Reviews for Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies, by John Joseph Adams, Tobias S. Buckell
Recent Reads: Cosmic Powers. John Joseph Adams collects excellent far future SF. Space opera with all the bells, whistles, and ray guns.
"I" is a maintenance form robot who used to be human, who agreed more than one hundred years ago to give up its free will in order to perform contracts in exchange for a chance to see the galaxy on various contracted positions.
Explores how the laws of robotics could be obeyed to the letter yet still have room for intelligent creatures to live their lives, exchange favors, and still have their modicum of freedom.
Just a terrific collection of sci-fi.
Lots of authors on my must-read list already and now I have a few more.
If you're thinking that by the cover this might be your kind of thing, it is.
I don't even know where to start with this one. The world building, the characters, the themes...all of it was wrapped up so well.
Buckell does a fantastic job of telling a world-class tale in under 7k words and packs more development and world building than most novels.
I wanted to see what this one was all about and I wasn't disappointed.
Cosmic Powers is an anthology of sci-fi stories from 18 different authors; many of them were new to me.
I found it kind of disappointing: there were many stories I couldn't even get into; not all of them were necessarily bad, some were just really not my kind of sci-fi. On the other hand, the stories I was looking forward to were just as good as I expected.
A Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime by Charlie Jane Anders: ★½ DNF
Charlie Jane Anders' writing really isn't for me, I already knew that because I tried her Nebula-winning novel All the Birds in the Sky and couldn't get past the first chapter, and I couldn't complete this story either: it's a space comedy set around an eldritch orbiting mass, and I get tired of comedy after a few pages. Not for me; I gave it one and a half stars because it had some genuinely funny moments.
Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance by Tobias S. Buckell: ★★★★
While the worldbuilding was confusing at first, I loved the writing and the themes. This is a story of a crab-like maintenance form that contains a human mind and a human CEO who believes every mind who does not reside in a flesh-and-bone body is inferior. It's a fascinating far-future sci-fi story which raises some really interesting questions about what it means to be human.
The Deckhand, the Nova Blade and the Thrice-Sung Texts by Becky Chambers: ★★★½
While the narration and the diary format were intriguing, the story itself was not: it's a chosen one narrative played straight, with no twists ever, which makes it quite predictable but also an easy read. I think that just like The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, this is supposed to be heartwarming and I just don't get why. It wasn't bad at all, the writing was fine and I liked the main character's voice, but it felt meaningless to me.
The Sighted Watchmaker by Vylar Kaftan: ★★½
I didn't get this one. I think it was meant to be a story about god and... sci-fi theology themes? Growing up as a species? Whether or not evolution can work if it's controlled by a god-like entity, maybe. I don't know, I found it quite confusing even if it had some interesting parts.
Infinite Love Engine by Violet Allen: ★ DNF
Really couldn't get into this. Comedy, again? I don't know, I felt like it was trying to be funny and failing.
Unfamiliar Gods by Adam Troy Castro and Judy B. Castro: ★ DNF
Another one I couldn't get into. Yes, there are many of them. The first pages of this were disturbing and not in a good way; again, I felt like the narration was trying to be funny and it didn't work.
Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World by Caroline M. Yoachim: ★★★
It was too long and got confusing near the end; otherwise, this was a really interesting story. It follows Mei, a scientist who is dreaming of other worlds and wants to travel through space faster than light. It had beautiful descriptions: magical temples, spaceships, towers on the Europa moon.
Our Specialty Is Xenogeology by Alan Dean Foster: ★ DNF
I couldn't get into this one either, I tried multiple times, but I didn't like the writing and I couldn't make it past three pages. I also didn't care.
Golden Ring by Karl Schroeder: ★ DNF
A freezing world and a walking sun. Or so I think, because I understood nothing and what I understood wasn't that interesting anyway. Not my kind of sci-fi.
Tomorrow When We See the Sun by A. Merc Rustad: ★★★★¾
According to this story, space is non-binary and very pretty. I agree.
This follows a Wraith - an organic drone - who works as an executioner and is trying not to get its and the dead's memories erased. It took me some time to understand what was going on, but I didn't mind that because the descriptions were beautiful. Also, eel spaceships and so many non-binary characters.
Bring the Kids and Revisit the Past at the Traveling Retro Funfair! by Seanan McGuire: ★★★★½
A clone is fighting against her identical sister in a Dyson sphere, escaping with a scientist and trying to repair the gravity support. It was a fun, fast-paced story with a lot of action, and Seanan McGuire's writing is great as usual. I don't exactly understand what the title has to do with the story (yes, I know the main character has a traveling funfair, but it's not actually part of the story).
The Dragon That Flew Out of the Sun by Aliette de Bodard: ★★★★¾
Another short story in the Xuya (Vietnamese-inspired space opera) universe, of course I loved it. This is about the aftermath of war, displacement, the lack of meaning of conflicts and what repercussions these have on the following generations and their myths. I love Aliette de Bodard's writing and the imagery of this story.
Diamond and the World Breaker by Linda Nagata: ★★★★¼
A story about a group of worlds who are trying not to become an utopian society to become a better society - which was an interesting concept and is less complicated than it sounds - and about a mother and a daughter who have to work together to avoid disaster, even though they're almost never on the same side. I really like mother-daughter stories and this was no exception.
The Chamaleon's Gloves by Yoon Ha Lee: ★★★★★
This story is set in the Machineries of Empire universe and it's the main reason I bough the anthology. Of course, it didn't disappoint. Unlike the other two short stories I read from this universe, this didn't follow a character we know from the novels, but an alt (non-binary person in the Hexarchate) who has been exiled by the Kel (military faction) and is now an art thief to make a living—until the Kel claim to want them back. I love the themes of loyalty/betrayal that Lee's space stories often have, and the writing was as good as it usually is; also, it was really interesting to learn more about the Kel.
The Universe, Sung in Stars by Kat Howard: ★★★★★
This was as beautiful as it was short and now I want to read more by Kat Howard (I'll try to get to An Unkindness of Magicians this year). This story is about a world where people can wear galaxies in their hair and stars on their necks, where universes sing and the main character builds orreries to replicate them.
Wakening Ouroboros by Jack Campbell: ★★
A story about choices set at the end of the world and told from the point of view of the two last humans. I mostly skimmed it, as I found it boring and didn't like the writing.
Warped Passages by Kameron Hurley: ★★★★★
This is a prequel story to one of my favorite sci-fi books, The Stars Are Legion. It follows two sisters (Kariz and Malati Bhavaja) who are trying to escape the legion, ships who have been trapped by an alien entity and whose engines don't work anymore. And now I think I know who built the Mokshi and what the ships are like (giant organs that were eaten by a weird cephalopod-like parasitic entity? It always gets weirder and I love it). Just like The Stars Are Legion, it's a story about agency/free will and family.
The Frost Giant's Data by Dan Abnett: ★ DNF
Another I could not get into and another in which I didn't like the writing style.
I had never found another anthology in which I really didn't like this many short stories, but I also found some new favorites, so I'm not completely disappointed.
The average rating was 3.04
Some good stories but overall a bit underwhelming. 18 stories with a combined rating of 55 stars out of a possible 90 gave the average rating a 3.05. The following is the stories ranked from most liked to least liked:
Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance by Tobias S Buckell - 5 Stars - Exquisite world building
A Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime by Charlie Jane Anders - 5 Stars - Hilarious
Unfamiliar Gods by Adam Troy Castro & Judi B. Castro - 4 Stars - Hilarious and Unforgettable
The Deckhand, The Nova Blade, and the Thrice-Sung Texts by Becky Chambers - 4 Stars - Log entries of an insecure prophecied one
Warped Passages by Kameron Hurley - 4 Stars - An engrossing prequel to The Stars are Legion
The Sighted Watchmaker by Vylar Kaftan - 3 Stars - A creator watches his creations on his planet, great idea.
Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World by Caroline M. Yoachim - 3 Stars - Highly epic, spanning many millennia
Our Specialty is Xenogeology by Alan Dean Foster - 3 Stars - A good should they or shouldn't they first contact story without actual contact.
Golden Ring by Karl Schroeder - 3 Stars - A highly intelligent story missing an emotional element
Bring the Kids and Revisit the Past at the Travelling Retro Funfair! by Seanan McGuire - 3 Stars - Great story but an abrupt ending
Diamond and the Wind Breaker by Linda Nagata - 3 Stars
Wakening Ouroboros by Jack Campbell - 3 Stars - Good story
Infinite Love Engine by Joseph Allen Hill - 2 Stars
Tomorrow When We See the Sun by A. Merc Rustad - 2 Stars - Went way over my head but I could see shimmers of brilliance in it.
The Dragon That Flew Out of the Sun by Aliette De Bodard - 2 Stars - No connection to the story
The Chameleon's Gloves by Yoon Ha Lee - 2 Stars - Connected to his Empires of Machinery series but I had a hard time understanding it.
The Frost Giant's Data by Dan Abnett - 1 Star - Didn't finish it. Probably has something to do with being the last story.
I think that more experienced sci-fi readers will like some of the stories I gave a 2 star rating to. Honestly, a few of those stories were just too complicated for me, and require a reread. The Rustad and Lee stories, in particular, were difficult reads for me. Good anthology overall.