Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Back (and Engineering Infinity)

Alright. I'm in the new city, and I've started the new job. Haven't found a place to live yet, but that'll come. I've had lots of opportunity for reading (and lots of relaxing time away from the computer), so it's time to get back to it.

I'm going to say a few words about Engineering Infinity, the anthology by Jonathan Strahan that I mentioned earlier. I found this one to be a bit patchy. There were some stories in it that I really enjoyed, but just as many that didn't really grab me.
It's billed as hard science fiction, but Strahan notes in the introduction that the anthology "moved away from pure hard SF to something a little broader." I actually think this is perhaps its biggest weakness. It isn't laser-focussed, so I couldn't really read it as a bunch of different authors poking around the same ideas. Conversely, it wasn't really broad enough to entertain me with variety. This kind of thing works fine in best-of-the-year collections, where each story is a gem, but I think I prefer more (or less) focus in my general anthologies.

As I say, though, it did have some stories in it that I really enjoyed:

-- "The Invasion of Venus", by Stephen Baxter. What happens when aliens rock up in our solar system, but they're only here to exchange fire with other aliens living on Venus? I think I liked the sheer size of the conflict in this one, coupled with the way it was told from the very personal perspective of two old friends on Earth. Interesting also because I'm not usually a huge fan of Stephen Baxter.

-- "The Server and the Dragon", by Hannu Rajaniemi. A sentient server in a galaxy-wide network drifts lonely and unused around a star on a very wide orbit, until it is one day visited by a (digital) dragon. I'd call this one a hard space opera story, and that's probably why I liked it. I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.

-- "The Birds and the Bees and the Gasoline Trees", by John Barnes. A novel take on the panspermia theory. Cool things here were the central idea -- big and dramatic, and a new take on an old bit of SF -- and the partially-explored background of one of the main characters, an android created for the purpose of solar system exploration. I don't think I've read anything else by John Barnes, so I'll have to see what I can find.

Honorable mentions go to Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Watching the Music Dance" (a nice bit of anthropological SF), Peter Watts' "Malak" (perhaps the most typical hard SF story of the bunch), and both Karl Schroeder's "Laika's Ghost" and Charles Stross' "Bit Rot" (for the sheer gonzo joy of them).

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