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Monday, June 29, 2009

"The New Space Opera 2" ed. by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order "The New Space Opera 2" HERE(US) and HERE(UK and Overseas)
Official Jonathan Strahan Website
Gardner Dozois at Wikipedia

I like reading original sff anthologies, whether themed or not, and now is a great time for them with such titles being published like the Solaris SF/F line, Pyr’s Fast Forward books, Night Shade’s Eclipse volumes, and the indie Hadley Rille Ruins novels as well as numerous themed “standalone” books from DAW books and others.

However since New Space Opera is unquestionably my favorite sff sub-genre the two anthologies last year that stood out were Galactic Empires (ed. G. Dozois) and The New Space Opera (ed. G. Dozois and J. Strahan).

So when "The New Space Opera 2" anthology was announced it became an asap book and I have to say that it surpassed my already very high expectations with 14 stories that worked superbly out of the total 19.

ANALYSIS: As I found out from the introduction, New Space Opera has become such a popular sub-genre that the two editors managed to populate this book with 19 different authors from the 18 of the first installment. So no PH Hamilton, A. Reynolds, P. McAuley, S. Baxter, WJ Williams, D. Simmons, R. Reed and T. Daniel here which are some of my big-time favorite authors associated with it.

Talk about not doing your homework when looking for a book, but this announcement surprised me and made me a bit apprehensive since the missing names highlighted above are some of my most favorite authors.

However from the first superb RC Wilson story to the extraordinary and possibly - hard to say with so many superb ones - #1 story of the volume at the end JC Wright' s triumphant return to the "Golden Age" universe of his mind-boggling debut series in "The Far End of History", I truly enjoyed the anthology and I think it was even better than the first in some respects.

If there is one small niggle is that I would have alternated the easier, more humorous pieces a bit different against the darker, more emotional ones, but I read the anthology mostly in jumps rather than sequentially in story order, so that did not matter very much.

"Introduction" by the editors:

  • “Utriusque Cosmi”, Robert Charles Wilson

  • (LS) *****

    Excellent story in the superb RC Wilson style so familiar from his many novels and stories; as usual both mind-boggling sense of wonder - it starts with our universe shelved as a book that is read only and it goes beyond that - combined with a great character in young (and much, much older) Carlotta and her adventures.

  • “The Island”, Peter Watts

  • (LS) *****

    In this one Peter Watts is at his uncompromising view of life as a hard Darwinian struggle and not a wishy-wish fairy tale so loved by me in his famous Rifters series and later in the remarkable standalone novel Blindsight. Humanity sends sub-light ships to build wormholes for ftl to be possible; a deep time mission with safeguards to insure its imperative survives for billions of years, we follow one of the original crew who retained her humanity in the face of billions of years objective, though a regular lifetime subjective, her shipboard "son" and the AI in charge as they encounter something quite unusual. A great twist at the end just adds to the enjoyment.

  • “Events Preceding the Helvetican Renaissance”, John Kessel

  • (LS) ****

    "Brother" Adlan and Lieutenant Nahid of the Republican Guard fight the Caslonian Empire in Helvetica space; however much more is at stake than a simple rebellion. A very interesting tale of adventure, belief or lack thereof and sense of wonder; the one downside is the author style which does not quite match my tastes. If you like Mr. Kessel's fiction you will enjoy this a lot.

  • “To Go Boldly”, Cory Doctorow

  • (LS) unrated

    Sadly my literary tastes and Cory Doctorow' style are very divergent so I cannot rate this one; I fast browsed it and it seems to be a Trekkish parody but I cannot say more, it just does not hang together for me to truly make sense of it.

  • “The Lost Princess Man”, John Barnes

  • (LS) *****+

    This is one is both big time fun and has some deep undertones; In a huge galactic polity with quadrillions of humans and roughly several hundred of thousand princesses, con-man Aurigar plays the "lost princess con" only too well, bringing attention from mighty aristocrat Lord Leader Cetusa who wants to play the same game at another level.

    I just kept laughing out loud throughout the story though towards the ending it became darker and quite serious. Excellent and a big time highlight showing how effective short stories are for a tale that I am pretty sure will not work that well at novel length.

  • “Defect”, Kristine Kathryn Rusch

  • (LS) *****

    This story is not quite a space opera one but a dark sf adventure which succeeds very well mostly due to its atmosphere. A secret agent wants to quit and meet with her husband and son and offer them the chance to go with her and have new lives. But her last mission is haunting her and the cruise star-ship on which the two men vacation is savaged by a killer, only Misha the son being allowed to survive wounded in order to send a message.

  • “To Raise A Mutiny Betwixt Yourselves”, Jay Lake

  • (LS) ****

    In a post-empire humanity ftl travel needs strange paired-minds. There was something that did not quite mesh well for me in an otherwise interesting set-up, but overall a good story.

  • “Shell Game”, Neal Asher

  • (LS) *****

    Aliens who are built like mollusks with shells in the spiral Galaxy pattern believe that are on a mission from God to impose Its will. Meeting the Polity Line they cause some moderate mayhem as Polity wars go, until their expeditionary fleet is crushed. The Polity shrugs but the survivors from said mayhem want revenge. Neal Asher delivers his trademark ultra-high octane sf adventure with the usual not-so veiled attacks against superstition and obscurantism.

  • “Punctuality”, Garth Nix

  • (LS) unrated

    Another author with a very divergent style from my tastes; this one is short but again seems written in a foreign language and I could not make any sense of it; something with spaceships

  • “Inevitable”, Sean Williams

  • (LS) *****

    This is almost a 5 star plus story about the paradoxes of time travel and much more. The Interstellar Guild is building a human empire spanning thousands of worlds but the strange transcendental Structure which allows instantaneous travel within its thousands of light years span would be a big help if understood and tamed. However its inhabitants have different ideas and there is much more to them than meets the eye.

  • “Join The Navy and See the Worlds”, Bruce Sterling

  • (LS) unrated

    Same comment as with all unrated stories; unfair for me to rate them since they are so far from my taste that I cannot truly make any sense of them; this one is about a Solar System ride by a millionaire from what I glimpsed, but I may be wildly wrong.

  • “Fearless Space Pirates of the Outer Rings”, Bill Willingham

  • (LS) *****

    First time story for me from the author; it is again part pastiche, part serious. I enjoyed it thoroughly and I am quite interested in other offerings by the author. Danny Wells is the XO of the Merry Prankster raiding ship of the Outer Rings Confederacy and he is the only raider of the Confederacy belonging to a second rate race far in the boondocks of the Galaxy. Danny takes a bet from his Captain about whose Prize Crew will capture first an Oerlian merchant. The back story unfolds nicely showing among other things how having an old car that breaks down on you in the middle of nowhere can lead to riches and glory in the Galaxy(!) and the ending is just great but it would not do to spoil it. Big time fun!!

  • “From the Heart”, John Meaney

  • (LS) *****

    Pilots, mu-space and Carl Blackstone. Another triumphant return to the setting of an older favored series, this time the Nulapeiron universe of John Meaney. The story features the distinctive author style and if you love it make sure you check the original trilogy starting with the superb Paradox.

  • “Chameleons”, Elizabeth Moon

  • (LS) *****

    Another sf adventure rather than space opera proper and very successful too; former low-level mafia boy escapes poverty on his native "backwoods" Novice Station and becomes a highly paid trusted bodyguard of a VIP; assigned to accompany the early teens boys of the VIP on a trip, he has to stop over at Novice for a ship-change despite emphasizing to his employer who knows about his past, the utter inadvisability of that; when the connecting star ship is days late, boys will be boys so they cannot be contained in the luxurious transit hotel and they want to visit Novice. No need to say what will ensue, but a great story with twists, turns and great fun.

  • “The Tenth Muse”, Tad Williams

  • (LS) **** 1/2

    A story of an interstellar ship, a cabin boy that truly looks like a 10 year old despite being 43 and a linguist who may hold the key to the ship survival when fearsome aliens appear. A very good story overall, I found the style a bit flattish for me.

  • “Cracklegrackle”, Justina Robson

  • (LS) *****

    Another return to a space operatic favored universe of mine, this time the Forged, human based creatures gen-engineered for all kinds of environments including the cold vacuum of space. The Unity, Hyperion Greenjack, talking gryphons and more wonders populate this story which should lead the appreciating reader to Natural History and the rest of Ms. Robson tales set in this wonderful universe.

  • “The Tale of the Wicked”, John Scalzi

  • (LS) * 1/2

    I almost "unrated" this one too, but Mr. Scalzi sometimes writes SF on my taste (Old Man's War, Ghost Brigades, various short stories) so I felt qualified to comment this time; the story never clicked for me. A warship preparing to engage in an hostile pursuit may be sabotaged or at least that is what I got from it, but I really could not make too much sense.

  • “Catastrophe Baker and a Canticle for Leibowitz”, Mike Resnick

  • (LS) **** 1/2

    Fun parody of the famous sf novel title; Catastrophe Baker is a full-time freelance hero with a weakness for mysterious women and he cannot resist when Voluptua von Climax asks for help to recover the stolen canticle of producer Saul Leibowitz; I guess this synopsis says enough about the story, but it's pure fun to read and chuckle. Though the over-dramatic acts are less successful at eliciting laughter than the subtler humor of The Lost Princess Man or the Space Pirates tale above.

  • “The Far End of History”, John C. Wright

  • (LS) *****+

    This is just awesome, especially if you are a big time fan (like me) of the author's Golden Age debut trilogy. Here there are encounters with Atkins, the Lords of the Silent Oecumene and much more, but the opening line:

    "Once there was a world who loved a forest-girl"

    should hook you; the back-story is explained well enough so no need for reading the Golden Age novels before to enjoy this story, but everyone who loves it should try those superb novels. I really hope Mr. Wright will get back to the Oecumene milieu and write more novels about it!!


    Mark Chitty said...

    A shame that some of my favourites aren't included again this time around, but I'll be buying this one way or another in the future :)

    Liviu said...

    I was as surprised as you, but the anthology worked very well.

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