Infinite Stars: The Definitive Anthology of Space Opera and Military SF

Any short story anthology that boasts itself as “definitive” leaves itself open for debate. But INFINITE STARS’ claim of being this kind of collection of space opera and military science fiction might be justified.

This is due, in large part, to editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s perceptive decision to include both new examples – many of which are additions to popular series – as well as previously published stories that shaped this kinds of science fiction over the years.

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The Book of Joan

Novelist Lidia Yuknavitch is not a science fiction author. But you wouldn’t know it from reading THE BOOK OF JOAN. Like several contemporary authors, Yuknavitch finds fertile ground for her ideas and expressions within the troupes usually reserved for sci-fi. The result is a stunning and often unsettling work that, like many classics of genre fiction, is memorable for ts creativity as well as its relevance.

The setting is the near future,; a time when world wars have transformed the Earth into an uninhabitable, radioactive battleground. Surviving humans live aboard CIEL, a huge satellite platform orbiting the dead home planet. But over the course of years humans have become sexless, hairless, pale white creatures living in isolation. CIEL is ruled by Jean De Men, a bloodthirsty dictator who has turned CIEL into a police state.

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All the Birds in the Sky

Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead are the Romeo and Juliet of Charlie Jane Anders’ 2016 novel, ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY, now published in trade paperback. But rather than belonging to two warring families, these star-crossed lovers are from the co-existing future worlds of magic and science. Their destines are revealed to us only after we watch them grow from adolescence to adulthood.

As a child, Patricia knew she was different from other children when she discovered she could talk to birds. Similarly Laurence knew he was different when he invented a wristwatch time machine that transported him a few seconds into the future.
These two young outcasts become friends at school, eating their lunch together away from the other kids.

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Dogs of War

In this ninth title of Jonathan Maberry’s series, Joe Ledger and his cohorts in the Department of Military Science (DSM) are once again called upon to battle a villain threatening the world with technology not too far from reality – in this case the latest creations in robotics. But DOGS OF WAR suffers from a meandering plot structure and a sluggish pace – characteristics never experienced in any of the previous Ledger novels.

No sooner does Joe Ledger return from a mission in Prague than he receives a call from his brother Sean, a homicide detective in Baltimore. A local teenage prostitute is found dead and the autopsy reveals very strange results – strange enough for Sean reach out to his brother, who Sean knows works for a clandestine government organization that deals with these kinds of things.

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The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin

unrealrealPreviously published as two separate volumes, this hefty omnibus edition of THE UNREAL AND THE REAL brings together Ursula Le Guin’s personal selection of her many mainstream and science-fiction short stories. Her creative and narrative brilliance shines equally bright in both story types. And, as is her intention, Le Guin illustrates the very thin line between “real” and “unreal.”

A perfect example of this is “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight,” a story that appears in the “Where On Earth” section of presumably realistic stories. A young girl survives a plane crash in the desert, where the various animals living nearby immediately take her in. The girl effortlessly speaks with the animals and eventually learns the true nature of the world. Is the story a fantasy? Magic realism? The answer doesn’t matter, thanks to the spell Le Guin weaves.

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The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016

bestsff2016THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY 2016 is the second annual collection of its kind, distinguished not only by its series editor, but also by a different guest editor (following the tradition set by several previous collections in other genres).

The guest editor for this latest collection is Karen Joy Fowler, an author popular both within science fiction/fantasy as well as mainstream works, such as THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB and WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES. As might be expected, the resulting stories she selects for inclusion are as varied and exciting as their authors.

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New Pompeii

newpompeii“JURASSIC PARK Meets GLADIATOR”

That’s the high-concept pitch on the back cover of Daniel Godfrey’s NEW POMPEII. There’s also a comparison to Michael Crichton, another author known for his high-concept plots. Crichton was also known for his paper-thin characters, but the plots of his novels and the neat ways he would tie all the loose ends together by the end of the book made up for it.

Unfortunately, Daniel Godfrey is no Michael Crichton.

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The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection

yearsbestSF33The 33rd and latest collection of THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION (representing 2015) confirms that the short story format is very much alive and well in science fiction, and that Gardner Dozois is as skilled an editor as he’s ever been. A total of 36 stories, by both veteran and up-and-coming authors, are featured here with “more than 300,000 words of Fantastic Fiction” as the cover boasts. All packed into 720 pages, making another generous, if somewhat cumbersome, collection.
 
Among the many notable stories is “The Falls,” one of two stories in the collection by Ian McDonald. Life on a recently settled moon of Saturn is relayed by the personal memories of a psychologist to artificial intelligence, who also recalls the events of her daughter’s expedition to another lunar surface. The subtle, almost laconic narration makes the often-frightful recollections resonate long after the story’s conclusion.

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The Dark Side

darksideAuthor Anthony O’Neill wanted his first novel, THE DARK SIDE, to be science fiction. The effort he took to include plausible science is evident. The fiction side however, while often inventive, includes far too much heavy-handed humor and overly broad characters. The result is an uneven and sadly unsatisfying debut.

The story takes place in a future where the moon has been colonized, mostly for commercial purposes. One lunar colony, however, is named Purgatory and is the home of banished murderers, drug dealers, sex fiends, and other assorted criminals. But rather than incarcerate them, Purgatory’s founder, billionaire businessman Fletcher Brass, encourages the residents to continue their crimes in whatever manner is likely to turn a profit.

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11/22/63

112263I haven’t been a fan of Stephen King’s novels for a long, long time.
 
Don’t get me wrong: His early books – SALEM’S LOT, THE DEAD ZONE, THE STAND, THE SHINING – are masterpieces. I would rank SALEM’S LOT as one of the top 5 vampire novels of all time. CUJO was a misstep (really, a whole novel about a rabid dog?), but Pet Sematary was good. Flawed, but good.
 
The early 1980s is when King’s work started to decline. Books with a thin premise more suited to a short story (CUJO, CHRISTINE, GERALD’S GAME) became full length novels. And the books that had an epic concept to carry a novel (e.g. IT) went on far too long. King’s novels became bloated and self-indulgent (TOMMYKNOCKERS, INSOMMNIA). What happened was, King became so successful that no editor would dare tell him to cut his work down.

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