Review: Reach for Infinity edited by Jonathan Strahan

ReachfIPublished by: Solaris
ISBN: 1781082030
ISBN 13: 9781781082034
Published: May 2014
Pages: 352
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Publisher Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

An anthology of original fiction is based around the premise of humanity spreading out into space. This is the third in the Infinity anthology series, with the first two being Edge of Infinity and Engineering Infinity.

For an anthology it feels short at just fourteen short stories, even though together they clock in at 352 pages – a decent size for a book. From well known authors and with Strahan’s seal on the deal, you’re confident in knowing that you’re going to have a worthy collection in front of you.

Break My Fall by Greg Egan

A group of people are setting out to inhabit Mars, and we’re lead by the man who runs the shuttle between Earth and Mars to get them there. We see how an everyday (well, I’m sure it takes longer than a day, yes) run goes slightly wrong, and the decisions that have to be made when lives are on the line. How do you choose when lives are at stake, but reacting shall only endanger more lives? Do you cut your losses and strive on, or does the part that makes us human require us to at least try to save those lives, when you’re their only hope?

I liked the technical aspect of this short – how company rules state only a certain amount of family can be on any shuttle at one time – in case something goes horribly wrong, so that the whole or a large chunk or family aren’t lost at once. I’ve been meaning to read Greg Egan for a while, and this just may push me along.

The Dust Queen by Aliette de Bodard

Technology exists that enables you to choose whether you want to choose memories to become more or less vivid. Doing such a thing can only mean sacrifices, whether it’s immediate or later on. This piece was surprisingly sentimental, which grounded it in an otherwise foreign setting and plot (clearly, as it’s depended on the technology). The writing is beautifully descriptive but other than that this piece left me a little cold for some reason.

The Fifth Dragon by Ian McDonald

Set on the moon during its development, we meet two girls from Brazil and Syria, who become friends and then something more during their posting. They’ve taken contracts to work on the moon for a stint, and then we also get to see them come to the time when they must decide whether they’ll stay on the moon, or return to Earth before their bodies lack the strength to withstand gravity.

Again, another sentimental story, though this one was rather more bittersweet, or managed to resonate with me more than the previous.

Khuldyu by Karl Schroeder

A contractor employed to tidy up certain events or people, rather in James Bond style. This is rather grand, an American style movie feel to the whole thing, however my attention kept slipping throughout as the characters felt flat and I just didn’t care for them. This almost felt like it’s a short story taken from a bigger world, so perhaps, having not read anything else staring this character, I’m missing out on the bigger picture.

Report Concerning the Presence of Seahorses on Mars by Pat Cadigan

Colonists from Mars essentially funded by being part of a planet-wide reality show for those back on Earth, which leads to a certain amount of disregard. This piece shows how they would develop years away from Earth now, written with a light voice and witty characters, that makes it seem like there could be a whole series behind this one also – but in a better, more enticing way, that makes you eager to hunt out and read more.

I was particularly interested in the idea of Earth banning those on Mars to have kids, but due to the wording – females becoming pregnant – it of course leads to men attempting to have children of their own.

Hiraeth: A Tragedy in Four Acts by Karen Lord

A cyborg who struggles to understand his identity, and that of those around him. The choices he makes make the reader connect with the cyborg effectively.

In this, if you’re in space, you’ll eventually contract a disease where the only cure (or way to deal with it) is to make yourself less and less human. With a way that ties the ending to the beginning, this was probably one of my favourite pieces in the anthology overall.

Amicae Aeternum by Ellen Klages

A simple story that lasts with you, that shows that no matter how far afield humans may eventually get, simple things such as friendship shall still ring true, and that goodbyes are simply hard – no matter how much sense the decision may be.

This was another of the stronger pieces within the anthology, seeming so simple on the outside and yet resonating with the reader in a touching, sweet way.

Trademark Bugs: A Legal History by Adam Roberts

This one had a sense of humour that appealed to me, but I can see how some may not have liked it nearly as much as I do. Here we have a company who makes their money by curing people… after they’re the people who infected them in the first place!

Presented in dry, sarcastic humour in legal documents, this is a non-fiction fiction, much like World War Z or House of Leaves, it’s presented in a non-fiction style whilst, of course, being utter fiction – thank goodness!

The problem with this one is that I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this hasn’t already happened, somewhere.

Attitude by Linda Nagata

A young-adult piece (whereas most of the other pieces here felt directed towards more of an adult audience), Attitude is a game that reminded me quite a bit of sports you see in Final Fantasy video games. That however, wasn’t enough to sell it to me, and this piece just didn’t manage to grab my attention.

Invisible Planets by Hannu Rajaniemi

A story inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

A sentient spaceship that thinks back upon the planets it has travelled to, and the things it has experienced. Told in an abstract form that somehow suits the sentient format, this seemed to be trying a little too hard to be absurd. It would have been interesting, effective and simply enough to find the beauty and enjoyment in things that make fact – but I think this one went somewhat over my head. I mean, it’s Hannu Rajaniemi – what do I know?

Wilder Still, the Stars by Kathleen Ann Goonan

A woman much older than we manage to live to now, combines her knowledge and experience, along with the friends and contacts she’s made in her 130 years, to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. We see an inspiring piece of work that takes care to describe the setting in a beautiful way.

This is a piece that makes you smile, and hope that more people would be willing to do something similar. Though having just watched Transcendence, it made me wonder about those that would oppose her, and wonder if this were fact, what other obstacles she would meet along the way.

‘The Entire Immense Superstructure’: An Installation by Ken MacLeod

An interesting beginning; we see the main character making a political statement by trying to kill himself publicly. This just goes to show that people always say that the future will be bigger and better and more fair, and that the shan’t be such a divide between the grossly rich and the insignificant poor, and that we’ll have more time to ourselves because technology will make everything easier… this is the piece that gives a much more believable view.

This was incredibly engaging, however I would have liked to see even more of the world as parts didn’t feel as developed or succinct as they could have. I could probably read a novel set in this world with this plot.

In Babelsberg by Alastair Reynolds

An incredibly effective piece, this feels like how the anthology should have ended. Here we have beautiful writing and description, yet it’s also so incredibly creepy that it stays with you, and holds your attention beautifully. And what an ending!

This piece asks the questions that most AI science fiction asks, and it does it well.

Hotshot by Peter Watts

Another piece that seemed to be set amongst their bigger works, Hotshot didn’t feel well-rounded to me, as though I’m missing details having not read previous works showing this character. Somewhat of a low to end on.

~

Overall this is a short, interesting anthology, however it didn’t manage to capture me as well as some others I’ve read this year.

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