Book Title: Best of Beyond the Stars: a space opera anthology
Authors: David Bruns, Patrice Fitzgerald, Michael Ezell, G. S. Jennsen, Nick Webb, Ann Christy, S.M. Blooding, Samuel Peralta, Christopher J. Valin, Jeff Seymour, Michael Anderle, Jennifer Foehner Wells, David Adams, Susan Kaye Quinn & Joseph Robert Lewis
Editor: Ellen Campbell
Series Editor: Patrice Fitzgerald
Publication Date: March 28, 2018
Available on: Amazon as an eBook and as a paperback
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
The “Beyond The Stars” series of anthologies represent some of the best science fiction being published today. This is the fifth volume in the series, collecting the best stories from each of those previous anthologies and publishing them here. Better yet, there are three new stories never published before and one story that has never been published in this series before.
All of them are breathtaking, original and compelling reads. If you’ve never read a “Beyond The Stars” collection, start with this one and see what you’ve been missing. If you’ve already read the previous volumes, go ahead and have a re-read. Here are my thoughts on all fifteen of the stories in this collection, starting with:
David Bruns’ “The Epsilon Directive” – Tom is a soldier on a death squad tasked with hunting down every last Scythian after defeating them in the war. But Tom’s heart isn’t in it, especially after encountering a unique situation where conscientious objectors harbor the enemy! How Tom and his squad react to this is both thrilling and thoughtful, with some unpredictable twists.
Patrice Fitzgerald’s “Hanging with Humans” – An intergalactic game show on the planet Zeldar where contestants are placed inside artificial alien bodies and must assimilate the local culture quickly to achieve a specific objective. Since our lucky contestant Glendorp is stranded on planet Earth, hilarity ensues as the story takes unpredictable twists and turns when he’s deposited into a high school and its dog-eat-dog environment. As the laughs became more uproarious, I was howling at the ludicrousness of each escalating situation. By the time it reached its riotous conclusion, I was exhausted from all the laughs, grinning widely from ear to ear.
Michael Ezell’s “The Good Food” – Jensen and his canine sidekick Roy who can talk (!) land on a planet being terraformed, seeking to find out the cause of a peculiar problem. While there is no complex life present, what they discover will be far out of the ordinary! A powerful story about a soldier and his dog that’s also a terrifying tale with an inventive dilemma and a surprising ending.
G.S. Jennsen’s “Venatoris” – Alexis is a freelance scout, looking for new discoveries in deep space to lay claim to on behalf of whoever pays for her expertise. But when she gets advance word of an unexplored pulsar, the chance to find some rare, valuable elements (and big rewards) is too good to pass up. In a mad dash in her ship to that region of space, she discovers several difficult obstacles in her way. But can she succeed? A lushly created universe filled with interesting characters, witty banter, strong science and a suspenseful series of events leading to clever problem solving and a delightful finale.
Nick Webb’s “Hope 91” – Alex is a nine-year-old boy living on a spaceship being propelled through space, the only human on a ship filled with robots there to educate and take care of him. As time passes, he learns what his purpose is in life and what will happen when he eventually makes planetfall many years from now. As time passes, he learns more about why and how he was placed on this spaceship. Disturbing secrets are revealed, important relationships are formed and challenges must be overcome. A touching story and wonderfully strong character study about a boy becoming a man while overcoming odds large and small, all the while rooting for him to succeed and survive the rigors of space and time.
Ann Christy’s “Sequester” – As humanity is being rounded up by PePr’s, autonomous robots on Earth, a crucial mission on Mars is needed to escape. But when they encounter an almost impossible obstacle, what hope do the humans have? This perplexing conundrum kept me furiously turning the pages to find the answer, absorbing me with its characters and its tension as well as delighting me with the potential solution.
S.M. Blooding’s “Escape from Push Station 16” – Domino is trying to escape her space station prison and has a plan with her friend Targie, an engineer. When a rare opportunity arises to do so, the intensity rises to a fever pitch. Will they all escape alive? It’s a pulse-pounding thrill ride with danger around every corner as it counted down to a deadline with life-or-death consequences. I also liked how the different social classes here were structured, based on moral choices and how it impacted life aboard the space station. Combined, it was an enrapturing tale that was brimming with social awareness and everyone’s desperate life circumstances.
Samuel Peralta’s “War Stories” – Our narrator is a soldier in a war across the cosmos against a faceless but difficult and tenacious enemy. Crossing paths while on his third tour, we slowly realize he has a strong friendship with a fellow soldier named Sharkey. As their paths periodically intertwine, we are treated to several vignettes they and their fellow soldiers share with one another. With each atrocity and gruesome story they tell, the losses mount and we are mournful at the hard experiences they each have to face, leading up to the worst horror of all. The author deftly exposes the darkness with each vignette the soldiers share, skillfully penetrating our psyche and striking a deep chord in our hearts. It speaks to a sad constant in the universe: war is a brutal hell. And through this story, it’s so intensely illustrated, we truly come to understand why.
Christopher J. Valin’s “Just an Old-Fashioned Lust Story” – A highly skilled bounty hunter is hired to track down a rich guy’s wife who stole her husband’s money. But when this job becomes more than that, they have a lot of fun together until they’re confronted by other bounty hunters! An action-packed adventure, an unconventional protagonist with an interesting background along with remarkable storytelling and unforeseen developments.
Jeff Seymour’s “A Pool of Uncountable Eddies” – Efie is a graduate assistant on the distant planet Belladox, researching strange radio waves that are emitted from a pool near the local temple. Trying to figure out whether they are sentient, Efie realizes she must do something drastic to find out! But what will she discover? This tale has excellent characterization in the form of a lonely Efie coping with her emotions about her life choices. But she’s also tangled in a diplomatic conundrum regarding her discovery, presenting an intriguing premise that made me want to know more.
Michael Anderle’s “Tabitha’s Vacation” – The galaxy-wide infestation of vampires leads to the founding of an organization to stop their evil and enforce justice. Ranger Tabitha goes on a highly problematic and hazardous mission to find one such target but can she succeed by herself with the help of some cool tech toys? An audacious, lively and highly entertaining story about a heroine who kicks butt and takes names despite insurmountable odds.
Jennifer Foehner Wells’ “Carindi” – El’Pio is a member of an aquatic species living in specially created water spaces on a city-sized ship. When all the air-breathing species die of a plague, she’s the only one left, alone on the ship with no way to escape her confinement to change the ship’s trajectory. Since the ship is orbiting a star going nova in 13-14 years, she’s desperate for a glimmer of hope until she finds a small child, Carindi, protected from the plague. Together, they try to figure out a solution before it’s too late. Rich in character, you feel strongly for them as they grow older and form familial bonds, dealing with a complex problem in intriguing ways.
David Adams’s “The Immortals: Anchorage” – Nicholas is a soldier in a privately contracted elite fighting unit, cybernetically connected to Immortal Armor, a battlesuit that provides tremendous advantages. His unit is tasked to explore a now-derelict passenger liner in space that no one has had any contact with and find out what happened to it. The creepiness factor rises along with the tension as we wonder what really happened here. Could what they find impact the galaxy at large? This enthralling and exciting tale features intense conflict, creative battles with a mysterious enemy and characters that have fascinating backgrounds.
Susan Kaye Quinn’s “Containment” – When the Mining Master of Thebe discovers a mysterious but deliberately stacked collection of rocks on Jovian, this artificial intelligence is strangely intrigued, testing to find out where it might have come from and forming some theories. But this mysterious stack presents a larger mystery for her, one that takes her on a journey she never expected. A thrill ride of discovery and identity leading to a fantastic ending, this one will keep you enraptured with its twists.
Joseph Robert Lewis’ “Rendezvous” – Tatiana is traveling in her spaceship among the stars around Jupiter when she encounters something alien on her scopes. What she finds is surprising and more important than she initially thinks. What will happen to her? The alien she finds is unusual, evolved and intelligent and the back and forth of their discussion hides deeper meaning and a far-reaching outcome for more than just herself. This is what kept me wondering what would happen next more than anything in this tale. Also, the sheer strangeness of their talk, as well as the humor used here, make this captivating conversation filled with sparkling wit. And its conclusion was unforeseeable as well as fascinating.
This collection is filled with wonderful space opera stories featuring all kinds of science fiction where imagination runs rampant throughout the galaxy. These short stories stimulate your senses and stir your heart like nothing you’ve ever read before.
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