A highly enjoyable exploration of where the ‘Space Opera’ genre has gone, and how it’s developed…
*****“The Knight of Chains, the Deuce of Stars” by Yoon Ha Lee (Lightspeed)
Remarkably excellent. Very reminiscent of a more-poetic Iain Banks.
A warrior/strategist arrives to pits her wits against an ancient gamesmaster. What happens in this small space and time will have ramifications on a much larger scale, as Lee gives us a glimpse of a vertiginous universe…
****“The Wreck of the Godspeed” by James Patrick Kelly (Between Worlds)
A young pilgrim wins an essay contest; the prize to spend a year (or the option of two) aboard a legendary exploration ship. However, the ship is eccentric, to say the least, and the other passengers are worried… Well crafted, good characters, and an interesting take on the ramifications of matter-transportation. The end felt a little rushed and inconclusive, though.
****“Saving Tiamaat” by Gwyneth Jones (The New Space Opera)
This was the second ‘Ki-An’ story I’ve read by Gwyneth Jones. The first (‘The Ki-Anna’) was pretty good, but this one was excellent. A story of a diplomat assigned to be the ‘minder’ for the two foreign leaders of one side in an ethnic civil war, the events, unfolding, reflect on the greater truths of the unpleasant necessities of politics, and an invitation to consider the ethics of choosing the lesser evil.
***“Six Lights Off Green Scar” by Gareth L. Powell (Aphelion)
A space prospector, scarred by an earlier experience, has been in semi-retirement – but now a journalist has convinced him to go on one last trek. His past, however, will come back to haunt him… violently.
***“Glory” by Greg Egan (The New Space Opera)
A pair of archaeologists adopt alien bodies to examine the remnants of a long-dead civilization. But no matter how careful they are, their work and their presence may have a destabilizing influence.
***“The Mote Dancer and the Firelife” by Chris Willrich (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
Haunted by the spectre of her dead partner, a spacer seeks some kind of conclusion in the midst of an alien – and violent – culture. Will she find what she’s bargaining for – or his her quest more of a deathwish? Interesting alien elements here, which I’d be interested to explore more deeply.
**“On Rickety Thistlewaite” by Michael F. Flynn (Analog)
Eh, this one was not for me. The bulk of the story seems to be trying to play on ethnic-stereotypes for humor (Chinese and Irish, in space), but then the end goes for the tragically sentimental, and is inconclusive, on top of it.
****“War Without End” by Una McCormack (Conflicts)
An aging war criminal agrees to an interview with an elderly archivist from the side he’s always considered his enemies. Although his ideas have not changed, he is drawn to the opportunity to record his side of the story for posterity. Really well done, and all-too-believable. Deals with harsh issues with sensitivity.
*****“Finisterra” by David Moles (F&SF)
Caught in an untenable situation, an engineer agrees to a job that she knows will not be strictly legal… but once out on what turns out to be a poaching expedition killing a protected alien species, her ethical compunctions are stretched to the limit. Poignant, complex, and very relevant…
****“Seven Years from Home” by Naomi Novik (Warriors)
Two planets are in the midst of civil war. The way of life of a people is threatened. Into this conflict comes an foreign agent, willing to help, to divulge information about the other side. But little do her new acquaintances realize that her agenda is not as selfless as it seems, and that she is working with counterparts on the other side of the conflict. Really nicely done, with well-drawn emotional complexity.
***“Plotters and Shooters” by Kage Baker (Fast Forward 1)
Revenge of the Nerds meets Ender’s Game – with a twist. Fun, but not Baker’s best, in my opinion.
****“The Muse of Empires Lost” by Paul Berger (Twenty Epics)
Jemmi, a beggar child on a decaying orbital habitat, has the ability to bend other people’s minds to her will. Only one other person in existence has similar powers – the former ruler of an interstellar empire. He has dreams of restoring his former glory – but gets more than he bargained for when he tries to recruit Jemmi to his cause.
****“Boojum” by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette (Fast Ships and Black Sails)
Black Alice is a pirate, on a sentient, organic spaceship. However, she’s a pretty lowly pirate. Stuck down in engineering, she doesn’t even usually get to know what the captain’s planning or how a battle might be going… She doesn’t care much for her coworkers, though she does occasionally dream of becoming one of the top engineers – the ones the ship actually listens to. Nice, with an unexpectedly satisfying outcome.
***“Lehr Rex” by Jay Lake (Forbidden Planets)
A pretty overt homage to Blade Runner here, in a story of a team sent to investigate a lost mission… with a ‘planet-busting’ bomb. The story’s OK… I’m not really sure what the point of one of the character’s sexist comments at the beginning of the story was – they go unexamined, don’t really add anything, and aren’t relevant to the rest of the events…
****“Cracklegrackle” by Justina Robson (The New Space Opera 2)
A journalist with a missing daughter agrees to interview an alien ‘psychic’ detective. Outwardly, he claims to believe the alien’s abilities are a fraud – but he agrees all too quickly to have his daughter’s mysterious disappearance investigated. The outcome is emotionally wrenching. Very much a crime mystery, with an almost incidental sci-fi setting.
***“Hideaway” by Alastair Reynolds (Interzone)
A group of humans are desperate refugees from the aliens who have been ‘cleansing’ the galaxy of our race. They seem to be facing a difficult choice: die fighting, or hide, opting to ‘upload’ themselves into a computer program and continue to experience a virtual existence. But then, a third opportunity presents itself.
***“Isabel of the Fall” by Ian R. MacLeod (Interzone)
In an artificial habitat, strict roles have sprung up, dictated by dogmatic religion. In the face of this, two young women, priestesses of different cults, secretly happen to meet and become friends – in the process breaking all the rules. The story aims for high tragedy, but I felt like it tried a little too hard.
***“Precious Mental” by Robert Reed (Asimov’s)
This was OK, I suppose. It didn’t really grab me, emotionally. This long story (it’s a novella) is set in Reed’s ‘Great Ship’ universe, which is new to me. Most people are cyborgs, traveling between stars, living unimaginably long lifespans. But even for this world, Pamir has lived a long life, leaving his former identity behind and living incognito as a lowly mechanic. However, one being may be suspicious – enough so that Pamir is kidnapped and shanghaied into working on an alien propulsion drive. It makes some sense that a story of such epic scope might feel a bit leisurely and unhurried – but I ended up just feeling a bit blasé about the whole thing.
****“Two Sisters in Exile” by Aliette de Bodard (Solaris Rising 1.5)
A young woman from a proud and violent warrior culture has been sent to return the hull of a sentient ship to its people; to explain that it was killed by accident and avoid causing a diplomatic incident. She disdains the culture she visits as peaceful and weak – but despite herself is impressed with what she sees upon her visit. I loved the ending here – the conclusions that the main character comes to are perfectly in line with her culture – but it’s left up to the reader to wonder whether or not she is correct.
***“Lode Stars” by Lavie Tidhar (The Immersion Book of SF)
A tale set in an odd far-future full of biotech, uploaded ghosts, and religious worship of black holes… (sort of). A woman seeks to investigate the mysteries that led to her father’s death. (maybe). Original, but doesn’t feel quite like a finished piece.
****“Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Clarkesworld)
A military general (who may be a posthumous clone) is sent on a mission to try to convince her ex-wife to reconsider her goals and actions as a seditionist leader. Gradually, the reasons that the woman has decided to rebel against the power structure that her former partner belongs to are revealed – with complex implications as far as ethics and interpersonal relationships… The point here is to raise questions, but I did wish the ending was more conclusive…
****“The Tear” by Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)
Beautiful, beautiful writing here. A pleasure to read just for the poetry of McDonald’s language. Not only that, but a strikingly original portrayal of two very interesting cultures from the panhuman diaspora. All that said – I’m not positive the structure here completely worked. I loved the set-up, and the relationship between two young men who are forced to grow apart due to elements of their culture. I loved the introduction of the nano-aliens, and the results of first contact. However, the piece keeps going, expanding scope and changing focus – and I’m not sure the latter part meshes perfectly with the first part. I still really enjoyed it.
ARC provided by NetGalley – and greatly appreciated! As always, my opinions are unaffected by the source of the book.