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.

Recommended

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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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.

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

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