories is a unique blend of nostalgia, the abstract, and the amusing.  Like most themed anthologies, there are a few inappropriate stories sneaking in by the back door.  All told though, this is one of the better ones I've read.

Publisher: Wheatland Press (November, 2004)
Paperback: 400 pages
Price: $19.95
ISBN: 0972054774