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Going Interstellar
Edited by Les Johnson & Jack McDevitt
Cover Artist: Sam Kennedy
Review by Benjamin Wald
Baen Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781451637786
Date: 29 May 2012 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Going Interstellar is a decidedly retro anthology. The stories hearken back to old school Campbellian SF, with a focus on competent take-charge characters, attention to scientific plausibility, and of course a focus on the importance for humankind to expand beyond our solar system. Sadly, many of the stories also demonstrate traditional Campbellian failings, with thin characterizations and overly simplistic plots. The anthology intersperses the stories with non-fiction articles on different potential methods of interstellar travel. These contain some interesting tidbits, but seem somewhat inconsistent. All in all, this anthology feels old fashioned, but not in a good way. It repeats the flaws of old fashioned SF, but without the spark of the greats of the golden age.

The non-fiction sections cover solar sails, antimatter starships, and fusion drives. These sections are not as long as I would have liked, and spend an annoying amount of time covering the basics that are likely to be familiar to any SF fan. There are some interesting tidbits, and the articles do a good job of laying out the scientific state of the art. However, I wished that there had been more articles and that more topics had been covered. In the end, the non-fiction articles are fine, but they are such a small part of the book that they are forgettable.

Several of the stories, however, don't even make it to fine. It's a bit of a questionable decision to include stories by both of the co-editors of the volume, and especially when the stories are of such low quality. Les Johnson's story is the weakest in the anthology, with paper thin characters and a central idea that was clichéd and played out by the 1930s. Jack McDevitt's story is professional, as befits a writer of his experience, but it is dull and predictable. Sarah Hoyt's contribution to the volume feels rushed, feeling like the outline of a longer story. It also relies upon a coincidence so mind-numbingly massive that it destroys any suspension of disbelief. Mike Resnick delivers an entertaining yarn, which is pleasant but not all that meaty.

There are some more successful stories. Dr. Charles Gannon delivers a surprisingly effective story. While the society he depicts is not particularly plausible, he provides one of the more effective characterizations in the anthology. The main character is the polar opposite of the violent, deceptive, assertive values of his culture, but he learns to use all of these traits in the service of his own values and beliefs in this cleverly constructed story.

Ben Bova provides a well written story of disaster on an interstellar flight which pits a delightfully cranky old man against the AI charged with keeping the crew safe but whose inflexibility threatens them all.

Michael Bishop, as always, creates a unique and memorable voice with his young female protagonist who is appointed the new Dalai Lama on a lengthy interstellar voyage bringing Tibetan Buddhist refuges to a new home in a new solar system, amongst a mélange of other Buddhists who have chosen exile with them. The story doesn't have much of a plot, but it is a wonderful exploration of the culture on the ship and the intriguing voice of the main character.

Overall, the anthology is a dud. Those looking for old-fashioned Campbellian SF can find better stories in a reprint anthology, or on the shelves of used bookstores. There are some entertaining stories, but no real standouts, and several stories that are just bad rehashes of old ideas. The non-fiction articles are a nice touch, but too little too late to save this disappointing collection.

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