Sex and Violence in Zero-G: The Complete “Near Space” Stories, Expanded Edition – Allen Steele

This expanded edition contains all previously published Near Space short stories and novelettes. The stories range from action to reflection, from joy to melancholy. The stories are presented chronologically, starting from the beginning of the Near Space timeline, in more or less the present era, and ending with the advanced colonised solar system of Mr. Chicago.

As he mentions in the introduction, Mr. Steele has been labelled a “Space Romantic”, and this is rather accurate. His stories are infused with an infectious sense of wonder about space exploration in the near future. His focus on the working stiff rather than the movers and shakers gives rise to interesting reflections and themes. Having read all or some of the Near Space long fiction is not a pre-requisite for reading this collection, though it will fill in some of the background.

Sleepover – Alastair Reynolds

Sixty-year old Gaunt, a billionaire in his previous life, is woken up from the hibernation he entered in order to sleep his way to a future where medical technology would have evolved towards clinical immortaliy. But the future is not what he expected. He finds himself on a massive platform in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, as part of a caretaker crew for billions of sleeping humans.

This short story started as notes for a novel, and has a very interesting premise. As post-apocalyptic scenarios go, it is certainly one of the most original I have read. Mr. Reynolds’s masterful prose makes the whole thing flow smoothly.

Alien Stripper Boned from Behind by the T-Rex – Stix Hiscox

The protagonist is an alien stripper with three breasts that shoot lasers. One night while working, she meets a T-Rex. Sexual shenanigans ensue.

The premise is purposefully silly and the writing is over-the-top bizarre erotica. If not taken too seriously, it is a rather entertaining story.

(The companion story “Half-Man, Half Horse, All Love” is nowhere near as good.)

Forged in Blood (Freehold) – Michael Z. Williamson (ed.)

This short story collection set in the Freehold Universe has an interesting twist. It follows the wanderings of a sword from prehistoric times to the far future, as she passes from owner to owner, sometimes by chance, sometimes by design. We also get to visit with Kendra Pacelli of Freehold and Ken Chinran of The Weapon and Rogue, taking up their stories years after the events in the original books. Neat.

The stories, some by Mr. Williamson himself, but by other authors, are all of high quality, with one glaring exception. The connecting device of the sentient sword, fleshed out with brief interludes by Mr. Williamson, works really well in connecting the stories and making the collection feel like whole.

Family Matters (Greg Mandel) – Peter F. Hamilton

familymattersThis short story (actually more of a novella in length) is set after the Greg Mandel books. Mandel is not the protagonist, but nevertheless has a starring role.

A C-list celebrity is found dead in mysterious circumstances. Psi-cop Greg Mandel is brought in to consult. At the same time, a real estate developer is caught up in a shady deal.

This is a fun read from Mr. Hamilton’s early years, and there is no requirement to have read the Mandel books beforehand.

4Rosbochs

 

 

Escape from Earth – Allen Steele

Escape from EarthOur hero is a teenager who once dreamed of being an astronaut, but his life in a small town is not conducive to such dreams. His father was killed in Iraq, his mother is working two jobs and his older brother is a petty criminal. Life isn’t looking to go anywhere. Then one day he has a weird encounter…

This short story is solidly in the young adult camp. Not especially inspired but at least hits the right teen wish fulfillment note.

2Rosbochs

Angel of Europa – Allen Steele

AngelofEuropaAfter a serious accident early in the first Jupiter expedition, Otto Danzig was put into medical hibernation to allow him to heal. Now, months later and at Jupiter, he has been woken up to investigate the possible murder of two crew members while exploring the subsurface ocean of Europa.

The nicest thing I can say about this story is that it is a a short story so at least I didn’t have to put up with it for very long. The concept and plot are fine, but the characters and cultural mores are cringe-worthy. I have accused Mr. Steele of this before, but his characters are all too often solidly middle-class American prudes from the 1950s, even if they are from other countries, eras and cultures. What is worse, characters from other cultures are caricature-like, written like sloppy stereotypes. Case in point, the antagonist in this story is a sexy French woman, and of course she acts like the American stereotype of a sexy French woman. Apart from that, it seems this story was sent to the publisher without some needed polish and revision. The whole thing isn’t nearly as tight as it could be.

2Rosbochs

 

The Vital Abyss (The Expanse III½) – James S.A. Corey

TheExpanse3.5TheVitalAbyssThis short story set in the The Expanse universe features one of the protomolecule research team scientists as the protagonist. It details how the protomolecule was initially investigated, then unleashed on Eros, and the aftermath.

The protagonist shows a bleakly callous worldview. He is certainly not a sympathetic person. However, while reading his view is shown to be insidiously seductive.

4Rosbochs

The Lady Astronaut of Mars – Mary Robinette Kowal

TheLadyAstronautofMarsSixty-three year old Elma lives in retirement on Mars with her ailing husband. She is famous for being an Astronaut on the first Mars expedition back in the 1950s. She years to go back into space, but when she is offered her dream mission she must choose between in and staying with her husband through his last year of life.

The concept is simple and the story is short. This could easily have been a bland tale, but it is written with a poignancy and sensitivity that elevate it greatly. The first person voice sucks us into Elma’s inner turmoil in a skillful way.

4Rosbochs

Dinosaurs & a Dirigible – David Drake

Dinosaurs&ADirigibleWhile this is a short story collection, but the first four stories can be thought of as four parts of an episodic novel. The fifth story is a singleton. All five have been published separately before, but I had never read them.  The four connected stories follow Henry Vickers, master hunter and game guide, who becomes hired by the state of Israel to work in their time travel initiative. So he becomes a game guide in the time or early man, and in the Cretaceous when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Wildlife adventure and annoying clients abound. The last story is about a dirigible on its way across America around the turn of the 20th Century.

Henry Vickers is not the most likable character, and that is on purpose. He is interesting, however. These hunting and survival stories with dinosaurs tickled my inner child, who like most boys would very much have wanted to see real dinosaurs. This collection is an easy read with lots of action.

4Rosbochs

Proto Zoa – Lois McMaster Bujold

ProtoZoaCollecting five of McMaster Bujold’s early works, Proto Zoa is a lovely little gem, even though the stories have all been published before. “Barter”, “Garage Sale” and “The Hole Truth” are cute little vignettes in a suburban setting, one of which is not even science fiction. Bujold’s skill at finding the amusing and the ironic amidst the mundane shines in these three stories. The novelette “Dreamweaver’s Dilemma” is ostensibly part of the Vorkosiverse, but only in as much as Beta Colony is referenced. Aftermaths is a nice vignette about the dead and their relationship with the living (or is it the other way around?). It later formed the epilogue for “Shards of Honor” but started life as a short story.

As a big fan of Lois McMaster Bujold, I loved this book despite its brevity.

4½Rosbochs

Armored – Edited by John Joseph Adams

This anthology of short stories deals with armored fighting suits (mecha, what have you) from many different perspectives. Some stories are pure action, while others delve deep into sentient machines and man-machine interfaces. There’s even romance.

The stories range from excellent to passable. And there is quite a bit of thought-provoking stuff.

The John Varley Reader – John Varley

This collects all of Varley’s short fiction to date. What really makes the book shine, though, are the introductions to the stories. Eminently readable little anectodes from the author’s interesting life. Even with only the introductions and no stories, this would have been a great (albeit rather short) book. The stories are wide ranging from drama to action, with Varley’s sublime characterization always front and center. A great book.

The Persistence of Vision – John Varley

This short story collection showcases Varley at his most Varley. Not a lot of action, but quite a bit of character driven plotting. Light reading but nevertheless enjoyable and in some cases thought provoking. I did find it uneven, and some of the stories were maybe a little bit too focused on just showcasing the Eight Worlds Universe. The title story, “The Persistence of Vision”, is a departure and a wonderful tale of identity seeking.

Alternate Generals – Harry Turtledove (Editor)

Alternate military history anthology. The quality is mixed, and it requires at least a passing knowledge of the incidents the stories are based on in order to extract full appreciation. A passable light read if you’re into military science fiction.

Rude Astronauts – Allen Steele

This is a collection of short stories and articles. Steele’s has a journalistic style and tends to describe the actual “normal people” protagonists of an event as opposed to the powers that be. He is seldom grandiose, but his stories tend to be very crisp and relatable. The articles are from Steele’s time as a science reporter in Florida.

Manhattan in Reverse – Peter F. Hamilton

This short story collection contains mostly previously published material, among others the stellar “Watching Trees Grow“, which it was a pleasure to re-read. There are three more standalones, one of which is a very short vignette. The last three stories are set in the Confederation Universe, with the two longer ones featuring investigator extraordinaire Paula Myo. (The third is Blessed by an Angel.) Myo is a very interesting character and could easily be the protagonist of a novel two of her own. Hamilton’s treatment of clinical immortality and crimes committed in an environment with such is stellar as always.

I was left wanting more.