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book reviews by Althea

Review: Bridging Infinity

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Bridging Infinity
Bridging Infinity by Jonathan Strahan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

*** Sixteen Questions for Kamala Chatterjee • (2016) • Alastair Reynolds
The ‘sixteen questions’ here are not one coherent interview with the fictional scientist Kamala Chatterjee, a physics researcher with a particular interest in our sun. Rather, they are questions asked of her at various points in her career, from when she was a beginning graduate student to a couple of centuries in the future (yes, some unexpected developments have happened).
The reader has to piece the story together like a puzzle, trying to figure out the order and timeframe of events, and what’s implied by both the questions and the answers.
I liked it, but remained unconvinced that the format really added something to the piece.

*** Six Degrees of Separation Freedom • (2016) • Pat Cadigan
An engineer is involved in a speaking tour aimed at recruiting volunteers for space colonies: a permanent commitment which involves having your body heavily modified for extraterrestrial environments. It’s a very ‘talky’ piece; mostly dialogue involving characters discussing the situation. Interesting ideas, but not much of a plot.

** The Venus Generations • (2016) • Stephen Baxter
The Poole family has been known for their grand achievements for generations, and the latest scion of the clan is determined that her works will be as famed as those of her ancestors. Her plan involves carbon sequestration on Venus – however, she’s opposed by conservationists – and eventually, her own heirs.
The ideas here were OK, but I didn’t feel it really came together – and the end was a bit too much of a deus-ex-alien.

*** Rager in Space • (2016) • Charlie Jane Anders
In this gonzo tale, a couple of drunk teens on an implausible space party cruise end up being the only thing standing between a couple of alien AIs and all organic life on Earth.
And, it’s about what it means to be a real friend.
YMMV, depending on your particular sense of humor.

*** The Mighty Slinger • (2016) • Karen Lord and Tobias S. Buckell
I’m not sure if I’ve read anything else by Karen Lord, but the tone of this is very much in keeping with other stories I’ve read by Buckell. In this future, many things have changed – but too many things have stayed the same. Laborers working on an orbital ring habitat are exploited, and strongly suspect that the corporation has no intention of honoring guarantees built into their contract.
A calypso band becomes instrumental (haha) in the workers’ fight for their rights, using both the tradition of protest songs, and more direct actions.

*** Ozymandias • (2016) • Karin Lowachee
Action-oriented space adventure: a solo worker with a checkered past finds himself in an unexpected confrontation on the space station he’s been monitoring. Not too much depth here, but it’d make a nice chapter of a space opera.

*** The City’s Edge • (2016) • Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The domed city was meant to be able to fly away… but it wasn’t completed, shouldn’t have been able to, and it certainly wasn’t supposed to disappear without a trace, leaving behind the dead bodies of its prime architect and six hundred construction workers.
The architect’s husband, overwhelmed with grief, tries to come to terms with his personal tragedy and to somehow make sense of the mystery.

** Mice Among Elephants • (2016) • Larry Niven and Gregory Benford
This one just didn’t capture my imagination. Clearly, it was meant to, with lots of big concepts and details about the potentials of alien lifeforms… but the style just felt pedantic; the characterization flat. And the plot wasn’t really all that, either. I’ve never really become a big fan of either of these authors, and this piece didn’t cause me to re-evaluate my opinions.

*** Parables of Infinity • (2016) • Robert Reed
After a successfully completed freelance job, an engineering expert specializing in ‘hyperfiber’ tells the remarkable tale of her first job – the one that she was created to do. It all happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far away… but the core of the information might turn out to still be terribly relevant.
Nice contrast between an epic scope and a small, contained focus in a tale that turns out to be surprisingly charming.

*** Monuments • (2016) • Pamela Sargent
In a rapidly-warming world, three generations of a powerful family work on their dream: to create a solar shade to combat global warming, a feat made feasible by advances in AI technology and lunar mining.
The gaping loophole in the directives given to the AI regarding the project are obvious to the reader early on. As ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ taught us: be specific in what you wish for.

*** Apache Charley and the Pentagons of Hex • (2016) • Allen Steele
The set-up here is interesting and fun – “Hex” is a giant beehive-esque construct in space, home to colonies of races from all over the galaxy. Humans aren’t really supposed to venture out from their assigned hexagon, but they do. The characters we meet here are a motley group of itinerant adventurer/entertainers who ride the rails in search of new experiences. But one of them has an obsession: visiting one of the legendary, rare ‘pentagons.’ The ending is plausible, but peculiarly anti-climactic.

*** Cold Comfort • (2016) • Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty
Get your Wishful Thinking here! More of a hopeful prescriptive than a story, this relates the clever and devious methods a researcher uses to get her carbon-sequestration project off the ground, including (but not limited to) social networking, crowdfunding, and harnessing the power of the media.

*** Travelling into Nothing • (2016) • An Owomoyela
On Erhat Station, the sentence for a murder committed in hot blood is expected to be death. But Kiu is whisked away from her jail cell by a strange man who says that her unusual neural augments will allow her to pilot his ship. It’s a great space opera setup – but the ending kinda fizzled out. I wish this had been the opening to a full novel.

**** Induction • (2016) • Thoraiya Dyer
Big engineering concepts mesh with complex family relationships and past informs future in this nicely balanced story. Here, the proposed answer to the global warming (and the lost lands that rising seas are drowning) is controlled volcanic activity. Siphon up lava to the surface and create new land. Of course, this is a dangerous and possibly-unpredictable endeavor. One man returns to the soon-to-be-remodeled Anguilla to see his dying grandmother – a visit which also brings him into contact with his estranged half-brother and the head engineer of the project.

**** Seven Birthdays • (2016) • Ken Liu
The best is saved for last… not a surprise to me; I like Liu’s writing. I’m not always such a fan of mega-far-future extrapolations into life beyond the singularity, as often they get very unrelatable, even while they’re interesting. But this one loops around in such a way that it works, starting with one small girl and the ways in which she is influenced by her distant but impassioned and ambitious mother, and following her career and accomplishments – which change humanity beyond imagination. A little bit sentimental, and, a bit surprisingly, brightly optimistic. A nice closer to the collection.

Many thanks to Rebellion Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are unaffected by the source of the book.

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