The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Our Favorite Anthologies of 2014

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First we have two short story collection volumes by authors we know, Lee Martindale and David Drake. Lee’s volume crosses all genres and David’s is mostly time travel to hunt dinosaurs.

We enjoyed all the stories in Bard’s Road: The Collected Fiction of Lee Martindale (June 1, 2014, HarpHaven), even re-reading those we had read in their original publication.  We bring you highlights of the volume, as its 29-story length makes it impractical to discuss all of them.

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Our favorite has to be “Combat Shopping”, the title of which has now become our code phrase for a frustrating shopping mall trip, particularly during the holiday season. Lee does humorous pieces extremely well and we particularly like her contributions to Esther Friesner’s anthologies.

“Old Age and Sorcery” has a slightly humorous bent, as it is from the viewpoint of an anthropomorphic cat, but is actually a look at how the older smart warrior can save everyone if the leader listens to his wisdom. We loved the different cat personalities shown in the story and would certainly like more stories in this odd universe.

“In the House of Sisters” really struck a chord with us, because we have been together since 1989 and our creative endeavors are joint projects. Atnari is unable to perform her craft without her soul mate and he can’t perform his either, but together they are excellent.

While Lee’s skill with humorous stories is well known, she also does more serious fiction well. “The Lady of Trade Town” is a heartrending piece which we read in its initial anthology appearance. She presents a couple more stories in this same setting in this volume, “Spinacre’s War” and “Lady Blaze”.  Her tale of Commander Spinacre and his horrible orders is a wonderful story about disabled veterans being rescued. The second a story set about twenty years later about the inhabitants of a bordello spaceship. All of these Trade Town stories have characters in them we would love to see again, so hopefully more in that universe is forthcoming.

Lee’s work covers many subgenres of science fiction and fantasy, so everyone is bound to find some stories they enjoy. Note that some have adult content and so may be unsuitable for younger teens without some adult supervision. All are good for reading aloud. This volume would make a good choice for reading in the car while making a long drive and also a good gift if you don’t know the specific reading habits of your SF/F loving friend.

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David Drake’s Dinosaurs and a Dirigible (Baen, September 2014) is a classic SF time travel adventure volume with a bonus proto-steampunk tale thrown in too. It contains all four Henry Vickers hunting adventures set during the Cretaceous period. All the tales are entertaining and have interesting characters. We particularly liked Adrienne Salmes Vickers and Molly Gueint. In old-school SF adventure tales like these strong female characters who don’t seem to be inserted for sex balance or eye candy are rare and these women are neither. This would be a great read for classic SF lovers.

Next we have a couple of volumes which focus on technology, one on robots and one on cyborgs. For readers who grew up reading Asimov robot stories, Robot Uprisings edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams (April 8, 2014, Vintage) was a pleasant surprise. The quote from President Obama was a great touch to show the reader how close some of these futures might really be. All the stories in the volume are worth a read, but we want to draw attention to some which struck a chord with us.

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In “Complex God” by Scott Sigler you see what happens when a young genius is allowed to freely develop technology without any oversight by someone who can see a larger picture. She discovers that accidently making sentient technology is not a good idea. We loved seeing the thoughts of poor Bill Jones’ robot in “Cycles” by Charles Yu. Is it really a “Lullaby” when you are putting murdering AIs to sleep? Appliances which connect to the internet automatically have no place in a secure facility as Mr. Jamal Killabrew learns after the fact in “Executable”.

One of the most touching stories in the volume is Cory Doctorow’s exploration of how you shut down an AI which is to be mothballed in “Epoch”. If the AI is a colleague you have worked with for years, how can you euthanize it even under orders? Julianna Baggott’s “The Golden Hour” makes you think about the horrors possible when humans let machines do everything and what type of future this could lead to.

Ian McDonald’s take on a Fantastic Voyage-like experience was a funny and also slightly horrifying view of the ways in which technology might be used for politics. John McCarthy was someone whose work Angela studied when in engineering at university, but she had no idea he wrote science fiction. His “The Robot and The Baby” takes literal instructions to a ridiculous extreme and illustrates what can happen when society accepts new technology but does not think of all the consequences.

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Upgraded (September 23, 2014, Wyrm) and edited by Neil Clarke, is a book of cyborg stories by someone who watched The Six Million Dollar Man as a child. We couldn’t resist picking up a physical copy of this since that show helped send Angela down her career path in biomedical engineering and we were also curious about how the show influenced the cyborged editor’s story choices. Mr. Clarke’s experience getting a defibrillator implanted caused him to think back on his childhood of watching cyborgs on television and led him to set up a Kickstarter campaign to edit his first volume of short fiction. Clarke’s experience with his online magazine shows in this volume, which has a variety of story types and settings, and diversity in characters and authors. The entire volume was interesting and sometimes thought-provoking. Some favorites were “Tong Tong’s Summer” by Xia Jia and translated by Ken Liu, and “Always the Harvest” by Yoon Ha Lee. These two explore aging, family, and love with human and cyborg characters. In Lee’s story there is not a human character, but cyborgs who had different origins and yet their love story is one of the most human in the entire volume.

Both of these volumes are good gift for tech-lovers or those interested in technological consequences.

Next we present four volumes which are less specific in the nature of the stories they contain. Two are science fiction, with one being the space opera subgenre, and two are fantasy, with one being the military high fantasy subgenre. Solaris Rising 3 (August 26, 2014, Solaris) edited by Ian Whates contains wonderful science fiction. Highlights include Ken Liu’s story about a grad student and how he deals with what he finds in the rain forest, Julie Czerneda’s police yarn of an odd modified human cop and his murder investigation and Nina Allan’s tale of a Russian police woman trying to solve the mystery of a small girl no one will claim.

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All the stories grabbed our attention and none had language which bogged down the story pace. The writers are from all over the planet and the settings and viewpoints of the stories reflect that diversity. This volume of original general science fiction far exceeds the quality and writing of any of those reprint volumes. This is a good choice for science fiction lovers.

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Space Opera (April 2, 2014, Prime Books) edited by Rich Horton is a new take on the concept found in the volume New Space Opera from several years ago. In fact, it contains a few of the same stories. It does however contain some wonderful new stories, so would be a good gift for lovers of this subgenre. Our favorite stories were “Boojum” by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, which focuses on a sentient spaceship and her crew which pirate other spaceships and “Lehr, Rex” by Jay Lake which is the tale of two ships crews, a blind elder space captain and how one crew finds the other shipwrecked crew.

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Fearsome Magics: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy (October 7, 2014, Solaris) edited by Jonathan Strahan is a collection of new fantasy stories which all feature some type of magic which has rules. In some stories the character manipulates the rules to their advantage (“The Dun Letter”) and in others the rules are the problem (“Grigori’s Solution”).  Some stories are just magically creepy (“The Nursery Corner”) and others seem like a different genre with magic added: in the case of “Hey, Presto!” it’s a British school holiday tale with illusionists added.

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Shattered Shields, edited by Jennifer Brozak and Bryan Thomas Schmidt (November 4, 2014, Baen), is an anthology of high fantasy military fiction, but it isn’t all just normal epic battles on battlefields. Some battles are fought by medics, like Croaker in Glen Cook’s Black Company Story “Bone Candy”, some by children like Dval, in David Farland’s “Starlight and Ash”, and others by musicians like Yael in John Fultz’s story “Yael of the Strings”. Even some stories depicting epic battles between soldiers are not fought by typical characters, like Jain and Coreo of the Bonded Legion in James L. Sutter’s “Bonded Men”, Sarah Hoyt’s von Richthofen dragonshifter, and the female centaurs in Cat Rambo’s “Hoofsore and Weary”.

Our favorite story was the coming-of-age story by Elizabeth Moon, entitled “First Blood”. It is set in her Paksennarion universe, which Angela has been reading since the first book appeared in 1988. This series is one of the first military fantasies with a female lead which Angela didn’t want to throw across the room because either the female characters or the battle tactics were rubbish. She has been following the series ever since. This particular story has a young male lead, but even in her own universe Paks is unusual for a female. Now that he has his spurs perhaps we will see young Luden again.

Rinehart and Correia gave us a peek into what will hopefully be new writing universes for them. We liked all the stories in the volume, although some could have used some more editing to remove the turgid prose and nonsensical description. Our biggest comment is this: “This volume has warriors of all types; why don’t we have novels with some of these non-typical characters?”

Both of these fantasy volumes would make a good choice for lovers of the genre. Since most fantasy involves battles of some sort, the focus on military activity in the Baen volume theme isn’t really noticeable since all the settings are so different and it has an interesting cross section of characters and fantasy settings and would be enjoyed by any fantasy reader.

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Lastly we present two very interesting volumes which focus on very specific subgenre. Two Hundred Twenty-One Baker Streets (October 7, 2014, Abaddon Books), edited by David Thomas Moore, is all alternative takes on Holmes, Watson, Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade with the characters changing sex, species, age, time period, location and primary occupation in some cases, but all remain recognizable.  All are well-written, interesting stories but because part of the fun is identifying everyone, we don’t want to give any of the stories away!   This is definitely the must-have for SF mystery lovers or Sherlock lovers who appreciate a good alternate universe.

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The Baen Big Book of Monsters (Baen, October 2014), edited by Hank Davis, is a giant monster themed book of classic-style science fiction stories. Some are old and some are new but all feature Kaiju. We loved the Correia tale about the next generation of characters in the Grimnoir universe which had Kaiju and as a bonus, Giant Robots! This volume is the perfect for Godzilla movie lovers as well as classic science fiction lovers.

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