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Alien Artifacts
Edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray
Cover Artist: Art by Justin Adams; Design by C. Lennox
Review by Sam Lubell
Zombies Need Brains LLC Kindle Edition  ISBN/ITEM#: B01JK5WB34
Date: 15 September 2016

Links: Publisher's Book Page / Show Official Info /

Alien Artifacts is a theme anthology with 19 stories. Some of the authors included are: Walter Hunt, David Farland, Gail Z Martin (with Larry N. Martin), Juliet McKenna, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, C.S. Friedman, and Seanan McGuire.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy genres are some of the last remaining genres in which short stories play a major role. Online magazines are booming along with multiple sources of story podcasts. Subscriptions to the big three print magazines have stabilized. However, the major publishers are producing few original anthologies, leaving an opening for small publishers like Zombies Need Brains.

This publisher uses the Kickstarter model in which people pledge to pay a set amount in advance, in return for the book and various bonuses. Once the book is printed, additional copies are available through the usual book dealers for those who did not support it through Kickstarter. (Disclosure Note: I supported the Kickstarter and am named as a member of the Zombie Hoard in the book, but have no monetary stake in the book's success.)

Alien Artifacts is a theme anthology. This runs the risk of limiting the variety in the stories as a narrow theme could result in overly similar stories. It also reduces a story's ability to surprise the reader; in this case, the reader knows anything weird is caused by an alien artifact, not fairies or mutants. Still, the editors do a superb job selecting stories that mostly adhere to the premise without being repetitive. In general, stories fall into three categories:

The most common plot is having humans discover and try to figure out the alien artifact.

In "Radio Silence" by Walter Hunt scientists at the Solar Observatory discover a mysterious object that seems to alter the cosmic background radiation to prevent the sun from going nova.

The first person narrator of "The Other Side" by S.C. Butler finds his mining ship infected by an alien AI constructing an unknown object.

"The Hunt" by Gail and Larry Martin has two agents for the Department of Supernatural Investigation deal with a rural community's suspicion of outsiders as they try to find the reason behind disappearing hunters.

"The Sphere" by Juliet E. McKenna is about the discovery of an alien spacecraft and the efforts of scientists to figure out a mysterious sphere found in it.

In "The Captain's Throne" by Andrija Popovic efforts to explore an alien spacecraft have drastic repercussions to the system of corporate peonage. (This story probably has the most unique structure with flashbacks and jumps to scenes of corporate intrigue.)

"And We Have No Words to Tell You" by Sofie Bird features the new girl on a three-person spaceship crew as she deals with not being trusted by the other two, who lost their original pilot, even while exploring a strange alien spacecraft.

My favorite story in the anthology, "Music of the Stars" by Jennifer Dunne, has an asteroid tracker, whose isolation on a Long Range Identification of Potential Strikes station normally gives her time to study music discovers an alien probe that last visited Earth during the time of Mozart.

Another common plot is having the alien object do something strange.
In "The Familiar" by David Farland, a Colombian spacer on Europa discovers an alien's shine that seems to have an odd effect on humans' memories.

In the humorous "Me and Alice" by Angela Penrose, a nine year old boy finds a mysterious object while avoiding dealing with his dying pet toad.

"Weird is the New Normal" by Jacey Bedford has aliens come to Earth during British Woodstock-style music festival to duplicate humans and abduct them into space.

"The Haint of Sweetwater River" by Anthony Lowe is a western set in 1889 when a nineteen-year-old woman is given a choice of killing the couple on the land a gangster wants or being killed herself.

In "Comet" by Coral Moore, a comet due to be mined for water suddenly shifts course and the water miners find organic residue. The ending is something that should happen more frequently in stories of this type, but does not.

The very funny "God Emperor of Lassie Point" by Daniel J. Davis has a laundryman 3rd class rescue an object from the pockets of a uniform that causes everyone else to declare him Master of everything.

In "The Carousel of Time" by Seanan McGuire, an archeologist is sent to an alien planet to catalog what might be the greatest archeological discovery in over 300 years before it is accidentally damaged or disturbed by spacers. The story features nice bantering between the scientist and the spacer.

A third type of story has the object play a role as catalyst, but be mostly incidental to the main plot.
In "The Nightside" by Julie Novakova, a scientist on a dangerous planet nicknamed Tartarus during a human civil war struggles to survive long enough to leave the planet after finding an abandoned alien spacecraft.

"Shame the Devil" by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller is another survival tale that has a young woman fall through the ice in Antarctica while trying to "pick up weird stuff that had fallen out of the sky".

"Titan Descanso" by James Van Pelt creates parallel imagery with an astronaut visiting a roadside memorial for his brother who died on Earth at the same time that the astronaut discovered an alien cairn while on an EVA on Titan.

The action-oriented "Alien Epilogue" by Gini Koch, part of the author's Alien/"Kitty" Katt series has the narrator, who is in an alternate universe, take the kids to Egypt while the CIA members of the family go on a mission that takes them to the same pyramid in Egypt. Naturally hijinks ensue with kidnapping, superpowers, and an alien orb.

In "Pandora" by C.S. Friedman, a spaceship crew tries to find the home planet of long-extinct aliens who had evolved past poverty and war to find out why they disappeared.

Most of the stories are traditional narratives with a straightforward style that would not be out of place in Analog. These are all solid stories that make for interesting reading. But none stand out as especially innovative or stylistically distinct. However, compared to stories of the golden age, the characterization of these stories is far superior with many rising above their stock roles to display glimpses of themselves as people.

Readers who like traditional hard science fiction will enjoy Alien Artifacts. Readers who want actual stories, rather than the confusing prose pieces that create a situation but do not go anywhere with it, will be very pleased with the narratives in this volume.

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