The anthology, Raygun Chronicles, from Every Day Publishing showcases many of the genre stories that were featured in the “short lived zine” called Raygun Revival. In the words of editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt, “the kinds of stories that made us fall in love with science fiction and space opera.” With an engaging introduction from the editor – as well as an essay, Taking Back the Sky by Johne Cook, explaining why they published these stories – it’s not difficult to understand why. The stories serve as a gateway drug to those unfamiliar with the genre, as a welcome reminder of what we love about science fiction for those who are already fans.
Each of the stories has its own unique charm. Though they are diverse, everything from dark and brooding stories of interplanetary corruption to narratives of talking bears that travel to different worlds, they somehow go together.
In Frontier ABDs: The Life and times of Charity Smith, Schoolteacher by Seanan McGuire, a larger-than-life character is destined to change worlds.
Robber Baron, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, tells the story of a rascally scoundrel who wants to steal the heroine’s heart – but she has other things in mind.
To the Shores of Triple, Lee! by A.M. Stickel is a tale of three races and three worlds with a delightful twist.
In Silver Dollar Saucer by Lou Antoneill, the solutions to a number of mysteries are discovered when two cowboys from the American West are abducted.
Around the Bend, by Sarah A. Hoyt, takes place in a future where Earth has a monopoly on space travel. When an interplanetary interpreter finds herself embroiled in conflict and intrigue, the consequences are unexpected.
In Sword of Saladin by Michael S. Roberts, things heat up with the sudden appearance of an enemy ship that mysteriously disappeared 60 years earlier.
Malfunction by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks explores time travel and its consequences. If a scientist were to visit the future he created, could he change it?
Catastrophe Baker and the Ship who Purred by Mike Resnick is by far one of the silliest and most enjoyable stories I’ve ever read about a sentient spaceship and a perpetrator of the hero trade.
In Holly Defiant by Brenda Cooper, a writer who uses a singer as her muse gets more than she bargained for.
The space-western, Shooting the Devil’s Eye by Keanan Brand – which strongly reminded me of Firefly, follows the exploits of a band of moral bandits as they seek to perform a daring maneuver while staying one step ahead of the authorities and their fellow criminals.
Another time travel story, Last, Full Measure by A.M. Roelke, is a short and quirky tale of time travel gone wrong… or maybe right?
The adventure, Spider on a Sidewalk by Paula R. Stiles, follows a small crew that’s desperate for cash as they navigate a dangerous part of space.
In King of the Galaxy Knights by Robin Wayne Bailey, a mad scientist’s daughter offers a Knight an incredible weapon – but is her offer too good to be true?
Another western-themed story, The Slavers of Ruhn by Rob Mancebo, is set on the distant planet of Ruhn, where three women are kidnapped by aliens.
In Can Giraffes Change Their Spots? by Jenny Schwartz, aliens release a neo-virus upon the Earth which causes color changes in giraffes. Hilarity ensues.
Captain Quasar and the Insurmountable Barrier of Space Junk by Milo James Fowler is just as silly as its name implies; the classic hero must save the Earth – whether or not it is prudent to do so.
Conversion, by Shaun Farrell, deals with a bizarre world where nanobots infect humanity. Could a reject be the best hope for the few pure humans that are left?
The novel excerpt, Twilight World by A.C. Crispin, tells of the unexpected consequences of three astronauts on a perilous journey to avert a war.
Mike Resnick’s second contribution, Catastrophe Baker in the Hall of the Neptunian Kings, is another hilariously heroic -and somewhat racy – tall tale of the galactic hero.
In Ever Dark by T.M. Hunter, a simple illegal salvage becomes a quest for justice.
Nor to the Strong by Michael Merriam is a short, powerful story of the horrors of war between Mother Earth and one of her colonies.
Space Opera, by Peter J. Wacks, quite literally interprets the term as a galactic orchestra performs an opera about humanity battling colonists in space.
When a young woman of privilege is kidnapped in The Heiress of Air by Allen M. Steele, her would-be rescuers are in for a big surprise.
One of the most unusual tales in the entire anthology, Saint Orick by David Farland, features a talking bear and his wife, who go to his homeworld (modeled on mythical ancient Ireland) and face off against artificial creatures that keep the inhabitants isolated and in intellectual darkness. The symbolism of the snakes as knowledge driven from the world was beautifully used throughout the narrative.
The final narrative is the poem The Legend of Rae Raygun by Kaolin Fire, a beautifully upbeat story about a legendary hero.
I enjoyed almost every single story throughout the book, though I was confused by the ending of Brenda Cooper’s Holly Defiant, which otherwise held my complete attention. However, Peter J. Wacks’ Space Opera managed to both confuse and bore me throughout the entire tale. As a literal take on the term, the descriptions were well done but otherwise did not hold my interest. And even though The Heiress of Air by Allen M. Steele had a somewhat predictable twist, it still made me smile throughout the entire story.
One of the strongest and most notable things about this collection is the dominance of strong, believable female characters. The satirical stories are the exceptions with their over-the-top characters, but they are also the funniest. Most of the stories were of realist people in fantastic situations, short enough to read in a single sitting, yet long enough to hold my attention. In fact, my biggest complaint would be that perhaps they engaged my interest too much; I would grow attached to the characters and the plot, only to have them suddenly end and leave me wanting more.
As a fan of short fiction, I love this collection. However, as a fan of science fiction and adventure stories, I adore it. I strongly recommend this anthology for other fans of short genre fiction, and if you aren’t one already, you will be by the end of the book.