I’m not sure the lack of a theme–or general direction–works in this case. There’s a mix of stories, whether it’s “Tan” by Tanith Lee which is flash fiction, to “The Broken Pathway” by Gord Sellar, a piece set in a fantasized Korea. I wouldn’t say the quality of stories is uneven as they’re generally competent, but the biggest lacking for me as a reader is that there’s not enough striking pieces. That’s not to say they’re not enjoyable. “Have Guitar, Will Travel” by Chris Butler for example is a fun science fiction mystery/con but at the end of the day, for such a thin book, there’s not a lot of stories that are memorable (it doesn’t help that there are two decent but unremarkable flash fiction pieces).
What I’m really interested in are stories like “The Time Traveler’s Son” by Jason Erik Lundberg. Ironically, this is the least “speculative” of the bunch as it could be interpreted as either “realistic” or science fictional, giving it that extra layer of engagement. What made “The Time Traveler’s Son” work for me is the emotional investment it gives the reader, even when the narrative is told in short chunks. To a certain extent, that’s also what made “Father’s Last Ride” by Aliette de Bodard work due to the author’s attempt at characterization, rather than the reveal at the end.
Overall, I’m glad an independent press like Immersion Press is attempting to do interesting books, especially with the variety of authors included in this anthology. I wouldn’t say The Immersion Book of SF is outstanding, but it’s not without its fair share of gems either.