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.

The 14 new stories includes “Renegat,” by Orson Scott Card, which introduces the protagonist of the Fleet School series – the latest spinoff of Card’s Elder series – in a sort of murder mystery in colonial outer space. “The Good Shepherd,” by William C. Dietz, adds a story to Dietz’s Legion of the Damned series, where a military trained cyborg is suddenly tasked with protecting the spoiled teenage daughter of a prominent governor. And in “The Last Day of Training” Dave Bara presents a prequel to his Lightship Chronicles series, where Peter Cochrane encounters a challenge he never expected during training for the voyage of the first faster-than-light space ship.

The 10 previously published stories, which reach as far back as Cordwainer Smith’s “The Game of Rat and Dragon” (1955), hold up amazingly well among the newer stories. Edmond Hamilton joins his wife Leigh Brackett in “Stark and The Star Kings” (first published in 2005), the final story of rootless warrior Eric John Stark, who is transported into the future to enlist the aid of the Star Kings in a battle against a sun-draining force destroying whole solar systems.

In “The Ship Who Sang” Anne McCaffrey (1961) introduces Helva, a being born in a shell, that becomes the “brainship” half of a space ship. (The story would later become the first chapter in the opening novel of McCaffrey’s Brainship series.) And Robert Silverberg’s “The Iron Star” (1987) presents the thought-provoking consequences of a corporate sponsored mining expedition orbiting a far-away neutron star that comes in contact with an alien craft.

Silverberg also contributes the anthology’s introduction, which traces the roots of space opera to the formative years of science fiction and the evolution of this sub-genre to its position today as perhaps the most popular and prominent form of science fiction in print and other media. Along the way Silverberg includes both the earliest (and mostly pejorative) critical definitions of space opera as well as the more open-minded present-day descriptions.

The stories are not arranged by their publication dates. So you’ll find the older stories mixed in sequence with stories appearing for the first time. Each story leads off with a brief introduction by the Editor, and author biographies are included toward the end of the book.

But is INFINITE STARS truly a “definitive” anthology of such stories? Well, when you consider the effort Schmidt takes by including both new and formative examples, and refer both to the definitions in Silverberg’s introduction, it’s a hard assertion to argue.

Then again – why bother? Better to simply enjoy this stimulating and highly entertaining collection of stories by groundbreaking science fiction authors of the past and present. —Alan Cranis

Get it at Amazon.

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