A short story and novella collection about exploring space, colonizing the universe, and first contact.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 28 hours 21 minutes
Narrator: Tim Campbell, James Anderson Foster, Mary Robinette Kowal, Karen Cass, and James Langon

This was a fine collection and I liked most of the stories. However, the vast majority of these stories are about the relationships between the humans who are in space, rather than first contact or colonization. Some of them also explore the world that the explorers left behind far more than what they encounter.

”A Jar of Godwill” by Tobias S. Buckell: The gedda are an alien race whose economics are based on patents rights on technology. Since they’ve previously developed tech that the humans use, they own the patents. Alex is a professional friend. A genetically engineered human (a hermaphrodite) whose job is to, essentially, keep humans sane in the vastness of space with empathy and touch (not necessarily sex). However, Alex’s account is overdrawn and his only chance is to take a job in an approaching space ship full of scientists. Alex’s job is to befriend a drone, another engineered human who is part of a hive mind but who is now far away from the hive.

In “Mono No Aware” by Ken Liu, a giant asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. Some governments have tried to build space ships. The narrator was a child in Japan and we see in flashbacks how the Japanese reacted. In the now of the story, he’s aboard the ship, working with others when a disaster occurs.

”Rescue Mission” by Jack Skillingstead: Michael and Natalie had a brief affair. Since they’re both single adults, that shouldn’t have been a problem. However, they’re assigned to the same mission of exploring a new planet. They’re the only crew. Things get really weird down there.

“Shiva in Shadow” by Nancy Kress is a story I’ve listened before in the collection Starship Vectors.

This story takes place in a deep space exploration ship the Kepler which has just three people; the Nurturer Captain Tirzah and two scientists Kane and Ajit. Tirzah’s duty is to keep the scientists focused on their work and working together. In order to do that, she has to constantly monitor them and she also has sex with both. They are exploring a black hole and to get data, the ship launches a probe which will send the data back to the Kepler. The probe has uploads of Tirzah, Kane, and Ajit. The story alternates between the crew aboard the ship and the probe.

In “Slow Life” by Michael Swanwick, three scientists explore the surface of Titan, especially it’s nitrogen/methane sea. Lizzie O’Brien enjoys her work immensely when she’s ballooning around inside her armored exploration suit, even when she must sleep inside it. But then her dreams turn weird.

In “Three Bodies at Mitanni” by Seth Dickinson humanity has sent seed ships into space. Much later, they have chosen three people who have been sent to evaluate the human colonies which have sprang from the ships. If the colonies might offer existential threat to humanity, they must be destroyed.

Anja-Hera, Tien, and the POV character have complex relationships and they must vote if the colonies will survive or if they will be destroyed.

“The Deeps of the Sky” by Elizabeth Bear: Stormchasers are space miners; they mine a gas giant in fragile little skiffs. When one of them notices an alien ship in trouble, he must decide if helping it is worth losing his potential mating rights with the Mothergrave.

I’m a fan of Rusch’s Diving universe so I’m very familiar with the next story, “Diving into the Wreck” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Boss has found an old space ship. It’s possibly several thousand years old. She and her crew of four are “diving” into the airless ship without knowing what they’ll find. They take a lot of precautions which might not be enough.

“The Voyage Out” by Gwyneth Jones: Ruth is a criminal condemned to death because she dared to speak out against the government, United States of Earth. She and more than a hundred other people are aboard a spaceship which is heading toward a habitable planet. They are going to be put down and start a colony without a possibility of coming back. None of the people are violent criminals but one young girl seems especially innocent.

This story feels like it could be a beginning of novel about the colony.

“The Symphony of Ice and Dust” by Julie Nováková: Kieran and Manuel are aboard Orpheus, looking for material for their next great symphony. On the planet Sedna, they find the remains of the previous expedition, 1100 years go.

“Twenty Lights to the ‘Land of Snow'” by Michael Bishop: 990 Tibetian Buddhists, and a group of others, have accompanied their Dalai Lama to exile to another planet. The Kalachakra is still on its way. Two young people are competing for the position of the next Dalai Lama: Jetson is Tibetian teenager and Greta Bryn is young Western woman. The story is seen through computer logs by Greta.

“The Firewall and the Door” by Sean McMullen: Argo is the only unmanned space probe sent about 30 years ago. Its information is sent directly to everyone’s living room. Its crew is on Earth and runs the drone from there. The main character is a magistrate, specializing in space law. When things go very wrong on Argo, he’s called in. In this world, stopping waste is the most important thing and no other spacecraft were ever built because it would have been too wasteful.

“Permanent Fatal Errors” by Jay Lake: the spaceship has just seven people but they’re all heavily modified: one can even withstand vacuum without a spacecraft. They’re also all immortal. When they find out something unexpected, they start to turn against each other.

“Gypsy” by Carter Sholz: When the US (or is that world?) economy tanked, Sofi was one of the people who had to take any job she could to survive. Her job isn’t terrible but in the end it can’t even support her and she must move to the company barracks. The world is full of hate and distrust. Governments and companies try to control everything and everyone. However, Sofi finds out that a group of people have built a spaceship and they’re going to escape the oppressive Earth. They’re heading to Alpha Centuri which should have a habitable planet. Sofi joins the crew happily. She should have spent the journey in hibernation but something goes wrong and she’s woken just two years into the journey. We also get to know Roger who came up with this project, called Gypsy, and many of the other people involved in and living in this hopeless world.

“Sailing the Antarsa” by Vandana Singh: Mayha is from the planet Dara, which was inhabited a few centuries ago. When the council of kinhouses decides to send someone to find out what happened to people who had left Dara a few generations ago, Mayha in the one who is chosen to go. Alone. She’s put in cryosleep but something happens and she’s woken too soon. She reminisces about her life in peaceful Dara.

“The Mind is Its Own Place” Carrie Vaughn: Mitchel is one of the pilots on starship Francis Drake. But then Mitchel wakes up in the neurological ward without memories of what happened. He’s told that he has a disease which affects a lot of pilots but he can’t accept that.

“The Wreck of the Godspeed” James Patrick Kelly: Adele volunteers to go aboard a starship which is looking for new planets to colonize. It has been doing that for a couple of thousand years, with changing crew but the same AI.

“Seeing” Genevieve Valentine: Marika is a scientist and one of the crew of three who are going to travel to Gliese 581. However, something goes terribly wrong.

“Traveling into Nothing” An Owomoyela: Kiu Alee is waiting to die. She was sentenced to death because she’s a murderer. Instead, an alien gives her a chance to live, if she becomes the alien’s pilot. The catch is that it’s a one-way trip to the alien planet. However, Kiu agrees and then finds out that she must deal with a neural interface she doesn’t like.

“Glory” Greg Egan: Two xenomathematicans travel to another star where there are two alien nations which are hostile to each other. The aliens know that they’re not alone in the universe because they have a founding culture which they think is actually alien. However, they’ve never seen or heard from actual aliens before. The (human) mathematicians are interested in that root culture and the mathematics that they came up with. However, that culture died out three thousand years ago so the two must rely on the two nation’s archaeology. The scientists have bodies which look and function like the aliens. Each scientist goes to one nation to encourage them to dig up more of those artifacts. The aliens have very interesting different biology but behave like, well, like USA and Soviet Union at the height of their paranoia.

“The Island” Peter Watts: In the far future, humans have left Earth. This group is traveling very long distances in space to explore. The crew is in deep sleep and only revived when necessary. When the ship encounter something new, it wakes up one of the humans from a very long sleep. To her surprise, she’s confronted by a boy she doesn’t know. He’s build partly from her genes so she’s unexpectedly a mother which doesn’t please her. The boy hasn’t been around humans and the ship’s AI, the Chimp, has been making independent decisions for very long.

“Gypsy” is mostly about the horrible, dystopian world the whole Earth has become. The next story, “Sailing the Antarsea”, is about the wonderful world of Dara that our explorer has left behind and the secrets it might yet contain. It was very interesting to read them one after the other. Many of the stories have spacecrafts where most of the crew is in cryosleep but one is awakened prematurely to deal with a threat. It’s interesting that the stories were still quite different.

I really liked the first story and I’m hoping Buckell will write more in that universe. Bear’s story was very interestingly different from the others and I liked it a lot, too. The same with Swanwick’s story

Of course, Rusch’s novella was also a favorite but I’ve already read the whole series.

While I was somewhat frustrated with some of the stories, overall I enjoyed the collection. The narrators were good and Kowal was very good, as usual