Book Review: Reach for Infinity

Reach for Infinity
Edited by Jonathan Strahan

My edition:
E-book, 352 pages (in paperback)
2014, Solaris
ISBN: 9781781082034
Publication date: May 27, 2014

3/5 stars

Let me start off by saying I received a free copy of the e-book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.  This book contains 14 short stories regarding humanity in space, reaching farther than the Earth and moon, struggling to create new communities and dealing with new technology. Strahan describes the collection in his introduction:

“Many of the stories take place on Earth in the next hundred years, looking at points in time where people, or a person, look to make a critical difference and push forward towards something greater. Some of them take snapshots from places – deep within the future colonies of Mars or perched in the chromosphere of the sun – where humanity as a whole is pushing its boundaries and stretching its limits in order to achieve more. All of them are about, one way or another, reaching for infinity from within and without.”

Strahan also describes this book as a collection of “hard science fiction stories,” which was a new term for me. I’m not very technical when it comes to genres so I looked to Wikipedia for more information and found this:

“Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both.”

My thoughts:
Overall, I enjoyed the book – it was a nice change of pace, going back to science fiction – and “hard sci-fi” was a new experience for me. These stories definitely had a big technical focus and while sometimes it was hard to wrap my brain around the concepts or images being discussed, I really felt immersed in the future these writers created. I could imagine the technology in some of these stories coming to fruition at some point – though within 100 years seems like a bit of a stretch – and the problems some characters faced seemed very real. In some cases I was actually frightened, thinking about some of the worlds these writers created, because it’s not a reality I would want to experience, but it seemed very possible. I thought the stories fit together well as a collection too – while I picked up on differences in writing style, it was clear all the writers were on the same wavelength and trying to write in the same universe. My biggest problem was probably my inexperience with the “hard sci-fi” genre – because it is supposed to be so technically detailed, and I’m not used to that, I did feel lost at times. I couldn’t always picture the  scenes or images the writers were trying to portray because there was so much jargon that I just didn’t understand. But this isn’t a criticism on the writers – I think if this was a genre I was more familiar with (or if I had a big interest in science and technology already) I don’t think it would feel so overwhelming.

If you’re a big sci-fi buff, especially someone who is into technical and scientific details, you should definitely check out Reach for Infinity. Strahan also references his two other collections in this intro, Edge of Infinity and Engineering Infinity so those might be worth checking out as well.

With this being a collection of short stories, I’ve formatted this review a little differently than normal – some stories just didn’t leave a big impression on me – though, as I said, they all fit nicely in this collection – so I don’t  have something to say about each one. Instead, I’m just going to share my thoughts on a few:

Break My Fall by Greg Egan – This story focuses on a group of people traveling from Earth to Mars. They’re in a sort of convoy – multiple little ships traveling in a group – propelled through space by…asteroids? Unfortunately, this is one of the stories I had a hard time imagining – but it seemed like the ships latch onto some asteroids and use their rotation to propel to the next one. Anyway, a space storm arises and the crew has to make a decision about where to stop. When they do decide to dock at a station that can hold everyone from the convoy, one ship has an issue docking, and almost ends up lost in space. I don’t want to give away the whole story, but I’ll say that the ending left me puzzled. This might be because I couldn’t really get a handle on the story from the beginning – but I honestly had no clue what to think of the ending.

Report Concerning the Presence of Seahorses on Mars by Pat Cadigan – At first I was totally confused by this title, but as the story progressed it made a lot of sense. Cadigan gives us a peek at colony life on Mars and the restrictions that Earth has placed on the people living there, because they’re funding the whole project. I got the sense this was an earlier stage of the project, not something those on Earth were sure about continuing. As a precaution, they put a ban on childbearing, but the laws were worded so that it only prevented women from having children – as a result, some men decided to experiment with pregnancy. My summary might sound disturbing, but the story was well written and I enjoyed the little troupe of characters we followed. Again, I was a little lost with some of the imagery, but otherwise I was engrossed in Cadigan’s world and I would like this to be a full novel.

Amicae Aeternum by Ellen Klages – Klages tells a story of a girl saying goodbye to her best friend, as well as everything she’s familiar with on Earth, because her parents have volunteered to be part of a space project that will bring their family into space and leave them there. The girl and her family will live aboard a massive ship until their death, helping to create future generations, who will also live and die entirely on the ship as it navigates across the universe. This story was incredibly depressing because I couldn’t imagine being forced to participate in something like that. It also reminded me of Beth Revis’s story Across the Universe, as if this were a sort of prequel.

Trademark Bugs: A Legal History by Adam Roberts – This story was probably hardest for me to understand because it was formatted to be a sort of legal essay, about cases against pharmaceutical companies that started manufacturing bugs (colds, diseases, etc) as well as the cures, so that people would become infected and be forced to purchase the remedy or suffer. Between the legalese and the format of the document, I felt a little lost, but I understood the overall message, and it scared me. To me, designer bugs like this seem way more possible than traveling to Mars and creating a livable community. In my mind, it’s something that could occur while I’m still alive! Probably I’m paranoid,  but this little document really freaked me out, which is a sign of good writing.

In Babelsberg by Alastair Reynolds – This story focuses on a robot that was made to travel through space and document what humans could only hope to see someday. But what I focused on were the modifications humans could make to their bodies, thanks to the advancements of science. The robot in this story goes on two different talk shows to discuss his job – one is hosted by a baby, the other a T-Rex. Yes, they used to be regular men and paid for these genetic…enhancements? I don’t consider being physically reverted to a baby or transformed into a T-Rex as an enhancement, but apparently these two gentlemen were pleased with their choices. This was another disturbing tale (in a good way!) and while I can’t imagine something like this being possible any time soon, I can imagine people modifying or changing their bodies in strange ways, given the opportunity.

One thing that did bother me about the book was the formatting. I will say right now that I don’t read e-books as often, so maybe I’m just not used to it, but the pages often had strange spacing that made it hard for me to focus on the writing. There were also spelling and grammar errors (though not as many as I’ve encountered in other e-books) and I’m not sure if this is because it’s an e-book or because it just hasn’t gone through the last round of edits.

An example of the start of a story.

An example of the start of a story.

The story titles were all in lowercase, which was fine, but then there was some funky formatting on the first few words of the first sentence. This occurred in every story and aesthetically it really bothered me. I’m not sure if they were trying to do something fancy and my Kindle just wasn’t reading it correctly, or if this was a bug, That’s part of my issue with e-readers is that I just never know if things like this are due to what model I use, or just the media in general.

...paragraphs?

…paragraphs?

Many of the pages looked like this, which left me focusing more on the blank spaces than the words I was trying to read. It’s unfortunate that something like this has the power to detract from the story, but if my eyes can’t glide across the page, it’s harder for me to absorb what I’m trying to read because I’m so focused on just trying to follow the sentence!

Again, these are formatting issues and in no way reflect my feelings on the content itself.

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How about you guys, do you use e-readers often? What ones? We have a Kindle and Nook in my house. I’ll say that they’re convenient as far as storage and I enjoy the selection of free books that Amazon and Barnes and Noble have on offer. But I really prefer to be able to flip back and forth between pages quickly – ever since I started using physical tabs in my books to highlight something, I feel the note function on e-readers is actually less convenient. I have to navigate through various menus in order to find my note, then scroll back and forth between pages to refresh my memory on the passage, but by then my note is gone and I need to go back through the menus to pull up that text again! Maybe things have changed with newer models – both of ours are first generations I believe. But I’ll always prefer a physical book. Thoughts?

 

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