Space Stations by Martin H.Greenberg (ed), John Helfers (ed)
Daw / Penguin Putnam Trade: ISBN 0756401763 PubDate: 03/01/04
Review by Ernest Lilley
320 pgs. List price $ 6.99
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Here's a collection that's hopeful, thought provoking and just plain fun. Fifteen brand new stories revolving around space stations, not all of which revolve themselves. There's some high powered authorial talent in this collection about life on the high frontier, including Timothy Zahn, Alan Dean Foster, Rob Sawyer, Julie Czerneda, Eric Kotani and Jack Williamson. And more. Say what you want for stories about survey parties exploring dangerous planets, there's something enjoyable about making space a place to live, and each of these stations evokes a sense of home, the place you hang your space helmet. At the same time, the experience of actually trying to build a station has taught us that it's not all wheels in the sky and waypoint to the stars, but often a grittier sort of outpost, just trying to survive.
Timothy Zahn's "The Battle of Space Station Jefferson" take us where nobody has gone before...to park rangers in space boldly trying to keep a historic artifact from falling apart, or being used as an instrument of terrorism. In James Cobb's "Dancers of the Gate" we find that words aren't the only way to communicate with an alien culture, and that the languages of music and dance convey more about us than how many toes we have to tap. Usually. Julie Czernda leads us on an expedition full of misfits to a station that's been abandoned for generations, though hardly dead. Michael Stakpole's "Serpent on the Station" shows us that what aliens may value in us may not be what we expect, and Brendan DuBois' points out that we may yet lose our tenuous hold in space, as if that was news, with a bittersweet look into the not so distant future. In "First Contact Cafe" Irene Radford revisits a classic notion in SF, that when you deal with humans, you'd better count your fingers after you shake. Rob Sawyer adds a great little tale, which evokes the Canadian awareness of being in the shadow of someone else in his story about a Mars mission and the crew that has to stay up in orbit and watch the heroes who get to land on the surface get all the glory. Eric Kotani's "Orbital Base Fear" is also about being second on Mars, though it has a more equitable resolution, and is as fine an example of a "Poul Anderson" story as I can remember reading. There are some others, all fairly good, but I'll let you find them for yourselves.
I had fun reading this, and my complaint, such as it is, isn't so much with the quality of the stories as it is their tendency to wander away from the collection's theme. I don't really consider the moons of Mars "space stations" even if they have bases on them for instance. The drama we're seeing played out with the construction of the International Space Station , also doesn't seem to have much impact on this collection either. All the stories in this book presume that building a station will actually provide more than just an expensive national bauble to ignore on a daily basis, and sadly experience hasn't borne this out. I'd prefer a collection of older station stories, where we had the excuse of not having seen the future yet to base our optimism on.
This is a good collection, if not a great one. Iits mass market publication makes it affordable and the selection of talented authors make it worth parking yourself in a stationary orbit with while you read stories about folks boldly going around in circles.