A Review of Engineering Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan
Jonathan Strahan is a freelance editor known for the wide variety of anthologies and author collections he has helped mold into shape. Ranging from collections of Jack Vance and Larry Niven to the New Space Opera to the Sword and Sorcery anthology Swords and Dark Magic (co-edited with Lou Anders), Strahan is one of the foremost and diverse “hired gun” anthologists working in genre today. Strahan is developing a reputation as an editor who chooses his stories and authors well, and always for the greater purpose of the collection or anthology he is editing.
In Engineering Infinity, Jonathan Strahan’s takes those skills as an editor and tackles Hard SF, but with an oblique and wide-camera angle lens look at that portion of the field. As Jonathan says in in his introduction:
I should add, Engineering Infinity is not the last statement in an evolutionary taxonomy of hard SF. For all that I’d love to see such a book, it’s neither a definitive book of hard SF nor an attempt to coin a new radical hard SF. Instead, it is part of the ongoing discussion about what science fiction is in the 21st century.
So what’s here?
In Engineering Infinity, the reader will find more than a dozen stories that do range from the hardest of hard SF to stories that take Hard SF and the promise of that sub-genre of the field and, as I mentioned above, apply a wide angle lens to it. The stories are all original.
In ‘Malak‘ by Peter Watts, we get a rigorous story about the rise of an A.I. in a weapons system, from the A.I.’s point of view.
‘Watching the Music Dance‘ by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of the prices a child and their parents make when radical technology is thrust upon a young girl.
‘Laika’s Ghost’ by Karl Schroeder mixes a tour through a former Russian republic, and layers upon layers of mysteries pulled back to reveal a strange and amazing secret program.
‘The Invasion of Venus’ by Stephen Baxter felt much like a Xeelee story to me, with a war between aliens where man is barely a spectator, much less the central focus.
‘The Server and the Dragon’ by Hannu Rajaniemi showed me that Rajaniemi can write at shorter than novel length with a story with a unique perspective on a far-future computer server under attack.
‘Bit Rot’ by Charles Stross audaciously puts zombies into Hard SF with a story reminiscent of Dead Space and the movie Pandorum, set on a spaceship crawling toward the stars.
‘Creatures with Wings’ by Kathleen Ann Goonan is an unusual story of a man chosen to bring Buddhism to aliens.
‘Walls of Flesh, Bars of Bone’ by Damien Broderick and Barbara Lamar is the softest story of the lot, despite having a Quantum Mechanics equation in it, with a semi-mystical take on time travel and destiny.
‘Mantis’ by Robert Reed takes the implication of a single technology, the Infinity Window, and folds in a love story and a meditation on the nature of characters and their stories.
‘Judgement Eve’ by John C. Wright felt like a companion piece to his Golden Age trilogy, with technology-as-magic far future society and technology reminiscent of Roger Zelazny
‘A Soldier of the City’ by David Moles uses an underused mythology, the Babylonian, and uses it as the model of a far future society under threat.
‘Mercies’ by Gregory Bedford also involves time travel, and an attempt by someone to change histories and worlds for the better in a way Samuel Beckett never considered.
‘The Ki-anna’ by Gwyneth Jones shows an encounter between a human looking for answers about his sister’s mysterious death, and a pair of alien races tangled up with the mystery .
‘The Birds and the Bees and the Gasoline Trees’ by John Barnes, the last story in the book, is a gonzo idea of a strange organic formation in the ocean, and the exploration of its nature and purpose.
Most of the authors are long since familiar to me, although I was delighted and surprised by the authors whose work I had not read previously. For me, I continue to vacillate on which stories I think worked best and are my favorites, although the sheer audacity of the Stross story, and the clever use of Babylonian culture in A Soldier of the City stand out for me.
Anthologies can sometimes be hit and miss, its true. This anthology is no exception, a couple of the stories did not really speak to me or shine as well as some of the others .It happens. Really, though, once again Strahan has put together a high quality set of stories, with a good mix of authors, and stories. I had wondered if, based on the title, if the entire collection was going to be “Big Dumb Objects” all the way down, boringly.
I need not have worried.
Readers looking to sample the terrain of hard SF and the science fiction regions bordering it would do very well to try Engineering Infinity.