Edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Cover Artist: Stephan Martiniere
Review by Sam Lubell
Baen Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781476780948
Date: 03 November 2015 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Mission: Tomorrow, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, is an anthology of mostly new stories (two are reprints) with the theme of the future of space exploration at a time when NASA is no longer dominant. As typical of theme anthologies, some stories adhere to this premise more than others. The book includes many well-known authors including: Ben Bova, Brenda Cooper, Michael Flynn, James Gunn (reprint), Sarah Hoyt, Jack McDevitt, Mike Resnick, Alex Shvartsman, and Robert Silverberg (reprint). The stories are good solid traditional science fiction. There are no bad stories here, but no great ones either. Only one, "The Rabbit Hole" by James Gunn, does anything stylistically beyond a traditional narrative; and the Robert Silverberg story from 1957 feels right at home with the others written over 50 years later. A number are puzzle stories or survival stories; fans of The Martian will enjoy this book. However, too many feel cut off when the situation is resolved, missing a few paragraphs for the characters to react or deal with the consequences.
One of the most common type of story in this book features corporations or independent space prospectors. "In Panic Town, On the Backward Moon" by Michael Flynn is a mystery set on a blue collar Mars in which a corporate troubleshooter has to solve the theft of an unknown object that ends in an old-fashioned questioning of all the suspects in one room. "Orpheus' Engines" by Christopher McKitterick is a very interesting story about first contact and trying to communicate with aliens. It also has my favorite line in the book that sums up the corporate mentality, "Typical. You've made first contact with aliens a trade secret." In "Airtight" by Michael Capobianco a space explorer takes legal ownership of a valuable extinct cometary nucleus by being the first person to land on it, only to be cheated by his corporate sponsor, forcing a game of Chicken as the object moves further and further from Earth. In "Malf" by David Levine, a remote operator with the job of steering asteroids (with rocket engines and mining systems installed by the Space Resources Corporation) has to outwit hackers who have seized control of the asteroid's remote systems and locked her out.
Other stories feature the space programs of other nations. In "The Race for Arcadia" by Alex Shvartsman, Russia tries to beat NASA to Arcadeia, the first Earth-like exo planet, by sending a dying man on a one-way trip. This has a surprising twist. "Windshear" by Angus McIntyre is a tale of survival featuring a Brazilian astronaut with a damaged flying platform floating above Venus. Rescue efforts are hampered by the sponsoring corporation deciding the chances of rescue are not worth the costs. Ben Bova's "Rare (Off) Earth Elements" features his series character Sam Gunn (a space scoundrel) and a Chinese taikonaut (astronaut). Like the other Sam Gunn stories this is amusing in a tall-tale way.
Many stories sidestep NASA by mostly ignoring how the humans got into space. In "Sunrise on Mercury", the Robert Silverberg reprint, spacemen occasionally snap and try to commit suicide. When this happens to an astrogator, he sets in motion a series of events that puts his entire ship at risk. "Around the NEO in 80 Days" by Jay Werkheiser has just a couple of sentences on how NASA no longer exists. This story about a rich celebrity who wants to become the first person to visit a Near Earth Object and return, features an interesting antagonist in Detective Felix whose desires to do the right thing which wars with his monetary motive for sabotaging the mission. "Tartaros", by Mike Resnick, has an interplanetary criminal looking for a hideout discover a dwarf planet that seemingly does not obey natural laws. "The Rabbit Hole" by James Gunn (a reprint from Analog and part of a novel) is probably the anthology's best piece. In this story the crew of an alien-designed spaceship experiences a series of time distortions when they fly through a wormhole. This is told in a nonlinear style with characters remembering events that have not yet happened and being challenged by their unborn children who do not want the ship to leave the wormhole as that would cause them to no longer exist.
Other stories seemingly disregard the premise and focus on NASA. "Excalibur" by Jack McDevitt is about a reporter uncovering NASA secrets. The story is all about NASA, but it is the current NASA hobbled by funding cuts. "A Walkabout Amongst the Stars" by Lezli Robyn features the world's first female Australian aboriginal astronaut investigating why aliens have refueled and repaired the NASA spacecraft Voyager 1. This features a believable AI character and an interesting first contact. "Tribute" by Jack Skillingstead is about what happens immediately after the death of NASA, when the sister of the last astronaut to die on a mission to Mars turns to a private space orbital resort company whose owner's son and heir offers to fund a new Mars Mission if he can come along. Unfortunately, despite this interesting background, the story turns into another story of survival after they crash on Mars.
"On Edge" by Sarah Hoyt does not fit any of these categories as it is set on Earth. This somewhat humorous story about an administrative assistant shepherding two mad geniuses trying to use time travel to develop a system of instant package delivery (under a Bezos grant).
Overall, this is a solid anthology of old-fashioned action/adventure science fiction. Fans of hard science fiction, Baen Books, and Analog magazine will find much to enjoy here. Several stories are by big name authors and promising newcomers. Still, these stories are mostly plot-driven with an un-ornamented style and only a few sparks of characterization.