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Just as with the old Ace Doubles series (each of which included two novels/novellas printed back-to-back and upside-down, with two front covers), Wildside Press has started a new series using this concept. This is Wildside Double #8, which includes two science fiction sets of short stories/novellas: Three Tales of Omne by Michael R. Collings and The Elder of Days by Robert Reginald. The tone and subject matter of the two sets of stories are very different: the Omne stories remind me in some ways of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover stories (both deal with colonists from Earth settling a new world and awakening psionic and/or seemingly magical abilities), and the Elders stories are part historical fiction, part paranormal romance, and part time travel tales, though that description doesn’t quite do them justice.

Please note that some mild plot spoilers follow, though I’ve done my best not to ruin any of the stories.

I’ll discuss the two sets of stories separately, as they aren’t narratively linked in any way. First up: the Omne stories by Collings. These are three prequel tales to the two-volume Wordsmith series, with which I’m entirely unfamiliar. That’s not a problem, as it turns out, since these three stories stand on their own and, I assume, describe the background of the novels’ setting.

The first story, “Nascence: A Pastoral,” tells the story of a difficult birth soon after colonists from Earth have begun to settle a new planet. The middle Omne story, “And All the Stars Shall Fall,” is set much later in time and describes something of a collapse of the colony’s civilization, though where it fits into the overall history of the setting is unclear to me. The final Omne story, “The Calling of Iam’Kendron,” is probably my favorite of the three, as it is a tale of survival in a dangerous wilderness by a young boy who discovers he is more than he appears (don’t we all daydream about that?). I was left wanting more with these stories, as they set up what appears to be an interesting backstory, and I’m very curious how they fit into the Wordsmith continuity.

Next are the four Elders stories by Reginald. I liked these stories quite a bit, as they were low-key and at times poignant. The concept behind them – immortals living among us through the ages who deal with the host of problems that come with (nearly) eternal life – has a great deal of potential, and I can easily see Reginald expanding the series with additional tales of the Elders, both the ones we see here as well as new ones.

The first two – “Katydid” and “Eldering” – share similar themes: men who find themselves alone in the world, missing some important element in their lives, happening upon historical anomalies. The third, “Boneyard,” offers a chilling look inside an abusive marriage, and was perhaps the strongest of the four. The final tale of the Elders, “Saving Jane Austen,” details what happens when time-traveling historians visit Jane Austen; hilarity, as we might expect, ensues.

I give this collection 4 stars out of 5. Recommended for a wide audience – those who enjoy “soft” science fiction should find something (or several somethings) to enjoy here.

Review copyright 2011 J. Andrew Byers