Reach for Infinity (Jonathan Strahan, ed., Rebellion Publishing) is an anthology of new hard SF. The authors and the editor are stretching themselves, taking chances; some of these stories are failures. In general, however, even the failures are interesting efforts that will push you to think about their premises and consider the ways in which SF is constantly claiming new imaginative territory.
Any time you begin an anthology like this with a story by Greg Egan, you are launching well. Break My Fall, a tale of disaster and ingenuity as emigrants to Mars are menaced by a coronal mass ejection, does not disappoint.
Aliette de Bodard’s The Dust Queen, a speculation on memory surgery, is atmospheric and well written but less satisfying. While everything else about the story worked, she failed to sell me the central premise.
Ian McDonald’s The Fifth Dragon is a dense, intricate story of lunar colonization that throws off telling details like sparks. This is how it ought to be done.
Karl Schroeder is an interesting writer whose reach sometimes exceeds his grasp. In Kheldys he gives an attempt at world-wrecking villainy that fails to quite convince – I found myself wondering, if this disaster is possibly why has it not already happened naturally?
Pat Cadigan’s Report on the Presence of Seahorses on Mars is another colonization story, trying for the kind of richness McDonald’s has but not quite achieving it. Still, the premise of colonization as reality TV funded by its ratings on Earth is interesting.
Karen Lord’s Hiraeth: A Tragedy in Four Acts examines the notion that off-Earth environments reliably drive humans insane and examines how a culture spread across the solar system – and beyond – might attempt to cope.
Ellen Klage’s Amicae Aeternum is a story about friendship and the sacrifices interstellar colonization will almost certainly involve. Intellectually slight compared to most of this collection, but sweet – I’m pleased it wasn’t played as a tragedy.
Linda Nagata’s Attitude comes at the idea of space colonization being fundded by its entertainment value from a different angle, constructing a story that at first looks like it will be about space sports but turns into a whodunnit. Very deftly handled.
Hannu Rajaniemi’s Invisible Planets is a wild imagistic ride reminiscent of Stanislaw Lem, but genuinely SFnal this time with a logical coherence Lem never had. The framing story is basically an excuse for the author’s imagination to run gorgeously amok, and a pretty good one.
In Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Wilder Still, the Stars, artificial human created with cruel limitations become able to transcend their programming through the patient work of a human who loves them. Though well imagined and executed, I would have appreciated a resolution less easy to predict
Ken McLeod’s “‘The Entire Immense Superstructure’: An installation” was more of a disappointment, because McLeod never made me believe the central premise of the WikiThing. Atoms are heavy and, that matters! The surrounding plot is slight.
Alastair Reynolds’s In Babelsberg is a chilling little tale of obsessive AI gone wrong and unable to understand its own error.
Peter Watts’s Hotshot finishes large with a meditation on on destiny and free will that does not bear easy summary. Watts is, as usual for him, both disturbing and thought-provoking in the best tradition of SF.
Overall this collection speaks well for editor Jonathan Strahan’s “Infinity” series of anthologies and is good enough reason for me to look up the previous ones.