BOOK REVIEW: The Other Half of the Sky Edited by Athena Andreadis

REVIEW SUMMARY: A very strong anthology with a excellent mission, and some really striking stories with top-notch authors.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An anthology of genre stories with the purpose and mission of highlighting women as fully rounded characters and protagonists with agency.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong stories that both entertain and illuminate the book’s theme and mission.
CONS: Some stories not as good as others in the book.
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent marriage of theme and mission with a well-cultivated collection of authors and stories.

Science Fiction has gotten a not-undeserved reputation for giving both women writers and women characters short shrift. Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Gully Foyle, Beowulf Schafer, and many more go to the stars and beyond. Sadly, the Wilma Deerings and Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie Drapers are far rarer, and it’s even rarer is when the female characters are the protagonists, plot-drivers and central characters. If men are going into space and to the stars or dealing with science fictional elements right here on earth, why can’t members of the other gender do so as well? And while we’re at it, what about relationships beyond the straight and narrow, so to speak. Human history and the modern day is full of relationships of all kinds. Why shouldn’t our science fiction future have the same? The Other Half of the Sky, edited by Athena Andreadis, sets out to try and rectify these imbalances.

The Stories in The Other Half of the Sky are:

  1. “Finders” by Melissa Scott
  2. “Bad Day on Boscobel” by Alexander Jablokov
  3. “In Colors Everywhere” by Nisi Shawl
  4. “Mission of Greed” by Sue Lange
  5. “Sailing the Antarsa” by Vandana Singh
  6. “Landfall from the Blood Star Frontier” by Joan Slonczewski
  7. “This Alakie and the Death of Dima” by Terry Boren
  8. “The Waiting Stars”by Aliette de Bodard
  9. “The Shape of Thought” by Ken Liu
  10. “Under Falna’s Mask” by Alex Dally MacFarlane
  11. “Mimesis” by Martha Wells
  12. “Velocity’s Ghost” by Kelly Jennings
  13. “Exit, Interrupted” C.W. Johnson
  14. “Dagger and Mask” by Cat Rambo
  15. “Ouroboros” by Christine Lucas
  16. “Cathedral” by Jack McDevitt

Several of the stories that worked most for me include:

  • “Landfall from the Blood Star Frontier” shows off Joan Slonczewski’s knowledge of biology and her skill in depicting an aliens slowly colonizing the Earth. The political commentary is particularly biting and adds an additional sharpness to the the story.
  • Aliette de Bodard has been quietly (and not so quietly) crafting stories in her Dai Viet universe. “The Waiting Stars”, in telling a well written story of a lost spaceship, an orphaned girl, and an A.I. project, also gives us a starship-sized portion of worldbuilding, expanding and clarifying the nature of the Dai Viet universe. And the themes, especially cultural imperialism, strongly inform the work. After this story, I am starting to see parallels between her Dia Viet universe and the Skolian Empire universe of Catherine Asaro.
  • Ken Liu’s “The Shape of Thought” explores, in miniature, the story of a human colony on an alien world, and how seemingly insurmountable divisions of language and culture can be overcome. This is a story that feels like it’s a novel carefully distilled down by a skilled writer.
  • Martha Wells’ story feels a bit out of place with the much more science fiction focused stories here in the anthology. However, I am not going to argue with getting a new Three Worlds story. “Mimesis” features Moon’s mate Jade investigating just how perilous the new home for her Raksura Clan can be.
  • And to round out the collection, the editor wisely went with a strong closer in the Jack McDevitt story. “Cathedral” is about a dying space program, a station at the L2 Lagrange Point, an approaching asteroid, and a woman willing to sacrifice herself for high stakes.

Does the anthology live up to its ideals and theme? Absolutely. The universes in these stories are populated with strong female characters with agency, hopes, fears and goals. It is only when you compare these stories to a significant chunk of the science fiction of the past and present that the contrast is clear. Many of the writers here have been writing strong female characters for years; having them all together here in one volume helps show off their dedication to this worthy and needed goal.

However, forgetting the mission statement and the stated goals for the anthology for a moment…consider that this is an anthology that brings to readers the talents of the aforementioned authors, with their universes and ideas, for your reading pleasure. The Other Half of the Sky is, in the end, an entertaining and strongly written set of stories by authors both new and familiar, writing in universes new and old, with characters that resonate with all readers. It’s hard to ask for more in an anthology.