The Starry Rift by Jonathan Strahan (2008) 525 p.

I was quite surprised, when I began reading this book, to reach the end of the introduction and find that it was signed off: “Jonathan Strahan – Perth, Western Australia, 2007.” It wasn’t so much that I was surprised to discover a sci-fi anthologist based in my hometown, but rather a sci-fi anthologist who pulled names like Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds and Ian McDonald.

Strahan’s intention with this anthology was to recreate the golden age of sci-fi, to feature stories that would “offer today’s readers the same kind of thrill enjoyed by pulp readers fifty years ago.” He carefully avoids mentioning “children” or “young adults,” but many of the authors have chosen to interpret his mission statement as such, so the majority of stories in The Starry Rift feature teenage protagonists. Only a few of them try to recreate the space opera feeling of Heinlein juveniles, which I think is what Strahan was going for.

Neil Gaiman was the only author whose work I’d read before, and so the stories in this book offered an excellent sounding board to see which big-name sci-fi authors are worth further investigation. Stephen Baxter earned himself an immediate toss onto the rejection pile, with a poorly written space opera jaunt called “The Repair Kit,” full of wooden characters and the apparent belief that every noun must be preceded by at least two adjectives. I was ready to throw Cory Doctorow there too, as his smugly-titled story “Anda’s Game” featured an Australian stereotype on the very first page (I wonder what Strahan thought of that?), but he surprised me by telling an entertaining and thought-provoking story about MMORPG economies.

Kathleen Ann Goonan’s “Sundiver Day” was a story about human cloning that featured beautifully visual writing but did not particularly grab my attention. “Orange” by Neil Gaiman confirmed by belief that he is a fairly talented writer who is simply not my cup of tea. “Lost Continent” by Greg Egan was a thinly-veiled attack on the astonishing vitriol Australia treats refugees with, the politics of which I strongly agree with, but which was obviously shoehorned into the science fiction genre.

“The Star Surgeon’s Apprentice” by Alastair Reynolds was a promisingly creepy story about a kid hitching a ride of a vessel crewed by cyborgs where all is not as it seems, but which fell apart in the final act. “Infestation” by Garth Nix was a fairly interesting story about vampire hunters in which the vampires are actually insectoid aliens. By far the best story on the anthology is Ian McDonald’s “Dust Assassin,” set in a futuristic India with cyberpunk technology and evocative descriptions reminiscent of William Gibson’s Neuromancer. McDonald is the one author from this book whose other works I will most definitely be seeking out.

The rest of the stories are somewhat interesting but largely forgettable. Overall, The Starry Rift is an easy science fiction read and a good way to sample the works of some well-known authors in the genre, but if you die without reading it your life wasn’t neccesarily a waste.