the Little Red Reviewer

New Hard SF Anthology from Solaris

Posted on: March 23, 2011

Engineering Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Published: Jan 2011 from Solaris books

where I got it: purchased new

why I read it: it’s this months’ SF book for my local SF reading club

Space ships, alien invasions, alien diplomacy, galactic empires, time travel, artificial intelligence, genetic manipulations, world changing ideas with life changing ramifications.  This is what Hard Scifi is all about!  

In the past, I haven’t been much for short stories, and I’m actively trying to change that.  Anthologies especially are tough for me, as they always seem a mixed bag. You get some great stories that blow your mind, and some mediocre stuff. Reminds me a little of the old days of buying an album just for the one track that was in heavy rotation on MTV. Wow, I just dated myself.

Engineering Infinity is a new Hard SF collection, showcasing some of SF’s biggest names, such as Charlies Stross, Peter Watts, Karl Schroeder, Stephen Baxter, Gregory Benford, and Gwyneth Jones, just to name a few.   Was the anthology a mixed bag for me? Yes. Did I discover some new-to-me  authors that I plan to actively seek out? Yes, and more than I expected.  Was there some stuff that just didn’t do it for me? Yes. Such is the challenge of the anthology – it simply isn’t going to be everything to everyone.

If you enjoy short stories and Hard SF, you will probably have a blast with Engineering Infinity. And if, like me, you’re trying to get more short stories into your life, this is a good place to start.

Here’s my thoughts on a handful of the entries.

Laika’s Ghost by Karl Schroeder – One of the longer stories in the collection, Laika’s Ghost follows IAEA inspector Gennady to the rural reaches of southern Russia. Gennady’s been saddled with a pesky American, Ambrose, whose in hiding from the KGB, NASA, and an online conglomerate of old skool Soviets.  Also, some new fangled nuclear weapon technology has gone missing, and Ambrose has the only photographs of a pyramid evgraved with giant letters spelling out CCCP that was found half buried on Mars. An enjoyable tale of people who really really miss the old country, and will go to any lengths to preserve it.

Walls of Flesh, Bars of Bone by Damien Broderick and Barbara Lamar – Professor Lee Watson collects what’s known as orphan films, chunks of old movies and news reels that can’t be released due to copyright reasons, but are hoarded by collectors as priceless windows into the past. When Lee watches a circa 1930s film from an anonymous donor, he watches a 1930s version of himself wink into the camera, along with some other strange impossible things.  Lee approaches his daughter and his ex-wife, to see if one them photoshop-pranked him. The film ends up on youtube, and his ex-wife’s new family may hold the answers to Lee’s futurepast.

The Birds and The Bees And the Gasoline Trees by John Barnes – I think my favorite story in the collection. After much environmental manipulation to lower the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and increase edible sea life, something very strange is happening in the ocean.  Marine life has mostly disappeared in the same region where giant bone like structures have grown from the ocean floor.  Throw a newlywed couple and his perfect everything adroind ex-wife into the mix for an emotional and intriguing story of how life, and love works. A wonderful mix of hard SF ideas and closer to home social/soft SF intimacies.

The Kianna, by Gwyneth Jones – This story was difficult for me to get into, but the end was so unexpected, so unusual, that it more than made up for the choppy beginning. Patrice is investigating the death of his twin sister Lione. She had disappeared while working with the Ki and the An, who appear, physically to be the same race, but aren’t.  Patrice muddles through tangles of bureaucratic red tape to find something so truly alien, yet something he can’t help but accept.

Generally speaking, I think the stories that I enjoyed the most were the longer ones, and that is 100% personal preference, as super shorts are often just too short for me to get emotionally invested in.

If you’ve read this anthology, please comment about stories that you liked.

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6 Responses to "New Hard SF Anthology from Solaris"

I’ve only read the first 2 or 3 stories in this collection thus far, but I’ve enjoyed them. Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s story was so different from what I was used to from her but I did enjoy it. Look forward to getting back to this sometime in the future.

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Eh, the first story was a major dissapointment for me. the last 2 were really good.

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I think I liked quite the opposite stories from you! That is, I enjoyed most of them, but my favourites included Rusch’s, which I thought was subtly creepy; the Baxter – mostly because I hadn’t paid attention to the title, so when the invasion happened I was incredibly surprised! – and the Rajaniemi story, The Server and the Dragon, which I thought was delightfully lyrical and mischievous and played with the sf/fantasy divide wonderfully.

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Anthologies have always been tough for me, my brain sees 300 pages, and doesn’t understand why it’s not one story.

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It’s taken me a while to come around to anthologies, but I’ve discovered that good ones are GOOD… short stories have won me over. And novellas are close to short novels, which is nice!

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[...] Gavin J. Grant, eds. (Candlewick; Walker UK) Eclipse Four, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Night Shade) Engineering Infinity, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Solaris; Solaris [...]

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