We artists like our freedom. We want to explore whatever ideas intrigue us, follow our inspirations where ever they lead us. We loved being told to “write about whatever you want.” Creative Freedom at last! And yet, we also dread being told to “write about anything you want.” Our minds go blank. Too many choices! Specific guidelines focus the mind. This year’s edition of Triangulation is a good example of the beneficial power of narrow and specific limits.
Triangulation is an annual anthology of speculative fiction published by Parsec Ink, which is an arm of Parsec, Pittsburgh’s society for science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Every year, the editor announces a theme and starts to receive submissions from around the world. For the 2019 edition editors Diane Turnshek and Chloe Nightingale decided on a very specific theme – the problem of loss of dark skies, that is, the disappearance of the stars from our night skies. Not sure what that means? Look up at the night sky, especially if you live in an city or town. Notice anything missing? Like most of the stars? The entire Milky Way? Light from our street lights, porch lights, headlights overwhelms the fainter light of the stars, leaving the night sky empty. That is the jumping off point for this year’s anthology.
The editors challenged writers to come up with stories about the disappearance of the stars. It is the sort of very specific prompt that either inspires an author or leaves them floundering. In many of the stories, the disappearance of the stars is integral to the story: the loss of true night-time darkness allows toxic algae to bloom in Hong Kong’s harbor; two people launch a homemade rocket above the light-hazed sky so they can catch a glimpse of the mythic stars. However, in other tales, the disappearing sky is more incidental. The potential arrival of an ancient god come to conquer the Earth is heralded by a drastic change in the night sky, a device that fits the theme but that could easily have been replaced with some other change (a roaring sound, strange weather) without altering the story. Every story has some connection to the theme, however; and half the fun of reading an anthology like this is in seeing how different authors handle the prompt and who really nails it and who misses. None of the stories completely misses the theme.
While the anthology leans more towards the science fiction end, not surprising given the science based theme, fantasy tales show up as well, often taking the idea of the stars disappearing from the sky in a very literal sense. Two stories, in fact, take the same idea of the stars actually falling out of the sky and coming down to Earth where they are hoarded by a powerful wizard.
The quality of writing varies less from story to story than a reader might expect. None of the stories left me regretting the time spent reading them, none tempted me to skip over them to get to something better. True, one or two of the stories left me wondering what, exactly, happened, but even those were worth the reading. Every piece in this anthology ranges from good to very good.
Triangulation: Dark Skies is available both as a paperback and as an e-book. Both versions can be purchased from Amazon.