Martin H. Greenberg
& John Helfers, editors,
Space Stations
(DAW, 2004)

In his introduction to Space Stations, co-editor John Helfers proclaims that the book contains, "fourteen visions of the future created by the finest authors of speculative fiction." Don't believe the hype. There are only a handful of A-list writers who have contributed to this collection.

Does this mean that Space Stations is space junk? No. There are four or five strong stories here including Robert J. Sawyer's "Mikeys," Pamela Sargent's "Follow the Sky" and Gregory Benford's "Station Spaces."

The collection's most pleasant surprise is the gentle, character-driven story "Falling Star" by Brendan DuBois. DuBois is introduced as an author whose short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine -- not exactly credentials likely to be touted for one of the "finest authors of speculative fiction." But "Falling Star" far outshines many of the stories by better-known SF authors. It's the tale of Rick Monroe, a former astronaut trying simply to grow old quietly and gracefully. Unfortunately, Rick lives in a distrustful world rudely returned to a 19th-century technological state by the ultimate computer virus. Science and those who peddle in it are ostracized, shouted down from the pulpit, made to feel unwelcome.

It's a well-crafted story and provides an interesting counterpoint to the religious focus of Michael A. Stackpole's "Serpent on the Station" in which a priest, newly posted to an outpost space station, must balance doctrine and morality when she's asked to assist in the birth of an alien child.

Space Stations also contains some pretty mediocre work including Eric Kotani's "Orbital Base Fear," a poorly plotted, unfocused piece that never truly links to the theme of the collection. About the only thing I liked about the story was the information on the oddities of the orbits of Mars' two moons, information that nicely augmented Robert J. Sawyer's story "Mikeys" set on Deimos.

And while I enjoyed Benford's briskly paced, multi-layered story "Station Spaces," it is not an original story as the book cover claims. I've read it before under the name "The Clear Blue Seas of Luna" in Gardner Dozois' The Best Science Fiction of the Year: 20th Annual Collection (it was originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine in 2002).

Given that Benford's name may well be a selling point for any prospective buyer scanning the contents of this collection, it's downright misleading to re-title this story, give it a 2004 copyright and pass it off as a new piece. However, if you haven't read the Benford story, then Space Stations is a worthwhile collection of short fiction. The style and focus of the stories is more wide ranging than the premise might suggest. There's humor and intrigue, action and adventure. For $6.99 ($9.99 in Canada) that's a pretty reasonable deal.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 10 July 2004

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