Two different authors, two distinct compilations, one central theme used to weave trail-blazing stories:
The Four Alchemical Elements.
Definitely the oddest and quite possibly some of the most satisfying reads of my life. Both of these collections are older and a bit more obscure, but please seek them out. You won’t regret it.
The Secret Books of Venus I & II, III & IV by Tanith Lee
This series is not for the faint of heart. Four novellas are told within a parallel universe of Italy (Venice is spelled “Venus” in this alternate version), each tale woven around a different alchemical element:
- Faces Under Water: During Carnaval, a secret horror is discovered beneath the canals of Venus.
- Saint Fire: What if Joan of Arc had the power of fire?
- A Bed of Earth: A humble grave-digger must confront what lies in the bowels of the earth to save Venus.
- Venus Preserved (centered around the Air element): In a future Venus that lies at the bottom of the sea under a huge dome, two geneticists make a terrible blunder.
Author Tanith Lee’s writing style is strong and in-your-face, with what at first seems like awkward diction but quickly transforms into refreshingly new turns of phrase to describe what we miss in our habitual reaction to what should terrify us. These tales are dark, disturbing, and horrific. Not to be read lightly, but definitely worth the read.
Muchier Scale: 7 out of 10.
The Elementals by Morgan Llywelyn
A collection of four short stories that tell one long tale, also centered around the four alchemical elements, each progressively weaving an alternate history of Earth redeeming itself. It’s premise: What if each of the powerful “acts of God” so feared by humanity is actually deliberate on the Earth’s part? The stories are ordered in the same way as the Venus books:
The writing style of Morgan Llywelyn is lyrical and quite literary. She crafts a tale that captures the imagination and considers humanity from a very different perspective of importance than the one it has granted itself. There is much destruction, but there is also poignant renewal within the context of the cycles of life.
The opening quote to this book typifies the theme of this novel beautifully:
“The earth does not belong to Man.
We are merely tolerated.
Muchier Scale: 7 out of 10