Review: Infinite Science Fiction One

Infinite Science Fiction One (edited by Dany G. Zuwen and Joanna Jacksonl Infinite Acacia) starts out rather oddly, with Zuwen’s introducton in which, though he says he’s not religious, he connects his love of SF with having read the Bible as a child. The leap from faith narratives to a literature that celebrates rational knowability seems jarring and a bit implausible.

That said, the selection of stories here is not bad. Higher-profile editors have done worse, sometimes in anthologies I’ve reviewed.

Janka Hobbs’s Real is a dark, affecting little tale of a future in which people who don’t want the mess and bother of real children buy robotic child surrogates, and what happens when a grifter invents a novel scam.

Tim Majors’s By The Numbers is a less successful exploration of the idea of the quantified self – a failure, really, because it contains an impossible oracle-machine in what is clearly intended to be an SF story.

Elizabeth Bannon’s Tin Soul is a sort of counterpoint to Real in which a man’s anti-robot prejudices destroy his ability to relate to his prosthetically-equipped son.

P. Anthony Ramanauskas’s Six Minutes is a prison-break story told from the point of view of a monster, an immortal mind predator who steals the bodies of humans to maintain existence. It’s well written, but diminished by the author’s failure to actually end it and dangling references to a larger setting that we are never shown. Possibly a section from a larger work in progress?

John Walters’s Matchmaker works a familiar theme – the time traveler at a crisis, forbidden to interfere or form attachments – unfortunately, to no other effect than an emotional tone painting. Competent writing does not save it from becoming maudlin and trivial.

Nick Holburn’s The Wedding is a creepy tale of a wedding disrupted by an undead spouse. Not bad on its own terms, but I question what it’s doing in an SF anthology.

Jay Wilburn’s Slow is a gripping tale of an astronaut fighting off being consumed by a symbiote that has at least temporarily saved his life. Definitely SF; not for the squeamish.

Rebecca Ann Jordan’s Gospel Of is strange and gripping. An exile with a bomb strapped to her chest, a future spin on the sacrificed year-king, and a satisfying twist in the ending.

Dan Devine’s The Silent Dead is old-school in the best way – could have been an Astounding story in the 1950s. The mass suicide of a planetary colony has horrifying implications the reader may guess before the ending…

Matthew S. Dent’s Nothing Besides Remains carries forward another old-school tradition – a robot come to sentience yearning for its lost makers. No great surprises here, but a good exploration of the theme.

William Ledbetter’s The Night With Stars is very clever, a sort of anthropological reply to Larry Niven’s classic The Magic Goes Away. What if Stone-Age humans relied on elrctromagnetic features of their environment – and then, due to a shift in the geomagnetic field, lost them? Well done.

Doug Tidwell’s Butterflies is, alas, a textbook example of what not to do in an SF story. At best it’s a trivial finger exercise about an astronaut going mad. There’s no reveal anywhere, and it contradicts the actual facts of history without explanation; no astronaut did this during Kennedy’s term.

Michaele Jordan’s Message of War is a well-executed tale of weapons that can wipe a people from history, and how they might be used. Subtly horrifying even if we are supposed to think of the wielders as the good guys.

Liam Nicolas Pezzano’s Rolling By in the Moonlight starts well, but turns out to be all imagery with no point. The author has an English degree; that figures, this piece smells of literary status envy, a disease the anthology is otherwise largely and blessedly free of.

J.B. Rockwell’s Midnight also starts well and ends badly. An AI on a terminally damaged warship struggling to get its cryopreserved crew launched to somewhere they might live again, that’s a good premise. Too bad it’s wasted on empty sentimentality about cute robots.

This anthology is only about 50% good, but the good stuff is quite original and the less good is mostly just defective SF rather than being anti-SF infected with literary status envy. On balance, better value than some higher-profile anthologies with more pretensions.

8 thoughts on “Review: Infinite Science Fiction One

  1. I started reading science fiction before I read the bible, so to me the bible was a collection of science fiction & fantasy stories. Heck, it even closes with a stirring “end of the world’ battle tale that might easily have been plotted by RAH or Jerry Pournelle.

  2. to me the bible was a collection of science fiction & fantasy stories

    The Bible was one of my first exposures to fantasy / myth (I was too young to have a good grasp of the distinction between those two at the time), thanks to a wonderful Russian book of Biblical stories (which I still have). With “Yahweh” this and “Yahweh” that — Yahweh imagined as some sort of powerful sorcerer — and no mention of religion except in the introduction (which I never read as a kid), the religious element never even occurred to me. I didn’t find out about religion, per se, until later in life.

  3. >>Shouldn’t it be in “Review” and not “General” category?
    >Fixed, thanks.

    I still see it as “General”. What’s happening?

  4. Something I’ve perceived in your reviews is that stories seem to be judged mostly (and in this review, perhaps entirely) by where they lie on a one-dimensional spectrum from “exemplary of adherence to the norms of SF” to “anti-SF”. That’s fine, but I wonder, how would you rate a story that was a paragon of the traditional virtues of SF (i.e. the idea as hero, with implications worked out in reasonable ways) but really didn’t hang together as an entertaining narrative: implausible plot turns, amateur diction, jarringly inconsistent characterization, etc.)?

    I assume from earlier comments about Lem that you approve of some well-written entertaining stories that intentionally reject knowability.

    • >how would you rate a story that was a paragon of the traditional virtues of SF (i.e. the idea as hero, with implications worked out in reasonable ways) but really didn’t hang together as an entertaining narrative

      Why do you think this is in any way problematic for my critical approach? Such a story would be properly formed SF that is badly written.

      In that situation, I would say, straight up: idea content and SFnal structure good, writing pretty crappy, it’s up to you the reader whether that’s a combination you’re willing to deal with. For me, a story with decent idea content has to be pretty awful on other levels before that’s reason enough to hurl it away with great force. Merely ordinarily bad writing I will tolerate fairly cheerfully if the idea content is there.

      Others can have different preferences without my perceiving that as any kind of problem for my critical methods.

      But I get it. Your question presumes that as a critic I’m supposed to value “good art” regardless of, or in spite of, its lack of idea content – and tell others to value it, too. The trouble with this theory is that, from where I sit, “good art” is common and cheap. There’s an oversupply of good art with an intellectual and moral vacuum at its core, and of English majors who can turn a polished phrase but have nothing to write about except the insides of their own heads, and anyway I could myself construct better prose than most literati while blind drunk, if I drank. Fuck ’em and the pretensions they rode in on.

      Part of my goal as a reviewer is to make it OK for SF fans to say “Fuck ’em and the pretensions they rode in on.” Because I believe that’s how we’ll keep alive what is really special and valuable about SF.

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