BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of six audio stories that somehow involve spaceships.
The latest audio story collection from InfiniVox, Starship Vectors edited by Allan Kaster, contains half a dozen stories about spaceships and the people aboard them. This is probably the first collection I’ve consumed where every single story was something I’ve already experienced. Not all of them impressed me the first time around and I wish I could say I gave those stories a second chance, but alas I did not. I did, however, listen to some of the stories I had previously read and enjoyed…and they still stand up to my original positive experiences. Overall, these positive experiences outweighed the negatives resulting in a collection that still is quite good. Of the six stories here, the standouts are “Mayflower II” by Stephen Baxter, “Boojum” by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, and “Shiva in Shadow” by Nancy Kress.
Individual story reviews follow…
“Mayflower II” by Stephen Baxter (originally reviewed in The Year’s Best Science Fiction #22 edited by Gardner Dozois) is a story of species survival set in the Xeelee universe beginning shortly after mankind’s overthrow of the Qax occupation. Here, one thousand people (out of 50,000) from Port Sol flee the arrival of the Coalition that will kill them because they aided the Qax. One of the five sub-light speed generation ships, Mayflower, is the focus of the narrative; specifically through the eyes of Rusel, who gains immortality along the voyage so that he (and other Elders) may guide the shipboard civilization through their proposed 50,000 year journey. This is another engrossing, millennia-spanning tale from Baxter. Beginning with the adventurous and emotional escape from Port Sol, the story jump-skips across years and millennia to broad-stroke how the human society has changed. Wonderful depiction of customs, trends and degradation. Along the way, Baxter leverages a not-small handful of thought-provoking scenarios like natural selection, eugenics, societal manipulation, survival scenarios and more. For a story that kept jumping between stops, it had an amazing you-are-there feel. Outstanding story.
Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette combine forces in “Boojum” [originally reviewed as part of The Year’s Best Science Fiction #26 edited by Gardner Dozois, a story about space pirates that travel aboard a living creature. The story focuses on a lowly Engineer named Black Alice, who feels an affinity to the Lavinia Whately, the Boojum creature that is her ship. Many elements of the story — including the legend of a rogue Boojum that ate her crew, mysterious metal canisters, and a tough captain — combine beautifully to make a cohesive, well-structured story that was fun to re-experience in audio format.
In “The Political Officer” by Charles Coleman Finlay (originally reviewed in The Year’s Best Science Fiction #20 edited by Gardner Dozois), a secret deep-space mission is put in jeopardy when the ships political officer suspects a traitor among the crew. An interesting premise, but a mediocre story. It seemed like there should have been more suspense and action throughout the story, like there was near the otherwise-unsatisfying ending.
An interstellar freighter carrying alien artifacts is the setting for “The Tomb Wife” by Gwyneth Jones. (Originally reviewed with other 2008 Nebula Award Short Fiction Nominees.) One of the relics is a tomb thought to be occupied by the ghost of a “tomb wife” which, in the alien culture that followed the custom, was a spouse (of either gender, despite the title’s implication otherwise) who lived a secluded life inside the deceased spouse’s tomb. To complicate the story, it seems to take place either outside normal space-time or inside some sort of Matrix-like virtual reality — at least that’s what I think is going on. I could not seem to get a clear sense of what was happening. That off-putting lack of foothold, coupled with dimensionless characters, seriously hindered my enjoyment of this story (though I did like the Twilight Zone-ish ending).
In “Shiva in Shadow” by Nancy Kress (originally reviewed in The Year’s Best Science Fiction #22 edited by Gardner Dozois), two male scientists (Kane and Ajit) and a woman captain (Tirzah) are on a deep space mission to explore a black hole. Their ship, the Kepler, launches a one-way probe to gather the data – a probe that is controlled by three uploaded analogues of Kane, Ajit and Tirzah. This well-written story was both exciting and interesting at the same time. Amidst the scientific theories of dark matter, there is a tense, human drama being played out between the two competitive scientists. It’s up to Tirzah, as Nurturer, to smooth the rough spots. Similar drama is played out on the probe as well. The story alternates between the first-person perspectives of Tirzah and Tirzah-analogue. Well done!
In “The Remoras” by Robert Reed (originally reviewed in The Space Opera Renaissance edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer.), Quee Lee, a passenger on the Great Ship that circles the galaxy, encounters a Remora, one of the genetically altered humans that live on the hull of the ship, and is drawn to his exciting lifestyle. This is the first of Reed’s Great Ship stories (see Marrow) and it’s a very strong one. There is sense-of-wonder a-plenty behind the Great Ship setting. The Remoras are permanently enclosed in their lifesuits (like smaller, self-sustaining versions of the ship itself) and the radiations they endure on the ship’s hull have seriously altered their appearance away from their human norm. But they have learned to control those mutations. Quee Lee’s boredom prompts an excursion to the outside with a Remora named Orleans, to whom her husband owes money. The Remoran life appeals to her so much that she takes some astonishing measures that she hopes will pay off.