Jonathan Strahan’s third “Infinities” anthology, Reach for Infinity, changes focus yet again for the series. While Engineering Infinity and Edge of Infinity explored solid Solar System-set science fiction, Reach for Infinity’s stories and mission concern the attempts of man to get into the solar system, pulling back even further from the more grandiose hard science fiction in the first Infinities volume, Engineering Infinity. However, even given the more narrowed and tight focus, the stories are no less full of wonder, characters, science and excellent writing. The previous volume, Edge of Infinity, felt in some ways like a manifesto from the editor, as if it had been curated and created to advance an argument. Reach for Infinity eschews that sort of editorial point of view and instead presents a set of excellent stories.
“Break My Fall” by Greg Egan — a trip from Earth to Mars by means of the clever engineering of intermediate objects doesn’t mean that the human factor doesn’t count. The story solidly shows off Egan’s Hard SF capabilities to good effect.
“The Dust Queen” by Aliette de Bodard — Is blocking off memories that make you who you are, however painful, ethical? A touching early-era Dai Viet story that focuses on the family dynamics and sociological implications of those family bonds.
“The Fifth Dragon” by Ian Mcdonald — Perhaps my favorite story of the entire anthology, it is the touching and wonderful story of two women building the future of the Moon.
“Kheldyu” by Karl Schroeder — Gennady Malianov, Schroeder’s wonderful 21st century James Bond contractor for hire, is back! And this time, he’s investigating a C02 filtering tower in Siberia that is much more than it seems. The world Malianov inhabits is a fascinating one, and he himself, in some alternate world, is the interesting and fascinating character at the center of a movie franchise.
“Report Concerning the Presence of Seahorses on Mars” by Pat Cadigan — I don’t know if the story takes place in the same universe as her award winning “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out For Sushi,” but it has the same sort of feel, as colonists on Mars struggle for their freedom, having diverged so radically from Earth. I was also reminded of the failed pilot-movie Virtuality in some of the sociological speculation
“Hiraeth: A Tragedy in Four Acts” by Karen Lord — The titular Hiraeth is an unavoidable psychological disease that every traveler contracts when they leave Earth. “Return to Earth” or “become more and more inhuman” are the only choices. A prototype cyborg chooses the latter, with bittersweet and sad results.
“Amicae Aeternum” by Ellen Klages — The softest of the stories in the anthology by far, it is the simple story of two young friends, one of whom plans to embark on a multi-century one way voyage into the interstellar deep, who must say goodbye to one another and to Earth.
“Trademark Bugs: A Legal History” by Adam Roberts — A dry but engaging white paper-like summary and discussion of pharmaceutical companies which take over the world by means of creating artificial strains of diseases while keeping cures on hand. I found the story to be a scarily possible future dystopia, even as the white paper cheerily lauds this development as natural and good for society.
“Attitude” by Linda Nagata — A young adult story about a low gravity sport played on a developing space platform. The game itself is interesting. More interestingly, however, is that the story focuses on a protagonist caught on the horns of ethics, integrity, and fair play when she learns of a possible violation of the game’s rules during a championship series. The denouement and ending of this story felt extremely rushed and rapid, however.
“Invisible Planets” by Hannu Rajaniemi — A story inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, (and knowingly so, as it is noted by the narrator itself) it concerns a sentient spaceship which talks about the strange and wondrous planets it has visited in its career.
“Wilder Still, the Stars” by Kathleen Ann Goonan — Another favorite story of mine in the collection. A 130 year old woman uses her contacts, her long experience, her wisdom and her smarts to fight for the rights and place of artificial humans lacking self-awareness or ego. Or do they? The description of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington D.C., which figures prominently in the protagonist’s life, makes me want to visit it one day.
“The Entire Immense Superstructure: An Installation” by Ken MacLeod — An alien yet familiar future full of nanotechnology and vast gulfs of income inequality. It features an artist who has decided to make a political statement.
“In Babelsberg” by Alastair Reynolds — An AI explorer of the solar system, who is on a book/tv show book tour about his experiences, faces some uncomfortable questions when another of his kind challenges him about a tragedy on Titan. The worldbuilding we get in the author’s future worked better for me than the somewhat wet firecracker of an ending.
“Hotshot” by Peter Watts — A story set in the universe of “The Island” and a few of his other tales, Hotshot tells the story of how the seeding ships and the dynamics of their crews are established. Although Watts’ future is bleak, I enjoyed this look at how the seed ships came to be built. It’s a really good anchor to the collection.
Like its predecessor, Edge of Infinity, I would not be surprised if one or more of these stories are on the ballots for awards next year. Certainly, stories like Bodard’s, McDonald’s, and Goonan’s are strong candidates to make my own slate of nominees. While this anthology doesn’t quite lay down the marker that the previous volume did in terms of trying to set an agenda and argument and is slightly weaker for that lack of an editorial voice, this is still a solid set of mostly Hard SF stories that any reader in this subset of genre will want to dip into.