The Starry Rift by Jonathan Strahan

Viking Juvenile April 2008
ISBN 978-0670060597

Often considered the literature of ideas, Science Fiction (and fantasy) is where imagination and fact converge to give readers potential presents and extrapolated futures. In The Starry Rift, Editor Jonathan Strahan gathered 16 of today’s preeminent science fiction/fantasy writers to survey current society and project where it might go through the eyes of youthful protagonists.

Ass-Hat Magic Spider by Scott Westerfeld (Uglies, Midnighters, The Risen Empire, Peeps) kicks off the anthology. The story here is no different showcases a hopeful future not just for humanity’s survival, but for the future and power of storytelling and books.

Orange by Neil Gaiman is more of a guessing game than a story, as the tale takes the form of survey answers provided without questions. The story works very well as an illuminating look at a family changed by one child’s contact with extra-terrestrial contact. I was reflexively providing the questions to the answers as I read through the story.

What I’ve read of Kelly Link’s short fiction in the past has worked very well for me, unfortunately The Surfer proves the exception to the rule. On the one hand, the story plays with language in an interesting way, but the rhythm (or lack thereof) proved too off-putting for me to really enjoy it.

Stephen Baxter consciously evokes golden age sf stories in the vein of the Robert A. Heinlein juveniles to great effect in Repair Kit. Baxter has been called a logical successor to the late Arthur C. Clarke for his ability to blend science and story so very well and that ability is on full display in the story here. A great space adventure in jeopardy turns to its scientist/inventor/snake-oil salesman for help.

The Dismantled Invention of Fate by Jeffrey Ford is a strange story, even more so than most of his stories, but just as endearing. Ford says this story is an homage to Moorcock and in many respects it works in that fashion. The tale of an astronaut’s lost love, strange and powerful aliens, and colorful landscapes strongly evokes Golden Age SF tales that appeared in the pulps, I can almost see this story’s cover by Frank Kelly Freas.

In Anda’s Game, Cory Doctorow plays with one of SF’s landmark novels (Ender’s Game) and the ramifications of online gaming. This is a story with a Message, not unlike Little Brother, but also like Little Brother, Doctorow’s skill at telling the story cautioning potential personal health issues related to extensive online gaming makes the story just that, a good story.

Immigration is the theme of Ian McDonald’s The Dust Assassin, but not your normal immigrants. The immigrants here are from different times and worlds and are dealt with in a manner not too dissimilar to those attempting to gain citizenship today.

The Star Surgeon’s Apprentice by Alastair Reynolds might be the most fun story of the anthology, mixing space pirates, youthful exuberance, and a potentially blossoming young love. Like the best stories in this anthology it evokes that double Golden Age SF – when one first discovers the genre and the space-adventures of the pulps.

Post-Ironic Stress Syndrome by Tricia Sullivan is another story about mass-online gaming and virtual environments, but she takes a slightly different tract with very good results.

Garth Nix’s (The Abhorsen Trilogy & The Keys to the Kingdom) Infestation is a fun, unexpected, and engaging look at alien vampires (reminiscent of E.E. Knight’s Vampire Earth). There’s more to tell here and of the stories in this anthology, I think this is the one I’d most like to see expanded into novel length form.

Pinocchio by Walter Jon Williams is a really interesting story that may be the most relevant to today’s society in many ways. Here, Williams turns his authorial voice to gossip, child stars, and the hunger for popularity on a global scale. Perhaps this story rang even more true because I realize there is now a TV show where former teen heartthrobs are seeking to recapture their lost fame.

Other stories include. Ann Halam’s Cheats, Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Sundiver Day, Incomers by Paul McAuley, An Honest Day’s Work by Margo Lanagan, and Lost Continent by Greg Egan

All told, The Starry Rift is an excellent collection, for both the assortment of top notch authors and the many ‘flavors’ of science fiction on display. Each story is accompanied by a brief author bio and a paragraph from the author giving their snapshot view of the story. The Starry Rift should remain a genre benchmark for years to com as an invitation to younger readers to sample some today’s most insightful and imaginative voices. Highly recommended.

© 2009 Rob H. Bedford

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