Published in 1998
where I got it: purchased used
The Fading Suns, a space opera role playing universe created in the 1990’s gave birth to video games, table top RPGs, miniatures, and through the hard work of creators and fans of the universe, an anthology called The Sinful Stars. With nearly 20 short stories, an introduction to the world, a glossary and a star map, The Sinful Stars is a perfect introduction to this world for newbies like me, and a wonderful return for folks who are already familiar with The Fading Suns. Inspired by Dune, Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, medieval passion plays and Asimov’s Foundation series, The universe of The Fading Suns is part Babylon5, part Firefly, part throwback to a new Dark Ages complete with inquisition, and part cautionary tale.
The entries in The Sinful Stars run the gamut of the population: following members of noble houses and powerful religious orders, all the way to spies, peasants, and thieves.Not only my first RPG tie-in anthology, but my first shared world anthology, where a dozen or more writes are offering their take on a corner of the universe. All the stories are stand alones, but nearly all of them refer to a person, planet, or church mentioned in a different story, which brings everything together in a satisfyingly episodic manner. I’ve not had much luck with themed anthologies in the past for one reason or another, but reading a handful of stories in a shared universe was a pleasure.
Here are my thoughts of some of my favorite entries:
Fragments, by Bill Bridges – Told from the point of view of Guiseppe, a monk in the service of the Lady Erian Li Halan. They are searching for an ancient artifact on the war torn planet of Hira. As they investigate further into an abandoned museum, how many alien artifacts can they save before the building is bombed? As enemy troops approach, Guiseppe is faced with a man who shares his faith. Will the soldier pray with him, or shoot him? A quick, yet powerful story, and a good choice for the first entry in the volume.
A Song to End all Songs, by Daniel Greenberg – Humans and alien traders have been colonizing, mining, and exploring Severus for decades. The indigenous species, the Ascorbites, a hive-mind insect race, are known to kill anyone who enters their territory. Party told from the dead serious point of view of an Ascorbite who has never been without his brothers, an a crash landed, down on his luck Gannock whose charm has run out, they both find themselves alone and scared. The Gannock (I always enjoy first person POV, but please authors, please offer up the name of your characters, so we can refer to them by name in a review! I dislike having to refer to this hilarious scammer as “the unnamed Gannock”), having been thrown out of the city finds himself in the center of Ascorbite territory, and the Ascorbite he injures finds himself cut off from the hive-mind. My review really isn’t doing this story justice, the stark different between the Ascorbite’s and the Gannock’s view of the universe easily made it one of the most enjoyable stories in the volume.
Just Plain Folks, by Sam Inabinet - Padre Procrustes of the Holy Inquisition has been sent to Grikkor, on a mission to rout evil out of the land. He is sure the village of West Mikkleshire is infected. As the sheriff shows Procrustes around the town, it appears to be a standard low tech farming village. Folks tending to their animals and their land, enjoying a weak beer or maybe a game of cards at the local tavern, everything seems normal. But Procrustes is convinced the town is hiding something. Why else would farmers wear such heavy, church style clothing while farming? To honor his visit by wearing their church day best? The town seems almost too perfect, the most religious, most devout, most diety fearing people Procrustes has ever met. But the Inquisition doesn’t make mistakes, the villagers are hiding something, and he will do whatever it takes to find out what.
Less Human than Human, by Brian Campbell – Once upon a time, humanity was so knowledgeable. Now seen as dangerous magics by the church, once we knew the secrets of nanomachines, cloning, “think machines”, programming, and how to build spacehsips to take us to the stars. The objects we created still exist, but the knowledge of how to build them has been lost to time. Professor Lewis Theobaldus has spent his entire academic career researching and investing the sciences behind the creation of golems (cyborgs? androids? clones? it’s all part of the mystery), and his one success will destroy him forever. “Saved” from his Frankenstein creation by a group of religious fundamentalists, they demand a confession. Confident and cocky, Theobaldus sees this as his greatest opportunity to lecture to someone intensely interested in what he has to say. However, his failed experiment is smarter than anyone could have ever imagined.
Dark Places, by James Moore – Who wouldn’t do anything to find a new jumproad? the Jumpgates, left behind by ancient races, have allowed us to explore the galaxy. We don’t know how to fix them or keep them working once they break, and information about new jumproads is priceless. When a lifepod is found floating in space, the sole survivor finds himself in a mental institution, for his story can not possibly be true, must be the ravings of a mad man. He claims to be the sole survivor of his crew’s investigation of an abandoned ship. A beautiful, massive, decadent ship. All onboard computers, life support and gravity functioning. A map of jumproads never seen before, planets lost for millenia. But there are no bodies, no captains log on this ghost ship. And then the screaming begins. A wonderfully chilling horror story.