The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows
An Original Science Fiction Anthology by Jonathan Strahan
Viking, 2008

A collection of science fiction short stories written for young adults. As mentioned in the subtitle, these stories were written for this anthology, with one exception made for Cory Doctorow's contribution. Overall this is a good collection of stories, but not a wonderful one. It does give a good selection of SF, and may introduce young readers to authors that they might not otherwise discover, but I don't feel that the stories in this collection always represent an example the author's best work. Even so, it is a good read, and is quite enjoyable even if you have been reading SF for decades. It contains:


Ass-Hat Magic Spider by Scott Westerfeld

A quite short story about the sacrifices one has to make if one wishes to emigrate to another planet. Given that Westerfeld's name is likely to be one of the biggest draws for the target audience, I was surprised to find that his story was only nine pages long, and didn't have anything in the way of action or excitement. It is however, an excellent story, and I have no complaints.


Cheats by Ann Halam

A story about kids living in a future where full-immersion VR is as common and easy as the internet is today. They spend their days canoeing, skiing, and hiking, inside the computer. But the story starts on an unusual day - they come across someone with an impressive set of cheat codes. As it turns out, a very impressive set of cheat codes. A bit too much magic-flavored for my taste, but well written.


Orange by Neil Gaiman

This is just half of a story. It is the transcript of the answers (but not the questions) of a girl whose sister was transformed into a powerful monster and contacted by aliens. It is entertaining, but a bit confusing and overall not really what one hopes for when one hears the name Gaiman.


The Surfer by Kelly Link

A surfer is picked up by aliens, and starts a cult. The rest of the world marches on, having more serious troubles to deal with -- pandemics, political discord, and all the various problems that we hope that the future will fix, but it didn't. This story has a slightly chaotic Connie Willis feel to it -- everyone milling around in a slightly ridiculous situation, with no one in control or really knowing what's going on. I enjoyed it.


Repair Kit by Stephen Baxter

A tribute to the over-the-top and often intentionally silly space adventure of yore. A state-of-the-art space cruiser is sent out to test out some new technology, and unsurprisingly, they are stranded in the deepest of space when the new technology fails. They are forced to use all of their creativity to solve the problem. Sadly lacking a bit in both logic and interesting characters, this was a bit of a stinker.


The Dismantled Invention of Fate by Jeffrey Ford

A rather dense and dreamy story, a science fiction version of the rich and epic fairy tales of South American Magical Realism. A dying astronaut/space adventurer remembers the adventures of his life, and the adventures of his life come back to remember him. The story is full of interesting twists and surprises, so I am hesitant to give too detailed a review, but I highly recommend it.

This story was inspired by the works of Michael Moorcock. As I have never read either Ford or Moorcock before, I cannot compare styles, but I can say that this story is well worth reading even if you have not been introduced to these folks before.


Anda's Game by Cory Doctorow

...is already noded. But not reviewed. As with most of Cory Doctorow's works, Anda's Game was released under a modified Creative Commons License, and you can find it on-line (and on E2). It is a real-life adventure set in a MMORG, and isn't so much science fiction as sociological fiction -- which is a lot less boring than it sounds. Anda discovers that her computer game affects real people with real problems, and has to undertake some quite exciting fake adventures as she sorts matters out. A very good story.

Cory Doctorow wrote this in part as an homage to Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, and while the stories are very different, there are a number of obvious parallels. You will probably find this story a little more amusing if you have read Ender's Game, and you should obviously read Ender's Game anyway. But Anda's Game will stand quite well on it's own if you read it first.


Sundiver Day by Kathleen Ann Goonan

An interesting story about a young girl (who happens to be a bit of a genius) living in the near future in Key West. She clones local fish as a hobby, and her brother is a tricked out cybernetic-nano-enhanced warrior for the military, but for the most part this story has limited intrusion by fantastic technology. I suppose it is a dealing-with-loss story, but it is mostly character and setting driven. A fun story, even given that it deals with sadness and loss.

This is a sneak peek at an upcoming novel by Goonan, currently titled The Water Rats, and may be a chapter or two in that book. There is no news yet on when or even if this book will actually be finished.


The Dust Assassin by Ian McDonald

A story about a young Indian princess, whose family is carrying out a centuries-long was with a rival family. A surprise attack manages to take out her father, and she is forced into exile to plan her revenge against apparently impossible odds. Somewhat slow moving, the author tries to make the experience of reading about a new culture and the trappings of the royal court into a central attraction of the story; I do not feel that he was successful. However the mix of traditional India and future technology was well done, and it's not a bad story overall, although certainly not one of my favorites.


The Star Surgeon's Apprentice by Alastair Reynolds

A young man on the run from the law signs on with the first ship that will take him - an old run-down starship looking for a surgeon's apprentice. The job turns out to be rather less savory than you might expect. And moreover, there seems to be some deep dark secrets that the captain is trying to hide from him. A pretty good take on classic space adventuring; slightly silly, rather gruesome (in a fun way!), and overall well worth reading.


An Honest Day's Work by Margo Lanagan

A rather odd story; a future where humans on a strange alien planet make a living processing gigantic aliens that are towed in from the sea. Very reminiscent of a poor whaling town, except on a much larger scale. The story takes place on the day of an unusual catch, but this does not really seem to be the point of the story. The author is painting a picture of a big event in an alien lifestyle on an alien world, and a large part of the fun is in trying to figure out what exactly is going on. Not really my sort of story, but well enough written.


Lost Continent by Greg Evans

A story set in a expanded universe of parallel worlds connected by 'time storms'; Ali lives in a variation of the ancient Middle East, which is war-torn by time travelling religious fanatics. He is smuggled out of his native land to try to escape the wars, only to discover that the 'safe' land on the other side of the time storm is nearly as bad as the one he came from. A good story, but the ending is not particularly satisfying.


Incomers by Paul McAuley

A story about teenagers getting in trouble on Saturn's moon Rhia. A strange man - an incomer, an immigrant from a heavier gravity well - is walking around the city like he belongs there, and they can't help but suspect that he might be a spy. The setting of this story is wonderful - the city is crowded and chaotic and wonderfully varied in its designs. The story, however, leaves something to be desired, being rather anticlimactic. However, it did make me curious to see what the author would do if he were given a full novel to fill, so I guess it served its purpose.


Post-Ironic Stress Syndrome by Tricia Sullivan

Teenagers are hooked up to an hyperspace interface that maps every point on their bodies to locations of mega-corporations across the galaxy, and engage in formal (but violent, even deadly) sparring. Each hit directs the war machine of their corporation, and millions of lives can be lost during the course of a fight. This makes even less sense in the story than it does here. However, the story is fine aside from the central premise, and if you can suppress your eye-rolling at the setup, it's a pretty good story.


Infestation by Garth Nix

A spoof on the traditional vampire tale, with a twist to make it true SF. In the near future there is a vampire outbreak, and while the military is obviously all over that, the government has decided to licence private vampire hunters to have a first shot at vampire nests. If the private hunters fail, then the armed forces come in to clean up the mess. The story begins on the eve of a very special hunt, when an under-dressed and much-too-casual surfer dude shows up and starts teaching the other hunters how it's really done. Silly, but good fun.


Pinocchio by Walter Jon Williams

A most excellent story. In the future children are rare - but not so rare that teen idols can't make good living. Sanson has, to his surprise, become a bit of a media star, apparently because he's good at talking about what life as a teenager is like. But this fame comes back to bite him when he takes money for endorsing a product (a body-mod that involves letting nanos reform your body into a gorilla), and suddenly his followers start to leave him. He resorts to more and more drastic measures to remain popular. An excellent story, and perhaps the best thing by Williams that I have read. And a very satisfying end to the anthology, too, I might add.



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