23 June 2010

The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows - Jonathan Strahan (Editor)

  • Author: Jonathan Strahan
  • Title: The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows
  • Publisher: Viking 2008
  • ISBN: 978 0670060597
It has to be said right at the outset. This anthology of original SF is completely misnamed. It probably should have been titled 'Tales of New Tomorrows: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction' or something similar. Why? Because the title as is stands implies that it's a book of space stories. At least I thought so. And yes, there are a few space stories in this volume, but for the most part it is just stories about a possible future, and mostly set on Earth rather than in space.

That said, it is a pretty good anthology. The selections are pretty good, the authors, including Paul McAuley, Ian McDonald, Kelly Link, Alastair Reynolds and Greg Egan, are top notch, and each story is followed by an author biography and the authors notes on the story, which I always like. Strahan is becoming quite the prevalent editor of short SF anthologies, and he knows enough of the current greats to be able to get something new out of them on demand, so I had pretty high hopes for this book. It fell slightly short of the mark, just because it isn't as spacey as I expected.

The stories:
  • Ass-Hat Magic Spider - Scott Westerfield: Probably the weakest story in the anthology, about a teenager who starves himself, chucks a wobbly and calls a guy an asshat because he desperately wants to take a hardcover copy of Charlotte's Web on a spaceship. Just pissed me off really.
  • Cheats - Ann Halam: This story looks at consensual reality, what happens when that consensus is broken, and egalitarianism in virtual spaces. Interesting.
  • Orange - Neil Gaiman: Typically Gaiman short story, plays for laughs. This one is particularly interesting because of the format, being a list of twenty or so answers to questions, but the questions aren't included. You have to work out what the answers mean as you go along. I didn't get a couple of them. Not bad.
  • The Surfer - Kelly Link: This one was really cool, the story of a young guy and his dad, who head to Costa Rica to join up with a cult around the man who made (documented and authentic) first contact with visiting aliens. On arriving at the airport, they get stuck in a quarantine station because of a flu pandemic that has been ravaging the collapsed and degenerating United States of America and much of the rest of the world. More a story about human relationships than the future, but has some nice little asides on classic works of SF.
  • Repair Kit - Stephen Baxter: A space story!! An experimental spaceship heads out on it's maiden test voyage, lacking vital spare parts and relying on a repair kit that violates causality, but seems to work OK. A funny paradox tale, I chuckled all the way through.
  • The Dismantled Invention of Fate: Jeffery Ford: Yawn. Jeff Ford sometimes really hits it when he writes, but not this time. It reads like a reject from a 1920's pulp.
  • Anda's Game - Cory Doctorow: In answer to Ender's Game, which supposedly purports that computer games makes children violent (although that's not what I got from it!!), Doctorow presents games as a unifier, equaliser and a path to cultural and social growth.
  • Sundiver Day - Kathleen Ann Goonan: The obligatory gengineering story, which is very Young Adult in it's tone and style. Average as far as SF goes, but fine as a piece of fiction.
  • The Dust Assassin - Ian McDonald: From the Cyberbad universe, McDonald gives us a tale of intercorporate warfare in which even love is a weapon, and innocence the ultimate victim.
  • The Star Surgeon's Apprentice - Alastair Reynolds: Space Story Two!! A brilliant space pirates story, in which the hero is press ganged into apprenticing for a psychotic surgeon on a ship that is not quite what it appears to be. Al Reynolds is one of the best.
  • An Honest Day's Work - Margo Lanagan: This one is straight out weird, in a world where the people seem to be harvesting really really big people and processing them like whales at a whaling station. Supposedly an exploration of the difference between the technological haves and have-nots, although it's a bit of a stretch to claim that kind of depth, in what is essentially a gross fantasy version of a dockworkers story.
  • Lost Continent - Greg Egan: This story is one that I want to distribute to every single one of those racist fuckbags who say things like "send em back where they came from" and "just sink the boats" about refugees coming to Australia. It really is just the story of the Baxter detention centre, (barely) disguised as the story of a refugee from time. Fantastic work by Egan (who regular readers haha will know I am not a huge fan of.
  • Incomers - Paul McAuley: Space Story Three!! From McAuley's Quiet War universe, three kids who have moved from Earth to Xamba on Rhea (Saturn's second largest moon) and while exploring come across an 'Incomer,' meaning immigrant, who is living like an Outer. They set about trying to find out why. My favorite story in this book.
  • Post-Ironic Stress Syndrome - Tricia Sullivan: Corporate Interplanetary Warfare as Single Combat between two specially trained warriors, cyber-linked to all the war junk. As the warriors battle, the weaponry and assets (and people!) are moved, used and destroyed. Not really a new idea, it's been done. But this time, the warriors are a couple of teenagers, who are currently living in 1994 USA. Clever story, really interesting idea, and great execution.
  • Infestation - Garth Nix: Probably my all time favourite Nix, and one of the best stories in this anthology, Nix presents a surfer bum who turns up at a vampire hunt, and is severely misjudged by the other people in attendance. I wrote an epic paragraph-long sentence outlining the plot, but I couldn't do it without spoilers, so you'll have to just read it. Hilarious and brilliant.
  • Pinocchio - Walter Jon Williams: Williams destroys tabloid culture in this insightful, equally infuriating and saddening story about a young guy who finds fame online, but doesn't know whether he wants to keep it. Really good story, one that should serve as a warning and truly shows the impact of the tabloid media, but probably won't make any difference regardless of how many people read it. Ah, cynicism. My special friend.
So there we are. Only three space stories in a book called The Starry Rift. Which pissed me off a little, but it was still pretty good. I give is 3.5 out of 5. And it won't be on my wish list.