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The Starry Rift by Jonathan Strahan (Editor)
Edited by Jonathan Strahan (Editor)
Review by Karen Burnham
Viking Juvenile Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780670060597
Date: 17 April 2008 List Price $19.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

In this age of Harry Potter, there is no question that kids and young adults are reading genre fiction. The question is, when they finish "Deathly Hallows," "Narnia," and "Lord of the Rings" (or "The Hobbit" for the younger ones), where will they turn? For those kids who may be interested in science fiction, there isn't a lot of recently written material. Into that gap steps Jonathan Strahan's anthology The Starry Rift, an assembly of stories from 16 major authors in the field, all aimed at kids. It succeeds admirably well; I can't imagine that any imaginative child (between the ages of say, 10 and 14, depending on the child) won't find stories to enjoy here. There is a wide variety of styles and sub-genres on display, and all of them lack any hint of condescension.

The quality of this collection is high, and there are two standout stories from Kelly Link and Greg Egan.

Link's story is titled "The Surfer," and it centers on a young man in the near future who finds himself in Costa Rica with his father during a global flu pandemic. In the background, the books that the father packed in his luggage form the core of an impromptu lending library -- and they're all science fiction books. After reading The Starry Rift, if a young reader has any questions about what to read next he or she will need only to consult this story to get the names of Zelazny, Butler, Stapledon, Bradbury, Willis, Tiptree, Russ, Stephenson, etc. Half the time when a new scene starts, one of the characters is reading another classic of SF. It's wonderful propagandizing on behalf of the field, and in the context of this anthology it is a great touch.

Greg Egan's story "Lost Continent" is the other truly remarkable story here. Influenced by his work with refugees in Australia, it is the story of a time-traveling refugee. Ali is a young man who comes from a land where time-traveling warlords have taken over and made life hell for many, instigating internecine fighting, abducting child soldiers, etc. After Ali's older brother is disappeared, his parents pay a time-traveler to smuggle Ali sometime safer. Ali finds himself in a refugee camp with other displaced persons. He does the best he can navigating the confusing bureaucracy with the help of fellow refugees and occasional appointed translators and lawyers. However, it looks like he might be trapped in bureaucratic limbo. In being so specific, the story is universal to the plight of refugees anywhere. One needs no knowledge of the current political background that inspired this story to be moved to new awareness by it.

Most of the stories are solid and entertaining, if not as exceptional as those. Occasionally one wonders if the stories are being pitched over the heads of young readers, especially Jeffery Ford's homage to Michael Moorcock, but there's nothing wrong with providing an opportunity for more advanced readers to stretch their imaginations around something really complicated. Young boys especially will probably enjoy Alastair Reynolds' slightly gruesome offering.

To sum up, I already know what I'll be getting my nephew for his 10th birthday, even if he only just turned 4.

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