The "Amazon Original Stories" series presents groups of short stories by a variety of authors that are, according to Amazon, "made to be binged, just like your favorite podcast or television show". One of those series is “The Far Reaches Collection”, which carries the blurb, Look outward beyond the stars with six stories from bestselling visionary authors. It's free to read and listen to for Prime members, or $1.99 per story on Kindle to purchase. Here's my take on each of the six stories including in the collection.
Slow Time Between the Stars by John Scalzi
Being a Scalzi fangirl, I couldn't resist starting with his contribution. Scalzi takes on the task of showing us the true size and scope of our solar system, our galaxy, and even the universe, via the internal dialog of a ship controlled by an artificial intelligence. The ship has been launched from Earth and carries with it the entirety of human knowledge, right up to the moment of launch.
The AI’s mindset is self-important without being egotistical. I found it fun to contrast my concept of how long an activity should take, and the tasks the AI routinely deals with. You'll find your definition of 'a long time' blown to bits, and your assessment of our Earth and its inhabitants put into a unique perspective. I found the AI’s easy acceptance of the scope of its task to be breathtaking and amusing, simultaneously. I’m already eager for a re-read.
How It Unfolds by James S. A. Corey
I loved the television series The Expanse, based on the novels written by James S.A. Corey, so I had high hopes for this story. In this imaginative adventure, we learn about an ambitious project: exploring space in search of Earthlike planets to colonize, by creating multiple duplicates of an Earthbound crew, then sending the copies out hither, thither and yon as data packets that can be ‘unfolded’ upon their eventual arrival.
There's a side story about a crew member hoping for a second chance (or more) to change something that's happened in his past. This intimate, sentimental goal provides an achingly personal quest in contrast to the huge main story concept. The science is awesome. The characters are believable. I didn't set down my Kindle once until the last page had been read. I'd love to revisit this reality again in other books, or ideally, a television series.
Void by Veronica Roth
As a lifelong mystery fan who enjoys solving murders on moving trains or boats, I was cheered to see that this story was set on a intergalactic transport ship. The ship's crew and passengers were well crafted and quite interesting, but my anticipation turned to disappointment as the mystery itself turned out to be weakly imagined.
On a positive note though, time dilation is an important aspect of intergalactic travel on board the ship, and the challenges of elapsed time faced by the ship's crew and passengers were fascinating and believable.
Falling Bodies by Rebecca Roanhorse
Even though the premise is fresh and creative, and the writing is top-notch, the story of a privileged young man 'sentenced' to attend college on a far flung planet rather than do jail time was awkward and painful to witness. From the moment our protagonist breaks parole to the completely unexpected ending, I found myself wincing more than immersing.
On a positive note, the protagonist feels believable, as does his situation. Important themes of identity, family, and race give the story meaning. I found myself thinking about the repercussions of the Native American boarding school system once used in the United States and Canada.
The Long Game by Ann Leckie
Narr is a small, tentacled life-form, living a satisfying life dedicated to the betterment of his people. That is, until the humans arrive. When Narr learns how long a human's lifespan is, he realizes that his own species are granted just a brief moment in time. And now he wants to do something about that.
It's a fresh premise and I enjoyed seeing how it played out. I was surprised at how short the story actually was, considering how much excellent plot was packed into it.
Just Out of Jupiter’s Reach by Nnedi Okorafor
Seven people are selected to bond with seven living ships, and will roam the universe for ten years, in exchange for a very large sum of money. They are not allowed to contact each other during this time... except for one meet-up near Jupiter at the five year mark.
The ships organic, changeable designs are more than just window dressing. As each person bonds with their ship, they change it in ways that are uniquely suitable for them. When the ships finally gather for their meetup after five years, each has become a fantastical work of living art, and a home for their eccentric inhabitants.
The diverse lifestyles that develop during the first five years are really quite fun and fascinating. The story takes its time showing us how the humans have arranged their surroundings to achieve a satisfying way of living. The space travel aspect is mentioned, of course, but isn’t the heart of the plot. The human interactions are written in a realistic manner – these seven people can be charming, annoying, and even infuriating. I learned to love a few of the characters and hate others. And that's a perfectly normal reaction to accepting wild leaps of unconstrained individualism, I think.
Whether by coincidence or intent, I noticed that "The Far Reaches Collection" carries a common theme that binds all these stories together. Time. Albert Einstein once stated that time is an illusion. The fact is that we 'see' time only through its effect on objects and events. An illusionist's magic is nothing without a rabbit in the hat, a card up the sleeve. Think of these stories as rabbits and cards, wielded by the greatest magician of all, the universe.
This review was originally published at SciFi.Radio - visit the site for more of my reviews, news, and lots of great music!