Who doesn’t love secret societies, conspiracies, and mysterious organizations? Their goals unclear, their methods inscrutable, and their influence uncertain, they’re the perfect explanations and scapegoats for everything that has ever seemed off-kilter throughout the course of human civilization. From the Illuminati to the Boy Scouts, there’s always someone to blame for just about everything. And now in this collection, fourteen authors risk life and limb to pull back the curtain to reveal just who might or might not be pulling our strings.
Larry Niven turns his attention towards the United States government, in “The Gatherer’s Guild.” Or rather, to the numerous secretive departments of the IRS, who possess technology and privileges beyond imagining. But who’s behind a rash of mysterious deaths, and how does it all relate to the intricacies of the American tax system? Niven’s story is tongue-in-cheek, highly entertaining, and cleverly told. Hey… it makes sense to me.
Nick Pollatta unravels the true secrets of the Freemasons, and the enigmatic, all-important Key they safeguard, in “Falling Like The Gentle Rain.” It’s an action-packed summer blockbuster full of twists, turns, and hidden revelations as one P.I. fights for his life to fulfill his destiny. This one may be over the top, but then again, so are many conspiracy theories.
In “Borrowed Time,” Stephen Kotowych confirms what we already suspected, that there’s a secret group stealing away the idle moments of our lives, stockpiling it in service to a greater agenda. But are they doing us a favor, or do we deserve every moment of our lives, even the ones we waste? There’s a rogue faction dedicated to exploring this very question in this nifty little tale.
Esther Friesner breaks all the rules in “Seeking the Master,” when she unravels the secrets of a most insidious organization. I don’t dare give away the surprise ending, but I will say I know the secret handshake… do you? As always, Friesner’s ear for dialogue and wry tone make this an enjoyable read.
“When I Look To The Sky,” by Russell Davis, chronicles the convoluted tale of a man chosen to become a time-traveling assassin. In order to ensure history remains straight, he has to make a very personal decision, but does he have the strength to carry through? This one may require several readings, as it really does fold in on itself in a complex, yet imaginative manner.
Tanya Huff’s master thief, Terizan, is recruited for another job, in “The Things Everyone Knows.” Her search for proof of existence of a conspiracy dedicated to overthrowing the city’s ruling Council leads her to the shadowy world of the recently dead, in one of her most harrowing adventures to date. But when faced with a genuine secret society, will Terizan help, or hinder them? As always, the thief’s morality will lead her to find a unique solution, with Huff’s trademark ingenuity.
Paul Crilley’s “The Invisible Order” shines a spotlight upon a strange war raging among the Fae on the dirty streets of old London, and the effect it has upon those mortals who stumble across the hidden conflict. I daresay this one has potential for further exploration.
Also dealing with the hidden nature of the Fae in human society is Amanda Bliss Maloney’s tale of secret identities and mysterious heritages in a future where technology has taken a step back, in “The Good Samaritan.” No one is who, or what, they seem to be, in this story which really does deserve a follow-up or two.
Rounding out this collection are stories by Doranna Durgin, Darin A. Garrison, Janet Deaver-Pack, Janny Wurts, and Jihane Noskateb, and Douglas Smith. As with all anthologies, there’s a little something for everyone, but more often than not, these stories genuinely entertained and interested me. It’s certainly easy to see some of these concepts working in today’s society, while others, a bit more far-fetched, certainly take the theme of the collection to heart. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.
Originally posted on SF Site, 2007