Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review: Reach for Infinity

Title: Reach for Infinity
Editor: Jonathan Strahan
Pages: 339
ISBN: 9781781082034
Publisher: Solaris
Published: 2014
Genre: Science fiction / Short stories
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
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What happens when humanity reaches out into the vastness of space? The award-winning anthologies editor, Jonathan Strahan, is back with a stellar list of best-selling SF authors in a collection of all-new original stories.

The brightest names in science fiction contribute new original fiction to this amazing anthology, including new stories by Alastair Reynolds, Greg Egan, Ian McDonald, Ken Macleod, Pat Cadigan, Karl Schroeder, Hannu Rajaniemi, Karen Lord, Adam Roberts, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Aliette de Bodard, Peter Watts, and others!

I think the best description of the 14 stories included in Reach for Infinity comes from Strahan himself, “Many of the stories take place on Earth in the next hundred years, looking at points in time where people, or a person, look to make a critical difference and push forward towards something greater. Some of them take snapshots from places – deep within the future colonies of Mars or perched in the chromosphere of the sun – where humanity as a whole is pushing its boundaries and stretching its limits in order to achieve more. All of them are about, one way or another, reaching for infinity from within and without.” It perfectly captures the essence and tone of the stories you’ll find in the anthology.

For me the best thing about short stories, anthologies in particular, is the ability to discover work by unfamiliar authors. In this respect Reach for Infinity definitely delivered. Two of my favourite stories are from authors I haven’t encountered before, which was a pleasant surprise since most of the really big names in SF are represented.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the stories and each one fits in well with the overall theme. As is always the case there were some stories that resonated more with me than others. For the sake of brevity I’ll highlight seven of my favourites. I know that’s half of the entire anthology, but I couldn’t trim it down further.

Break my fall – Greg Egan
A trip to Mars turns into a daring rescue operation when a CME threatens the lives of the passengers. The story portrays a very interesting concept of traveling between Earth and Mars and the ending is completely heart-wrenching. Great imagery and a stunning start to the anthology.
He rode up in airless silence, unable to turn his gaze to the side to look across at the stars. All he could see was the rock straight above him, cycling through its ten-second days and nights: a lighthouse, a prison, a safe port for all the loneliness and grief to come.

The Dust Queen - Aliette de Bodard
Salvaging childhood memories of home comes at a huge cost to the parties involved; a loss of self, of creativity, but also hope. Hope in the form of performances drawn in the dusts of Mars, a reminder of a future yet to come for the descendents of those watching over the terraforming of the planet. A touching, thought-provoking tale with a refreshing infusion of Vietnamese culture.
Going into someone’s brain is almost like being in space: that curious sensation of hanging, weightless, like floating in water without the water; of hanging in darkness with the stars around her like hairpin wounds in the fabric of the heavens.

The Fifth Dragon - Ian McDonald
This is a touching story about pioneers on the Moon, indebted to companies by the very act of living as they sculpt the lunar landscape into a new foothold for humanity. Two friends become lovers as the Moon takes its toll in bone-density, dreams and money, but it also offers countless opportunity for those brave enough to spot and embrace them.
The scan was routine. Every moon worker has one every four lunes. Achi was called, she went into the scanner. The machine passed magnetic fields through her body and when she came out the medic said, you have four weeks left.
Coffee is the drug of memory. I can remember the great cups of coffee of my life; the places, the faces, the words spoken. It never quite tastes the way it smells. If it did, we would drink it until our heads exploded with memory.

Report Concerning the Presence of Seahorses on Mars - Pat Cadigan
The populace of Mars emancipate themselves in a most peculiar way. I loved how the title only makes sense once you’ve read the story. The use of reality TV/crowd sourcing as funding for the Mars colonies might be quite prophetic if Mars One ever manages to get off the ground.

Amicae Aeternum - Ellen Klages
How do you bid farewell to an entire world? A young girl says goodbye to everything she knows, to everything she’ll never be able to do and to a friend she’ll have to leave behind. Her only solace is in an artefact of friendship she’ll take with her to the stars. This was definitely my favourite story in the anthology. It’s an extremely touching story of leave-taking with just the right mix of hope in the end. I think we all need to experience a day like this to rediscover the joy in the simple things around us.
The grass was chill and damp beneath her bare feet. She let them rest on it for a minute, the freshly-mowed blades tickling her toes, her heels sinking into the springy-sponginess of the dirt. She breathed deep, to catch it all – the cool and the green and the stillness – holding it in for as long as she could before slipping on her shoes.

A morning to remember. Every little detail.

Trademark Bugs: A Legal History - Adam Roberts
A disconcerting tale of corporations infecting people with designer germs in order to sell them the cure. I was sceptical of the legal style of the narration, but in the end it was an extremely effective way to tell the story, especially taking into account the increasingly litigious way large corporations handle trademark issues.

Wilder Still, the Stars - Kathleen Ann Goonan
Artificial people viewed as mere disposable tools turn out to be far more capable than their human creators. Through our creations, our successors we will inherit the stars. I loved the complexity of the themes at play – the love of astronomy and how our dreams can live on through others.

The Verdict:
Reach for Infinity has a stellar array of both authors and stories that explores humanity grasping for a place amongst the stars. Beautifully written, captivating, touching, but most importantly filled with that unique sense of wonder only great science fiction can provide. Don’t be scared off by the hard science fiction label. Science is used to set the stage, but these stories are overflowing with human emotion and spirit even if it sometimes takes unexpected forms. While some of the stories appealed more than others, they were all thoroughly enjoyable reads. If you are looking for a way to dip your toes into hard science fiction then this anthology would be a great starting point – a true showcase of what hard SF has to offer. Definitely recommended.

The Rating: 7/10 (Very good)

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