Book Title: Beyond the Stars – Rocking Space: a space opera anthology
Authors: Cain V. Hopwood, Patrice Fitzgerald, Julia Huni, David Bruns, Andy McKell, Misty Zaugg, Christopher J. Valin, Patty Jansen, J.M. Thomas, R.J. Howell, Nemma Wollenfang, A.K. DuBoff & Patricia Gilliam.
Editor: Ellen Campbell
Series Editor: Patrice Fitzgerald
Publication Date: August 23, 2019
Available on: Amazon as an eBook
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Science fiction has a vast playground to tell a wide variety of stories of all sorts and this anthology is filled with a ton of fantastic ideas. Each of these thirteen terrific tales not only has an outer space setting, but it also highlights the importance of the inner life and experience of different characters, both human and alien.
You have suspense stories, like a heist caper where a musician is trying to steal something important from a gangster to a married couple in their armored mech suits who kill aliens without compunction. There are adventurous stories with dangerous bounty hunters and assassins with hidden agendas, cybernetic police officers and two different factions vying to capture a mystery ship with valuable technology on it.
It also features touching stories about generational ships trying to save the human race and one person fighting for what she believes in. There’s a heaping helping of aliens of all types in this anthology as well, who are trying to be understood, not just on a diplomatic level, but also in just finding common ground with other beings or even in just trying to help a planet with advanced technology.
All of them transported me into their worlds, their cultures, their characters, and their dilemmas. Sometimes the stakes are huge, such as resources to save a world while others are just about caring about the one you love and doing anything for them.
It was really difficult to pick out my favorites in this anthology. All of them have something to recommend them and endeared themselves to me. But these were the best of the best to me:
David Bruns’ “Destroy is my Favorite Part” – Gracie and Max are soldiers trying to clear rogue Scythians off a planet that humans are trying to colonize. Brutal, efficient and deadly, this married couple is a duo of destruction in their powerful mech suits, reigning terror down upon all aliens they encounter. As the fighting continues to get more difficult, they uncover an alien mystery even as their chances of survival dwindle. Can they succeed in their mission objective without dying first?
It’s action-packed and brutal mech action the way you like it, showcasing a variety of weapons and cool fighting styles. As a couple, they have cute and witty “married people” banter back and forth as they mete out deadly force. But the joy they feel at doing so is marked by a darker and deeper motivation. Through flashbacks, we experience how they met, had mutual interests in common and fell in love.
How this informs their actions throughout this tale is heartbreaking and marks a thoughtful level of characterization that makes perfect sense and yet is also filled with tragedy. The ending is also a gamechanger that punctuates an already terrific tale with one last jaw-dropping surprise.
Misty Zaugg’s “Unfair Advantage” – Mildred is a senior citizen fighting for her home against a big corporation trying to buy all the land and develop it. She doesn’t want to sell so they decide to settle this the old-fashioned way – a fist fight! But this is no ordinary fistfight – it’s done through a government-sanctioned system where a person’s consciousness is placed into an android body and remote controls it. But, they can feel every moment of the fight through their pain receptors. Can Mildred even win against a professional fighter?
Mildred is resilient, feisty, just a little bit crazy and a whole lot of stubborn. Her secret weapon is her past, which we get glimpses of as she prepares for the fight. Not only do we get a fight between two androids, but there’s also the emotional factor of an underdog going up against someone who, at first glance, seems more skilled than she is. The thrill of the fight made me cheer for Mildred to win.
Then, the emotional waterworks come on when she meets someone who wants to be her benefactor. That secret past combined with an exciting android fight is the perfect blend of action and heart. The surprises from each of these different story beats blended together made for a compelling and unique story.
Christopher J. Valin’s “The Switcheroo” – A bounty hunter is called upon by a famous trillionaire inventor Edvard Tellison to track down a prototype of the everlasting lightbulb which was stolen from him. One catch: because the target is priceless, he must agree to take along a fellow bounty hunter and work as a tag team. Also, bounty hunters are considered untrustworthy. Gaxiola is more than meets the eye and the tension (and comedy) mounts as they track down their quarry. But will the bounty hunter have second thoughts about this deal?
It’s filled with many zany twists that just smacked me upside the head with their unpredictability and their hilarity. The sheer cleverness of the plotting and the execution of the story was perfection left me gasping and asking myself “Did that just really happen? I don’t believe it.”
The dry wit of the unnamed bounty hunter (who is also this story’s narrator) and the “I can’t believe this is happening to me” attitude elevates this story to the next level. And Gaxiola is one tough gal who has some hidden facets to her that make this story that much more fascinating. They also form the foundation for some of this story’s surprising turns – you never know what she is going to do next.
J.M. Thomas’ “I Said Flamenco” – Jet and Blade are police officers and long-time partners, looking to bust up a drug ring. Having been injured on the job many times, they have plenty of cybernetic implants. Dealing with a company that’s flooding the market with quickly addictive drugs, it’s up to these two to solve the problem once and for all. But can they accomplish this task without the police bureaucracy or the synthetics killing them first?
I’ve seen the buddy cop “I’m too old for this stuff” gimmick done before and the stereotype is stale at this point. But, this story takes these ideas and spins it in brilliant and unpredictable ways! The banter between two old friends is hilarious and their cynicism is that of police force veterans.
Also, their professionalism is questionable at times but their skills and dedication to the job are undeniable. It’s deadly serious yet remains lighthearted and still filled with grim humor. The finale is a thrilling and unputdownable no-win scenario but at the same time, it was one of the most ingenious endings I’ve ever read in a long time.
Every story was notable and different to me, with plenty of originality and inventiveness to each one. Cain V. Hopwood’s “One Last Gig” makes you think the story is about one thing and ingeniously pivots into a heist caper with several nifty twists. “Camp Kids” by Patrice Fitzgerald takes an intriguing look at racism with a sci-fi twist and has an ending that chilled me down to my bones.
Julia Huni’s “First Contract” starts as a humorous missing person tale that transforms into a surreptitious alien invasion – but for none of the reasons you might be thinking. In Andy McKell’s “Chocolate”, Dave is an asteroid miner looking for precious gems who is attracted to a woman that nevertheless turns into a thrilling tale of thievery.
“Juno Triumphant” is Patty Jansen’s intriguing and clever tale about two factions trying to get control of a mysterious ship that has returned to them after many years. R.J. Howell’s “Curiosity” is an unexpected tale about an inexperienced translator on a crucial mission to negotiate with an alien race and gain important resources, with some detailed characterization of both sides.
“Imperatrix” by Nemma Wollenfang is about an assassin sent to kill a queen, with some shrewd storytelling and unanticipated twists to it. A.K. DuBoff’s “The Original Sacrifice” is about a generational ship whose methodology for perpetuating the human race is radically questioned, as well as presented in unexpected and psychological ways.
Finally, “Wily and Tate” by Patricia Gilliam is probably one of the most moving tales in this anthology. It’s about a tale of someone needing help, in the form of a rescue. How they find ways to communicate and relate to one another on an authentic level and try to form a friendship is both fascinating and riveting.
Seven of the authors featured here are ones whose short stories I’ve read before and have enjoyed in the past. They continue that winning trend here in this anthology as well. The others are new to me and I adored their contributions here as well.
I also appreciate how this anthology has many stories that include humor in them. Sometimes, it’s the main ingredient, sometimes it’s just infused more subtly into it. A lot of science fiction anthologies that I’ve read are grim and gritty. But this one brings the funny, which adds a lot of variety to the different flavors featured here.
Overall, it’s a refreshing mix of short stories from the deadly serious to the humorous. This also means that as a collection, I also experienced the complete spectrum of emotions, from despair to utmost happiness, from gratification to depression and excitement to exhilaration.
This is the seventh and latest anthology in the “Beyond the Stars” series, which is showing no signs of stopping. Each anthology has set a precedent of telling high-quality stories and each one lives up to that reputation, including this one. It also introduced me to a wide variety of interesting and flawed characters.
All of these characters are filled with personality and their precarious situations immersed me in their worlds. I experienced truly extraordinary tales here! After reading this entire anthology, I felt an immense sense of satisfaction that only comes from excellent storytelling. This amazing anthology rocks the reading universe about worlds light-years beyond your imagination. As a result, I look forward to reading more anthologies in this series, as I know I will continue to be impressed by what I find.
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Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about anthologies published by Patrice Fitzgerald include “Beyond the Stars: Unimagined Realms: a space opera anthology.”