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The Starry Rift


Editor, Jonathan Strahan

    The Starry Rift:
    Tales of New Tomorrows

    Edited by Jonathan Strahan

    Viking Press, 2008. 530pp

    I fully admit that I initially sprang for this anthology entirely on the basis of Stephan Martiniere's cover illustration. It's what SF covers are supposed to look like, and wrapped around a nice hefty volume (530 pages), seemed to hold out the promise of some good old fashion SF. Even the subtitle, "Tales of new Tomorrows" had a nice 1950's ring to it.

    I was not disappointed.

    Editor Jonathan Strahan has pulled together 16 of the top names in the field, which provides a great sampler of contemporary authors if, like me, you've been off reading in a particular subgenre, and would now like a quick sense of whose doing what on the main stage. I was delighted, for example, to discover Ian McDonald through the inclusion of "The Dust Assassin," a near future SF set in the Indian subcontinent. I can't believe that I hadn't heard of McDonald before and that no one thought to recommend him to me. I have since added all his titles to my 'wish list'. For me, "The Dust Assassin" was alone worth the price of admission.

But even where I was already familiar with the authors — names such as Cory Doctorow and Neil Gaiman — I was delighted that Straham had been able to solicit such consistently high quality stories. Gaiman's "Orange" for example, is a positive gem, for all that it was apparently dashed off enroute to the meeting with Straham; and Doctorow's "Anda's Game" is a wonderfully optimistic response to Ender's Game. And so it goes, with at least 12 out of the 16 stories rating an 'excellent'. That is an incredibly high ratio for a representative cross section of the field: almost by definition, one cannot expect that everything will be to one's tastes.

Straham also contributes a brief but extremely intelligent introduction. Unlike most editors who seem compelled to laboriously — and redundantly — explain how each story fits into the collection, Straham instead provides an insightful overview of the field as a whole. This state-of-the-genre report benefits from Straham's Australian perspective, providing a thought-provoking corrective to our usual American-centric assumptions.

Straham also allows each author a half-page afterward, along with a half page biography, to contextualize each story; again in sharp contrast to those anthologies that utilize forewords, which too often contain ruinous spoilers.

So, was there a theme that united this collection? Was The Starry Rift indeed the 1950s-style 'sense-of-wonder' SF I was looking for?

There's an old joke that asks "What is the Golden Age of Science Fiction" to which the reply is supposed to be "13"; the implication being that SF is best when discovered at that age, regardless of the actual period in which it was written.

In that sense, then, this is indeed Golden Age SF. All but three of the stories feature protagonists aged 13-17. Identifying with these youthful protagonists made me feel 13 again. Reading this anthology, it is impossible not to reminisce about one's own discovery of SF, thus providing an extra layer of nostalgia on top of the stories' own build-in sense of wonder. I am not convinced that Straham set out to solicit stories of young heroes, but that's what he got, and it makes for an extremely successful themed anthology. Indeed, I wanted to find a 13 year old to read these to. But whatever the reader's age, this anthology is a sure bet.

© 2009 Robert Runté Reprinted with permission from NeoOpsis Magazine, #19 (Winter, 2009) p. 70.

Last Updated, August, 2010