Thursday, 20 November 2014

Difficult Second Album by Simon Petrie

Difficult Second Album by Simon Petrie is the author's second collection of mostly science fiction stories. I've previously reviewed his first collection Rare Unsigned Copy. I enjoyed Difficult Second Album a lot and found it overall a tighter collection than the first.

The main aspect that set Difficult Second Album above Rare Unsigned Copy is that it's a bit shorter and, more crucially, less overpopulated with flash and drabble stories. It's not that I dislike either of those, but too many can make for a more difficult read. The mix of story lengths/types in Difficult Second Album makes it rather not difficult to read.

I came to a realisation while I was reading this book: Simon Petrie is my favourite (and hence best) living science fiction short story writer. Those stories which are science fiction (not quite all of them) deftly weave accurate science into their tapestries. Of course accurate science shouldn't come as a surprise from someone whose day job is computational quantum chemistry, but I still found it enjoyable enough as to be notable. (And let's face it, how much scientific accuracy is there in the combined science fictional oeuvre? Not enough.)

Petrie switches between comedic stories and more serious pieces with ease. The opening The Fridge Whisperer had be in stitches, while some most of the flash stories had be groaning at puns. On the serious side there are a lot of excellent stories to choose from. The two tales set on Titan (same universe, I think but unrelated to each other), "CREVjack" and "Fixing a Hole" were excellent. The first was a crushing action yarn and the latter a story about a problem that needed fixing lest the characters all die. I very much enjoyed both of them. "Latency" is a story that starts off following a scientific expedition and ends up with a surprising discovery. "Elevator Pitch", the only novella in the collection, is a Gordon Mammon story revisiting space elevator hotel employee who solves crimes on the side. It's a nice blend of humour (and puns) and serious murder-solving business. I should also note that while I say it's a Gordon Mammon story, all such stories that I've read have completely stood alone, so don't worry if you have no idea what I'm talking about.

Difficult Second Album is an excellent varied read. I highly recommend it to fans of Petrie's work and newcomers alike. It's a good starting point to sample his story-telling range. I would particularly recommend it to fans of hard SF (although, again, not all the stories are SF). I, for one, am looking forward to finding out what clever title Petrie comes up with for his next collection.


Introduction, by Über-Professor Arrrrarrrgghl Schlurpmftxpftpfl — Lol. Again, worth not skipping over.

The Fridge Whisperer — Hilarious. Writer attempts to write (what seems to be The Hitchhiker's a Guide to the Galaxy) while his fridge gains sentience and wreaks havoc. Awesome.

Dark Rendezvous — A space explorer comes across a derelict ship drifting in a favourable direction for rendezvous. Where did it come from? Ominous. I particularly liked the attention to dust particle detail in the nebulous setting of the story.

Florence, 1504, Late Winter — Drabble

Dream(TM) — Flash

Things YOU Can Do To Defend Yourself … — Er... Heh.

The Speed of Heavy — An amusing space cargo caper involving an exchange student, some crickets and some bats. I lol'd.

London, 1666, Springtime — Drabble (So shaggy. Much dog. Wow.)

Latency — A really solid hard SF story. A research team on another planet studying it's only life form. Solid science, interesting concepts played with.

Moonlight — a haiku.

Because We’re Living In A Material World — Amusing and also bittersweet short story about a CERN experiment/accident.

Cruisy — Alien abduction story with a twist. The title makes more sense in retrospect.

CREVjack — A Titan story, full of action and danger and rather riveting for it. A difficult ending to read.

You Said ‘Two Of Each’, Right? — Biblically amusing flash

Fixing a Hole — Another Titian story, very exciting. Definite problem-solving hard science fiction.

21st Century Nursery Rhymes, #126: I Had A Little Nut Tree — poem

Buying a Ray Gun — Amusing story told in a script-like format and set in a ray gun store. Pretty sure there was a stylistically similar one in the first collection (but completely different plot).

X-Factor — An usual story set on Mars and involving genetics. I was left wanting to know more.

Elevator Pitch — A novella length story about our favourite space elevator detective, Gordon Mammon. I had thought the concept might start to get repetitive but it really doesn't. I enjoyed this story a lot, with its double mystery and firm grip of science (and sometimes cheesy humour). It was nice to have something lengthy to really sink my teeth into.

Lithophiles — Lovers turned to stone. An original idea.

Next! — Flash

The Man Who …
— Written in a more flowery style than most of the other stories, this is another solid hard SF tale. The story of comet hunters looking to send water to Mars.

Must’ve Been While You Were Kissing Me — Zombie speed-dating noir shaggy dog story.

The Assault Goes Ever On — Weird flash.

Suckers For Love — Alien mating romance. An ultimately disconcerting story. Squidlike.

5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2014, Peggy Bright Books
Series: Not really
Format read: ePub
Source: Review copy courtesy of the author
Challenges: Aussie Science Fiction Reading Challenge

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