Monday, January 19, 2009

The Starry Rift

Strahan, Jonathan. ed, 2008. THE STARRY RIFT: TALES OF NEW TOMORROWS. Viking. 530 pages.

The Starry Rift is 'an original science fiction anthology.' Consisting of sixteen short stories (some really more like novellas), it features the work of some favorites new and old--Scott Westerfeld, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, Cory Doctorow, Garth Nix, etc.

There's no guaranteeing you'll like all sixteen stories--I sure didn't--but I'd almost guarantee that you'll absolutely love at least one of them. I'd even go so far as to say that I can guess which story will be your favorite. I feel so strongly about this one story, that I almost want to make it my mission in life to encourage--prod--YOU to read it! The story in question? Ass-Hat Magic Spider. By Scott Westerfeld. Best short story ever.

Other personal highlights include "Lost Continent" by Greg Egan and Pinocchio by Walter Jon Williams. There were sixteen stories in this anthology; I finished fifteen of them. One I abandoned as a lost cause (for me).

1. Ass-Hat Magic Spider by Scott Westerfeld (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
One of the best, best, best short stories ever. What would you do for a favorite book? Would you starve yourself? Shave your head? Meet the boy who’ll go to any extreme to keep his favorite book intact as he heads for a new home in the stars.
2. Cheats by Ann Halam (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
A short story about virtual gaming–the blending of the virtual world with reality. Not a favorite by any means. But okay.
3. Orange by Neil Gaiman (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
An unusual way to read a story, isn’t it? All answers, no questions. It works in an odd kind of way. But it leaves me wanting more.
4. The Surfer by Kelly Link (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
I liked (not loved) this one for many reasons. A boy is kidnapped (by his father) and taken to Costa Rica. Once they arrive–they and the whole plane of passengers–are put in quarantine. It seems there has been an international flu (or other disease??) outbreak and thousands upon thousands upon thousands are dead. While these strangers get to know one another in relatively cramped quarters, the boy begins to learn about life. I liked it because the father–a doctor–brought along a suitcase or two full of science fiction books–paper backs mostly. And these books become a lending library of sorts. There’s reading of sci-fi, soccer, talk of politics, and aliens. A little bit of everything to please everyone.
5. Repair Kit Stephen Baxter (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
It was okay. But it was like Data’s head. Too confusing to comprehend.
6. The Dismantled Invention of Fate by Jeffrey Ford (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
And I thought Repair Kit was confusing! I suppose some might like it. But it’s weird.
7. Anda’s Game by Cory Doctorow (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
I saw the title and thought, “Hey, I just bet they’re playing on Ender’s Game!” and I was right :) It was an okay story. Much much better than Repair Kit and Dismantled Invention. But it didn’t capture me the same way that Westerfeld’s story did. So it’s among the more interesting ones I’ve read thus far…
8. Sundiver Day by Kathleen Ann Goonan (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
Not really my kind of story. I could follow most of what was going on. And it was vaguely interesting. But it was more weird than interesting.
9. The Dust Assassin by Ian McDonald (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
I liked this one. Didn’t love it. But found it interesting. A girl–on the verge of womanhood–is told (I can’t remember if she overhears this news or if she’s told directly…) that she’s a weapon. Her family is at war with another family. Both want to rule, want the power–undisputed and uncontested power. The opposing family has a son. They have a daughter. I’ll let you figure out the rest…her destiny to “be a weapon” is the theme of this one all about revenge, destiny, and the meaning of life.
10. The Star Surgeon’s Apprentice by Alastair Reynolds (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
It was okay. But not really one I *liked* it was too bloody for me. Almost like how The Island of Dr. Moreau was too bloody for me. A surgeon who loves lobotomies–giving them of course–and robotics gets his comeuppance but not without a lot of yucky descriptions.
11. Lost Continent by Greg Egan (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
This one had its moments. It took me a little bit to orientate myself to this one–the premise, the setting, the plot and characters. But overall I liked this one. It was an interesting take on immigration/emigration. On the fine line between countries being welcoming and safe with being cruel and tyrannical. Of how easy it is to have an us-vs-them mentality. Of dehumanizing those you don’t want to know, acknowledge, help. In this story, there is time travel. Countries become overburdened (at times) just accepting refugees from war-torn, cruel, abusive governments in the here and now. Imagine a world where refugees could come from the past, present, and future. How many alternate realities there could be because of the time travel. Once you’ve left your own time and place–and usually you did so for an extremely good reason–your history has lost its context–if (and sometimes it’s a big if) your country exists in this new world, its history wouldn’t be the history you know. This is one of the more thought-provoking works in the collection.
12. Incomers by Paul McAuley (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
Set on another planet–Saturn maybe?–on a human colony that has seen its fair share of war. A handful of teens have some mini-adventures and get in and out of trouble. I didn’t much like this one. I guess I just didn’t get it.
13. Post-Ironic Stress Syndrome by Tricia Sullivan (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
This one was way, way over my head. I know it involved traveling through time. But it also involved other dimensions as well. It was way too complex, and a bit too wordy at times. Somehow or other humans could be worked so that individual body parts represented real lives in a galaxy far, far away. Like your brain could be a government on a planet. And an elbow might be a space freighter or something like that. Anyway, I just didn’t get it. At all. Maybe I’m just too dumb. Anyway, lots of fighting. And a weird tie-in to Medusa.
14. Infestation by Garth Nix (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
Vampires. Need I say more? Aliens-as-vampires. Vampires as aliens. Whatever way you phrase it is good. Not great in the same way as Scott Westerfeld’s story, but it was readable. And that was something considering the complexity of some of the other stories.
15. Pinocchio by Walter Jon Williams (in Starry Rift, 2008)*
I liked this one. A lot. Again, not as much as Scott Westerfeld’s story. But it reminded me in a way of one of Scott Westerfeld’s other novels about trend-setters, popularity, fame. A teen guy, Sanson, 16, is very famous–he’s used to everyone watching and caring about anything and everything that he does. Set in a world where young people are scarce–with humanity reaching immortality of sorts, there is no “need” to procreate. In fact, it’s frowned upon to have kids. But there are exceptions every now and then. Still, there may be only a few people (proportionally speaking at least) under sixty in each city or town. In some ways, things are very typical–friends, girl-and-boy troubles, parties, obsession with popularity–but this one is unique in a way. What would you do to be famous? What would you do to stay famous? How would you let others opinions of you change the way you live? Would you let them control you and your choices? How do you know who you really are if you’re so caught up in other’s opinions? Would you choose to be happy but free? Or would you remain a slave to the masses? As I said this one was a great choice to end the book. I love the title too.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Kailana said...

I requested this book from the library because of everyone reading it for the challenge and because Carl told me that I should read Westerfeld's story! I am looking forward to it! (I also am finally going to read Uglies by him. I requested that at the same time!)

Ana S. said...

This is soooo going to be a part of my next book order.

Debi said...

Okay, I'm only part way through the fourth story, but I can just tell the Westerfeld is going to be my favorite story, too. How could it now's such a perfect little gem, isn't it?

Zibilee said...

This book sounds really interesting. There is more of interest to me than not, and I think it is something my husband would like as well. Have to order this one soon. Thanks for the great review.