Cosmic Tales: Adventures in Sol System
(Baen Books, paperback, 416 pages, 17 June 2004; ISBN: 0743488326.)
This anthology harks back to an earlier age of science
with its cover featuring a tailfinned rocket. But it also looks to the
immediate future, because the stories all take place within our own
solar system. The technology and challenges are things we may face for
real within our own lifetime. Some of the stories are dark, some bright;
some funny, some haunting. They all evoke a sense of wonder, which is
the whole point of reading science fiction in the first place.
The best story on technical grounds is Travis Taylor's "Cleaning Lady,"
no surprise since Travis is a rocket scientist as well as a writer.
In "Cleaning Lady" the characters use solar sails to steer asteroids,
diverting NEOs away from Earth to asteroid mining stations. When a bunch
of radicals intervene, it's up to Tamara to keep them from knocking
more asteroids towards Earth. Sound impossible? Read the nonfiction
article "Are We There Yet?" for a detailed analysis of the science (and
the fiction) in the story. Also watch for the author's first novel,
Warp Speed, due out from Baen this year.
The most subtle and complex -- the funniest and most poignant -- and
the most likely to happen in real life is Wen Spencer's outrageous "Moon
Monkeys." I'm not going to blow the surprise. Just read the story, and
try to figure out before the end of it why someone would send
a succession of monkeys to the Moon, disasters notwithstanding.
Other stories stood out for varying reasons. Margaret Ball looks at
interpersonal dynamics in space, and the different ways of solving problems,
in "Communications Problem." Rebecca Lickiss introduces a fascinating
set of prosthetic legs in "Time in Purgatory." Paul Chafe brings us
a very hefty story, "The Cutting Fringe," about an attempt to take over
the world by a businessman and his pet genius; complete with "The Science
in the Story" following it. I like seeing longer stories published,
and I like scientific commentary.
Cosmic Tales is an excellent anthology of science fiction set
close to home and more-or-less close to now. It fosters a sense that
great futures are, if not within our immediate reach, at least within
hope. Most highly recommended.