It’s Book Review time again, Happy Readers!
This is another anthology I discovered at LibertyCon this year. It’s a decent read, and I can recommend it. It has a lot of old-school vibe to it, so be prepared for Golden Age Goodness if you pick it up.
Final Frontiers: an anthology of stories from classic and contemporary masters that explores the wide-open frontier that may await humanity when we take to the stars.
DON’T YOU KNOW YOUR FUTURE IS IN SPACE?
Since the dawn of time, humankind has felt the urge to explore the four corners of our globe. To push at the boundaries of our world and discover what lies over the horizon. And since the dawn of science fiction, writers have wondered about the next frontier: the one that lies Out There.
Here then, a generous collection of stories that reach out into the unknown void, finding awe, wonder, other minds—even terror. But always going beyond the world we know to explore a universe strange beyond the outermost limits of human imagination. Stories of brave men and women who risk all to explore, colonize, and settle the vast reaches of space.
This is a collection of mostly old, but some new, short stories about what it might be like as mankind begins to expand outward to the planets and even the stars themselves. The collection is well orchestrated, and I really appreciated the editor introduction to each of the stories. I thought the anthology was a really good balance of golden age and modern tales and they all certainly matched the theme. There are some really good ones here from some well-known names in science fiction. There are a few (rare) stinkers, but even those are worth reading to get a sense of the times in which they were written. If you are looking for good Space Adventure sci-fi, you can certainly find it here.
What follows are individual story reviews. The way I reach my overall rating is to review each story (0-5 stars) and average them together for the book. For this anthology, I give 3.1 stars overall, and I call it a Well Ordered Read.
Be warned, the individual reviews probably contain spoilers:
Third Stage by Poul Anderson (3 stars)
Technical failure of the first manned spacecraft to pass into the Van Allen Belt leads to tragedy as one astronaut must sacrifice himself to save the other… but who decides which one?
I found this one to be a very cynical (and dated) take on the role of media and politics and the space race. The ending was terrific though.
Becalmed In Hell by Larry Niven (5 stars)
What do you do when your little-brainship-that-could develops a psychosis and can’t while you are in the Hellscape that is the atmosphere of Venus? Whatever it takes.
An awesome mix of future tech speculation, hard science, and twist ending. One of Niven’s many great short stories.
Delilah and the Space-Rigger by Robert A. Heinlein (1 stars)
Building Space Station One is moving along just fine until the powers that be send up one woman to work with the all-male crew.
So, I’m torn on this one. The crew boss is adamantly against the woman being on his crew. Not because she can’t do the job, but because he’s afraid she’ll be a distraction to the men. Now, I get that times have changed. And ultimately, the story has the boss get his head straight and recognize the inevitability, and even the benefit to moral, of women coming on board. But, I just have to ask why it’s so hard to keep control of yourself when it comes to the opposite sex? Was it ever really that hard, or have we always made a space station out of a molehill by overreacting like the boss in this story did? I think the answer is yes, but that’s just me. And since the overreaction is all this story is about, I didn’t care for it.
Expedition by Fredric Brown (4 stars)
Equality demands that random choice determine the gender mix of the first mission to Mars. The result is highly improbable, but statistically possible with one man and twenty-nine women. The ultimate result is, well, just read it for yourself.
OK, now this one was funny! It’s ridiculous and I love it. It’s very short. Read it.
Not Yet the End by Fredric Brown (4 stars)
The merciless aliens seek out intelligent slaves to do their bidding. Their arrive at Earth could spell our doom… but they too suffer from the all too human failure called… assumption.
Another funny and short tale. I’m starting to like the guy. May have to go look up more of his stories. [edit: I did. Found several on Project Gutenberg. Read them. Liked Them. Looking for more.}
Superweapon by David Drake (4 stars)
The discovery of a sentient AI spaceship of unbelievable destructive power is just what the powers that be need to help decisively win their coming war. They are quite pissed that the Survey Section has kept the discovery hidden while studying it. The Survey Section is glad they did.
An excellent story of Brains vs Brawns where the question of “if we should” is put forward in a unique way. Loved it.
In From The Commons by Tony Daniel (2 stars)
The long voyage to the stars uses a unique method of stasis and retention of consciousness, and the consequences of such may be the next step in human evolution.
A strange story. I’m not completely certain I understood what was going one even when I reached the end. I’m not a fan of this type of psychologically esoteric tale. I’m reminded of the conclusion of Author C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End… which I also did not like.
Home Front by Sarah A. Hoyt & Jeff Greason (5 stars)
If you’re going to invade the moon to prove to the world how hyper-competent you are… make sure you’re at least competent.
Great story with plenty of suspense, good science, and a plausable socio-political setup.
Incident on Calypso by Murray Leinster (3 stars)
A stranded astronaut on a moon of Jupiter (that never existed, but who knew at the time) waits for his supplies to run out before he dies. Discovery of some robotic aliens have a drastic effect on his last hours.
A decent but dated story. I don’t like the ones from the 40s & 50s where the MC gets all mad and barrels through the solution to complain about the problem though. Still, not a bad tale with an imaginative alien race. That Leinster’s a swell guy! And why shouldn’t he be, for Pete’s sake!
All The Traps Of Earth by Clifford D. Simak (1 star)
A robot who’s been allowed to live long past the mandatory one hundred year reset (600 in fact) has seen the last of his family of owners die off without heirs. Now, to survive with his memories intact, he must become an outlaw. On his travels, though, he has a journey of discovery that no robot has ever had before.
A too long short story that just was not that good to me. There are five different environments that you move through that were not fleshed out well enough for me to enjoy them. The robot has an eerie feel to it as it tries to decide what it should become. The end is happy, but it could easily have been Skynet on a galactic scale. It’s hard to put my finger on what I didn’t like about it, but I just didn’t. YMMV.
The Cave of Night by James E. Gunn (3 star)
Another astronaut in need of rescue story. Potential tragedy looms for the first man in space when his ship malfunctions. Launched in secret, the only ship of its kind is in trouble, and the country must unite to send a rescue mission before it’s too late.
Not a great read, exactly, but the concept is interesting and the twist ending is great since I didn’t figure it out. Sympathy motivates action for a cause even when the basis is a lie, but it’s fine as long as no one finds out. Right???
He Fell Into A Dark Hole by Jerry E. Pournelle (5 stars)
A tale from the early CoDominium. The suppression of science has resulted in the stifling of development of man’s knowledge of their own universe and how to cope with it. When several ships disappear—ships that will be needed for the war that is surely coming—something must be done, and sacrifices must be made.
An excellent story with a unique set of personal circumstances for the main characters that makes it one to remember. The science of the Alderson drive and the discovery of black holes are an awesome intermingling of hard science with fictional science.
What’s It Like Out There by Edmond Hamilton (2 stars)
A survivor of the Mars Expedition II on his way home makes stops to tell the families of his fellow expedition members how they died. Unfortunately, the truth is too hard to share.
Very poignant, but also a bit depressing. It was also completely unrealistic in its methodology. The exploration of Mars would never be done with a ‘storming the beaches of Normandy’ feel to it. And that’s what this story essentially is, a soldier of a horrendous war returning home to tell the families about what happened to his buddies, but he can’t because the truth is too gruesome… so he smiles and waves and lets them keep thinking it was all great things that went on on Mars.
The Man Who Lost The Sea by Theodore Sturgeon (5 stars)
I can’t even tell you what this one is about without spoiling it. You’ll just have to read it.
The writing involves a lot of flashback and is almost written as a stream of consciousness story. It instantly pulls you into the mind of the narrator and you ‘feel’ and ‘know’ what’s happening even as it’s dribbled out to you a bit at a time. Finally, you are slapped with the ending and you just need to stop and say ‘Wow!’
The Parliament of Owls by Christopher Ruocchio (4 stars)
A down-on-his-luck interplanetary Repo Man is stuck on an unterraformed world in the back-end of nowhere doing whatever it takes to make enough credits to get back to the green of his home planet.
A very noir vibe set on a far away planet where crime is frowned upon, but only punished by those that can afford to protect their investments. Gritty and intense and action packed at the right moments. A nice short story that could certainly be made into an even bigger universe of writing if the author chose to do so. I’d buy it!
Quietus by Ross Rocklynne (5 stars)
Avicentric bias leads to trouble for the human survivors of Earth’s apocalypse.
This one is terrific. I like seeing old ideas stood on their head. In this story, intelligent bird-like aliens find Earth has a few survivors, but their own bias leads to some serious trouble. I liked the story, and I was shocked by the ending. More than that will spoil it.
Men Against the Stars by Manly Wade Wellman (0 stars)
In 1938 an author believes that we will conduct space exploration by forcing people to do it at gunpoint. Also, we can’t do research on why ships blow up and fix it, we just have to gamble we make it.
That’s a very facetious blurb, but it is what the story is about. I don’t mind spoiling it because it’s so dumb. Quit reading and skip to the next story if you don’t want the Cliff’s Notes version.
A military setup is in place to run the space program. Every rocket that’s sent to Mars is so dangerous that only 7% have survived the trip. There’s no communication with them either (remember, 1938), but we keep shooting them off until the Major in charge develops a conscience and refuses to force anyone else to go. He gets knocked out by the MC, and the reluctant astronauts are charged with mutiny, one is even shot, and the rest forced to keep launching… literally at gunpoint. The main character who shot the ‘mutineer’ is soon to be arrested—the woman who has followed him to the moon because she’s in love no longer feels that way because he’s a murderer’s murderer now, and refuses to tell the truth to the people who are there to arrest him—but he runs and hides… on the moon. *smh* Finally, the woman tells the whole story just as a providential rocket comes back from Mars (MC thought it was the mutineers returning and was going to have them arrested… seriously) with survivors and an explanation (and a fix) for why the rockets keep blowing up. MC grabs the ship and heads to Mars because that’s all he ever wanted to do anyway. The End.
The reason I don’t even give it 1 star is because the editor’s intro billed it as a really great story about dedicated men showing courage and determination. Uh, no. They were forced to go kill themselves at gunpoint. It was not a war nor a military invasion where battlefield discipline applies, so I call complete and total bullshit.
Over the Top by Lester del Rey (3 stars)
Midget crash lands on Mars and is saved by alien lifeforms. World comes together to rescue him instead of blowing each other up.
Very similar to Incident on Calypso with cool aliens instead of robots and a side order of World Kumbaya. Pretty good. I liked the aliens.
Kyrie by Poul Anderson (5 stars)
Humanity conducts a joint exploration mission with an enigmatic energy being.
Very well written. An interesting exploration of what it means to love and understand another being, especially one so different from humans. It’s also quite poignant. Terrific tale.
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Peacekeeper Incorporated’s breakthrough nanotechnology could bring repeat offense crime to an end, freeing society from the need for criminal incarcerations. But first, they have to finish testing it. With funding on the line, and time to prove out the project getting short, the lead scientist must find a way speed things up. That’s unfortunate for his guinea pig, and anyone who would stand in his way.
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If Science Fiction Space Adventure is more your speed, then you should check out my anthology, Horizons Unlimited: Volume 1.
Matter conversion technology—Matt-Con—has broadened the scope of mankind’s existence. It has opened up the real possibility of viable colonies on other planets in our solar system, and even space itself. Anywhere matter can be captured or energy from the sun can be felt, the possibility of expanding human habitation exists.
In this volume:
The space station Chariot of Helios—on its way to Mercury to become a power collection station for Earth’s growing need for energy to power matt-con tech—encounters a strange anomaly that threatens ship and crew.
The sudden destruction of mankind’s first atmospheric terraforming platform leaves three unlucky exonauts struggling to survive in the skies of Venus aboard a cobbled-together airship. Meanwhile, the commander of the space station above battles obstacles that might keep her from rescuing her stranded husband and crew in time.