Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Infinite Stars: Definitive Space Opera and Military Science Fiction, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

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(Space Opera) Stories drawn from different space-opera series. Intended to showcase the beauty of space opera and attract new readers to those series. (146,594 words; Time: 8h:08m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ Average

"Infinite Stars: Definitive Space Opera and Military Science Fiction," edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, published on by .

Space Opera Sampler

The theme of this anthology is space opera, and each of the stories is meant to be a “taster” for a much larger series. The stories are supposed to stand alone, but each one is set in a much larger world.

Although this is nominally a space opera anthology, few of the original stories meet our definition for space opera, which requires big scope. That’s not really a problem, though; they’re specific adventures set inside a larger space-opera universe, and that’s good enough.

Of the reprints, we’ve previously reviewed "Binti," by Nnedi Okorafor. Beyond that, “The Game of Rat and Dragon,” “The Borders of Infinity,” and “The Ship Who Sang” are all stories I remember reading and enjoying prior to the creation of Rocket Stack Rank (in some cases, long prior) and which I’d still recommend to anyone.

Aces and Spaces

Of the fifteen stories we reviewed (excluding Binti, which we previously recommended against) we recommended 5 and recommended against 5. Average would have been 2.5, so this is an anthology tilted toward the extremes. As a result, we rated it average overall, even though it has twice as many recommended stories as average.

A problem a lot of the stories had was that many of the authors resorted to lengthy infodumps to give the readers information about the universes in which their stories were embedded. Perhaps this is an artifact of them being accustomed to writing at novel length, where this information would have been more spread out.

Of the nineteen stories we’ve read (including four reprints), we divided them into the following subgenres:
  • Military SF: 9 (47%)
  • SF Adventure: 7 (37%)
  • Space Opera: 2 (11%)
  • Dystopia: 1 (5%)
This shouldn't be a big surprise. It just says that inside a larger space opera, you generally have two types of stories: stories that involve the military and stories that involve individuals with their own agendas.

By and large, the stories stand alone (with one exception), and the better stories are all good enough to tempt the reader to have a look at the series they came from.

Specially Recommended

In “Twenty Excellent Reasons,” by Bennett R. Coles, Jack runs a rescue mission with little backup, and he has to make a series of tough decisions that change him forever. It's tense, it's exciting, and it's ultimately moving.

The Wages of Honor” by Catherine Asaro, shows the uneasy interactions between a long-lost colony which reverted to medieval-level technology and an honor-based society and the high-tech empire that rediscovered it. Two brothers, sons of a local man and an imperial woman, both have to make very different decisions that test their commitment to family, honor, and their own people. Outstanding for character development and setting.


Night Passage,” by Alastair Reynolds, reminds us just how bad it is to wake up unexpectedly when you're on a generation ship. In this case, the captain learns there's been a mutiny, the ship is damaged, and they're just days away from drifting into a giant alien artifact. But something's not right about the whole situation. Besides the cool setting, the big fun in this one is unraveling the mysteries.

Shore Patrol,” by Jack Campbell, is a light-hearted account of how Ensign Geary got assigned to short patrol (military police) duty under the worst circumstances--circumstances that just get worse and worse. Besides the fun of the story itself, it's a great character sketch of the protagonist.

"Region Five," by Linda Nagata, recounts the efforts of a team of augmented US soldiers trying to escape from a city where a peacekeeping mission has abruptly gone wrong. The story is about their struggle to escape, but also their struggle to do the right thing despite the desperate circumstances.

Other Reviews: Search Web, GoodReads.com
Bryan Thomas Schmidt Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB

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5- & 4-Star Stories: 5;  Estimated Time: 2h:37m (47K words)
Recommended By Stories: 7;  Estimated Time: 3h:23m (61K words)
Total Stories: 15;  Estimated Time: 8h:08m (147K words)
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Rating: 5 -> Hugo-worthy

The Wages of Honor by Catherine Asaro  Time: 40m (Novelette)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(SF Adventure) Eldrin and Althor have grown up in the low-tech, honor-based culture of their father’s world, but they are heirs to their mother’s high-tech, off-world culture. At age 16, each will have to choose between honor and necessity, with results t
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [5]  Recommended By: RSR:5
Twenty Excellent Reasons by Bennett R. Coles  Time: 19m (ShortStory)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(Military SF) The rebellion on Thor is getting worse, and Jack has to lead a mission from orbit to rescue some hostages. His craft isn’t designed for this, there’s no ground support at all, and he’s got a newbie to nursemaid.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [5]  Recommended By: RSR:5

Rating: 4 -> Recommended

Night Passage by Alastair Reynolds  Time: 47m (Novelette)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(SF Adventure) Captain Bernsdottir wakes from hibernation with her ship stalled next to a vast alien artifact and a mutiny in progress.
Region Five by Linda Nagata  Time: 24m (ShortStory)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(Military SF) To evacuate his unit before the attackers get them, Josh has to get them from the 38th floor to the 88th floor of a damaged skyscraper. And they don’t know what’s above them.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [4]  Recommended By: RSR:4 GDozois:4
Shore Patrol by Jack Campbell  Time: 25m (Novelette)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(Military SF) Ensign Geary gets stuck with shore patrol at the last minute, and he’s got his hands full. He’s got four of the worst recruits to try to supervise five ships full of sailors, marines, and airmen, and no matter how bad things get, they can al
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [4]  Recommended By: RSR:4 RHorton:4

Rating: 3 -> Average

Cadet Cruise by David Drake  Time: 23m (ShortStory)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(Military SF) Against her better judgment, Cadet Pennyroyal accompanies her fellow cadet Leary on liberty in a port where bad things have happened to a few other crewmembers.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [3]  Recommended By: RHorton:4
Imperium Imposter by Jody Lynn Nye  Time: 29m (Novelette)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(Space Opera) Young Lord Thomas was supposed to be abducted as part of a ruse to distract attention while his mentor performed a secret mission. When the mentor is abducted by mistake, Lord Thomas has to execute the mission himself. If he can remember it.
Last Day Of Training by Dave Bara  Time: 19m (ShortStory)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(Military SF) After three years of training, Peter is finally a lieutenant, with just one exercise left to do: a routine EVA to repair some ansible units. At least, it’s supposed to be routine.
Taste of Ashes by Charles E. Gannon  Time: 51m (Novelette)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(Space Opera) Trevor Corcoran was one of the few human survivors of the battle at Barnard’s Star. Now the victorious Arat Kur want him to deliver their surrender demands to the leaders on Earth. But is there any way to turn the situation to Earth’s advant
The Waters Of Kanly by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson  Time: 37m (Novelette)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(SF Adventure; Dune) A year after Harkonen treachery killed Duke Atreides, Gurney Halleck leads what remains of his men and plots vengeance against the Harkonen governor.

Rating: 2 -> Not Recommended

All In A Day's Work by Elizabeth Moon  Time: 13m (ShortStory)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(Military SF) Ky Vatta, Grand Admiral of her own fleet, is bored, and a rescue mission is just the thing to lift her spirits.
How To Be A Barbarian in the Late 25th Century by Jean Johnson  Time: 22m (ShortStory)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(Military SF) Mitch Turman files a report on a routine combat mission, but on the side he writes about the same episode, but turns it into an epic battle in a swords & sorcery universe.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [2]  Recommended By: RHorton:4
Renegat by Orson Scott Card  Time: 55m (Novelette)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(SF Adventure) Andrew (“Ender”) Wiggin and his sister Valentine arrive on planet Catalunya to investigate the murder of a man who was trying to prove a local life form was intelligent.
The Good Shepherd by William C. Dietz  Time: 27m (Novelette)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(Military SF) Murphy is a cyborg killing machine. Escorting a teenage girl through a jungle during the middle of a rebellion isn’t what he was designed for, but it’s not what teenage girls are designed for either.

Rating: 1 -> Needs Improvement

Our Sacred Honor by David Weber  Time: 49m (Novelette)  IssueInfinite Stars 2017
(Dystopia) Eloise’s little sister is kidnapped and she risks her own life trying to rescue her.

Rating: Not Rated

2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I may have mentioned "Our Secret Honor" in passing but I had no intention of recommending it. I'd have probably given it a 2, to be honest.

    1. Oops, thanks for the correction. Not sure how I misread your column. The table is now updated.