Reviewed in the United States on September 22, 2020
Science fiction stories are always an imaginative genre to tell all sorts of terrific tales. This anthology takes eleven original stories and uses its different themes to stimulate your mind. Here, you will find disparate ideas and a wide breadth of innovation.
There are people on the wrong side of the law, stealing to just stay alive and live a normal life. Ordinary people are fighting in a revolution to protect their leader and disrupt a crucial government operation. There is fear about artificial intelligence and a movement of people working to protect their nascent ascendency.
Then there’s just your average Joe, trying to eke out a living hauling galactic freight or undesirable outcasts just trying to survive off refuse remotely thrown onto their planet. Let’s not forget galactic politics, arguing over the fate of an entire planet.
Familiar themes are explored and given a refreshing twist, such as artificial intelligence, forming alliances with other planets and empires through royal blood, soldiers in brutal combat fighting near-unstoppable hordes of enemies. The horrible destruction of war and the inevitable aftermath that follows.
What kind of sci-fi anthology could this be without some strange and unusual alien creatures? How about a living ship that has a symbiotic relationship with human beings? Or waking up to find an alien inside your head who just doesn’t understand you?
Stories that touch you emotionally, like a doctor who cares deeply for her bioship or a resistance movement that risks it all to find a lost comrade. Two perspectives of an issue with everyday citizens caught in the middle. All of them are gripping, suspenseful, exciting, and moving.
Each one of these stories is special in its own way and has something to recommend about them. Even among an anthology like this one where all the stories are top-notch, these are the ones that spoke to me:
Jack Lyster’s “Malfunction” – Thal, and her ship that has a faulty transmitter, queue up in a line in preparation for going through a jump gate. Getting paid for her freight will help her get a long-needed break from deep space hauling for a while. But when a terrorist strikes and many lives are lost, all of them are put in danger and the problem intensifies! What decisions will she make to survive?
That faulty transmitter leads Thal to a difficult dilemma: do you help out others who are also trying to survive this massive problem or just try to take care of yourself? As Thal weighs her options, the decisions she makes in the heat of the moment, one leading to the next, are equal parts desperation, experience, and cunning. I could not have predicted what she did nor where the story ended up. It was poignant and thrilling at the same time.
J.M. Thomas’ “Enemy Within” – Jamie wakes up after a traumatic event and finds an alien consciousness in her head. This presence calls itself Delilah and it’s trying to help Jamie adjust to her new situation. Jamie is not pleased with this development and is worried that Delilah can control her body against her wishes. What is going on here and how will Jamie handle these new developments?
At first, it seems like a humorous story. I mean, aliens that can take over your body and think you should be thanking them for it (!) is a situation ripe for comedy. However, the mystery deepens, and the more you learn, the more serious and horrifying the situation becomes. As Jamie adjusts, the reader goes on the same journey as Jamie does to see exactly what happened here. Told from a unique and uncommon perspective, this story elicited more revulsion at Delilah, her actions, and her species than I would’ve thought possible. This tale completely gave me the shivers as all the clues fell into place and the conclusion is deliciously perfect and just.
David Bruns’ “Terminal Candidate” – Surveyor Raja has to present his planetary assessment to an emergency meeting in front of the Coalition of Planets Suitability Council. It’s there where it will be determined whether a planet will be invited into the Coalition or to be harvested for its various resources. Unfortunately, if this happens, this means annihilation for the chosen planet (!). Presenting his report, Raja finds there’s more going on behind the Council’s questions than he thought. What will they decide and how will Raja respond?
The premise of the story as well as the political machinations present behind the scenes are well explained. And the mystery as to why an emergency meeting was called kept me intrigued and the high stakes made it suspenseful. At first, I wondered what was going on as few things were spelled out but as I learned more, I wanted to know more about the dilemma Raja was facing.
The characterization of Raja was well-fleshed out with his family history. Also, the three different alien races on the Council asking him questions were interesting and surprising motivations. I also liked that it’s a darker and more daring version of some of Star Trek’s core concepts, like observing a planet up close to determine whether first contact should be made. This also includes a discussion of inclusion into a group of like-minded, technologically advanced planets banding together.
The ending also spoke to me in a way that not only tugged at my heartstrings but also demonstrated hope to change for the better. There’s also a cool but subtle connection to the author's short story “Destroy is my Favorite Part” featured in “Rocking Space,” the previous anthology in the “Beyond the Stars” series.
All the other stories stimulated my imagination and dazzled me with their originality. C.H. Hung’s “Precious Cargo” is about a bioship that has a symbiotic relationship with the humans who live onboard. But the story really shines when events take an extremely jaw-dropping turn and just wrecked me with its unexpected ending. Also, bonus points for paying homage to a certain character to “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
R.A. Steffan’s “Antecedent” showcases how a resistance force will stop at nothing to foil their government. But their dedication to seeing if their leader is alive or dead following a difficult raid demonstrates unparalleled devotion. “Chrysalis by G.S. Jennsen showcases how a government is afraid of a budding artificial intelligence that shows no threat to humans. The inventive and unusual solution employed to rectify this predicament is satisfying, surprising, and innovative.
Nemma Wollenfang’s “Imperatrix, Redux” also shows extreme devotion when Daire, the First Warrior, must find his Empress, who has been kidnapped by an alien race. It’s a swashbuckling tale of action, adventure, and some unpredictable twists as Daire tries to save her before it’s too late. “Mirage and Shadow” by R.K. Thorne is about a thief who gets caught up in a situation way beyond his control. His charming personality and crafty solutions to difficult problems made me root for him the whole time, right up until the devious ending.
“Coffin Rider” by James Rossiter was an electrifying tale of Jonathan, a soldier who goes to war and revels at inserting the reader right into the middle of the action. From being launched from a ship to the brutality of being an infantryman on the ground against an insectoid force, I experienced what Jonathan did and was riveted beginning to end. R.J. Howell’s “Oresa” is a haunting tale of agent Threnody Winters with a dark past and is on a mission to a dead planet that she is drawn to. The reasons why will envelop you into its tale of tragedy.
“For Your Eyes Only” by Ethan Freckleton is about a young teen and his mentor living on a planet filled with discarded junk. Rejected and dumped there by their own society, they find a way to live in their community. The intrigue of finding a teddy bear that has embedded videos in its circuitry is blended perfectly with a harrowing tale of rescuing a loved one from certain death.
Many of the authors here were featured in the other anthologies in this series as well. This includes G.S. Jennsen, Nemma Wollenfang, J.M. Thomas, and David Bruns. Their tales continue to use their storytelling prowess to pull me into the universes they created.
There are some excellent new voices in this anthology as well, none of whom I’ve never read before. They wildly entertained me with their tales as well. This includes C.H. Hung, R.A. Steffan, R.K. Thorne, James Rossiter, R.J. Howell, Jack Lyster, and Ethan Freckleton.
This is the seventh anthology in the “Beyond the Stars” series, which also includes an eighth “Best of Beyond the Stars” compilation volume.
The “Beyond the Stars” anthology series continues its quest across the infinite expanse to find and publish only the best science fiction short stories. Each volume is a masterpiece of science fiction storytelling that I immensely enjoy every time a new one comes out.
I continue to look forward to each one in this series, as they continue to prove how spectacular they are with finding new and experienced authors who tell mesmerizing tales. With interesting characters, engaging stories, and a hefty helping of limitless creativity, this anthology is another powerhouse of the genre. Go ahead and pick this one up and go read the others in this anthology series if you haven’t already done so. You’ll savor the reading experience of each one.
Please note I received an advance copy of this ebook.