by Denise Little
Review by Ernest Lilley
DAW Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0756403987
Date: 05 December, 2006 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Editor Denise Little certainly has a knack for enticing topics, like her recent Hags, Sirens, and Other Bad Girls of Fantasy, anthology (also from Daw), but here it's all (mostly) head and no brew. A few label brands to anchor this cast might have helped, but alas, its all bar booze. Also, though I know it's not a requirement for collections, I really like editors to lead into stories with a brief note setting up each piece, and explaining why they got them. In Cosmic Cocktails we're left to our own imaginations, and too often I came up dry.
Though not always. I liked the shift in perspective in Loren Coleman's lead story, "Drink, Drank, Drunk", which turns the tables on the drinker and drink relationship. Literally, since the main character is a sentient beverage. And "Hanged Man" by Leslie Clair Walker struck a number of chords as well, with its tale of colonists left behind after the Company went away. It's charm lies in the familiar: peat marshes, warm fires, the craft of brewing, and planting of roots. Dan C. Duval's "2 Drops of Heaven" ends up well, though it gets there on unsteady legs.
Time and again I found that the stories with four armed bartenders and a wild assortment of aliens failed to wet my whistle, though not always, if they managed to add some interesting perspective. The ones that I liked tended to have mostly human casts, and could have been placed anywhere, with or without sci-fi elements. Some might say that this defeats the entire notion of an SF story, but I'll settle for a good story - SF or not. On the other hand, "Everybody stops at Boston's" does both right. It doesn't have to take place on Copernicus Station, orbiting Saturn after the Earth turns to nano-goo, or even in a bar where everybody on the station winds up...though it doesn't hurt. The intersection of time travel conundrum and human response is exactly what SF should be and this story at least hits the spot.
Others, like Phaedra M. Weldon's "Crossing the Road" which reveals the secret that aliens have been plundering the Earth for thousands of years, so that they can get buttons for their sashes (no, really) didn't fare as well. Steve Mohan's "Rachel" in which the last human tries to broker a bit of justice for an alien was well meant, but failed to go quaff my thirst as well. "Favio DeMarco", by Michael Heibert fared a bit better with his comic tale of daring-do, but Mike Resnick's "Santiago" series had it down cold without as much affectation years ago. David DeLee's "Union Against All Odds" isn't bad, but for being a bit on the sappy side, and its love can bring peoples together message is wishful thinking that would thrive best in the bottom of a pint of stout. "Fortin's Revenge" by Louisa M. Swann spent way to many pages of hard drinking to get to the point, and "With Unconfined Wings" by Sarah Hoyt, in which nuns run bars on the fringes of the human expansion, just left me cold if not sober.
It's really a pity, because there are few richer wells to tap than establishments that serve intoxicants to aliens, robots, humans and whatever. A collection of classic bar tales should be easy enough to assemble, and a collection of new tales should have been the stuff that dreams and nightmares are made of. Bars are the places of pickups, friendship, tall tales, shanghai's and epiphanies. While I've spent many hours of wasted time in such places, I've also managed to have some of the most memorable moments of my life there. Unfortunately, Cosmic Cocktails channels more of the former than the latter.