Rich Horton Reviews Infinity’s End Edited by Jonathan Strahan and Infinite Fantastika by Paul Di Filippo

Infinity’s End, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Solaris) September 2018.
Infinite Fantastika, Paul Di Filippo (WordFire Press) September 2018.

Alas, Jonathan Strahan’s Infinity’s End is the final entry in his Infinity Project series. It’s a very strong book, and these volumes stand with the very best original anthol­ogy series ever in the field, series like Fred Pohl’s Star, Damon Knight’s Orbit, Robert Silverberg’s New Dimensions, and Terry Carr’s Universe. This book’s main focus is on stories set in the solar sys­tem, in a variety of plausible futures in which the system is broadly (if perhaps strangely) inhabited.

From front to back the stories are varied and strong – from the very traditional, such as Kristine Kathryn Rusch‘s enjoyable adventure “Once on the Blue Moon” in which a young girl must foil space pirates, to a pretty challenging story about the importance of consistent time-keeping for long distance space travel, Fran Wilde‘s “The Synchronist“.

Four stories stood out for me. The two opening stories, both by Robsons, Justina and Kelly, are excellent. Justina’s “Foxy and Tiggs” is about a humanoid foxling and a velociraptor, both in­telligent designed beings, who work security at a luxury hotel on four distant planets. They are excited to get the chance to investigate a real mur­der. The story follows the successful investigation, which is nicely done, but what’s more interesting is what we learn about Foxy, Tiggs, and the hotel, and what that implies about this particular future. Kelly’s “Intervention” is a very intelligent story about child-rearing in a heavily inhabited future solar system. The narrator is from Luna, where creche work is socially frowned upon, so she leaves to work on an asteroid-based creche – and then later gets a chance to work on a bid to re­form Luna’s failing creche system. This is really interesting social speculation, and the characters are very solidly portrayed, very honest.

Both those stories are grounded, with recogniz­able human characters. My other two favorites are set in much more distant futures, with much more posthuman characters. In “A Portrait of Salai” by Hannu Rajaniemi, we meet Sfumato, a radically posthuman individual, as ve is creating art and music by raining comets on an artificial habitat. Ver project is threatened by the arrival of the Pageant, and the Iron Critics…. What is this about? It’s a rather philosophical piece, set in a much altered, far future system where it seems all of humanity’s Great Projects have failed, and the few who remain (having resisted the Great Temptation of Upload) fight the anomie of the ap­parent realization that there is nothing new under the (damaged) Sun. But perhaps there can be? That’s the question the story asks, as it also hints at the past (and future?) relationship of Sfumato and ver once-lover Salai. Very cool stuff!

Peter Watts‘s “Kindred” is told in mono­logue, addressed from an entity to an intelligence – I’ll leave the reader to learn which intelligence – it just created, a reconstructed human. It seems this is in the far future, and our monologist wants to discuss what it means to be human, and why humans war, and for a good reason, which we learn in time. It’s another very philosophical story, and written to excellent effect. And I must say I love the title, which has of course multiple meanings, one very cute.

Paul Di Filippo has a new collection out, Infinite Fantastika, which includes a dozen stories, most fairly new, most from somewhat out-of-the-way places. Di Filippo is always entertaining; his imagi­nation has a distinct gonzo twist, and the book is well worth it. The one new story, “Devils at Play“, is perhaps not the best here, but it’s fine work, about a group of people who have been enhanced, both physically and mentally, to be addicted to excite­ment, and so they are pushed to riskier and riskier activities. The narrator, against his better judgment, allows a reporter of sorts, or maybe a sort of future blogger or vlogger, to record his posse for a few days – but inevitably she falls for him, not knowing of his past love and how he lost her.

Recommended Stories:

“A Portrait of Salai”, Hannu Rajaniemi (Infinity’s End)
“Foxy and Tiggs”, Justina Robson (Infinity’s End)
“Intervention”, Kelly Robson (Infinity’s End)
“Kindred”, Peter Watts (Infinity’s End)

Rich Horton works for a major aerospace company in St. Louis MO. He has published over a dozen anthologies, including the yearly series The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy from Prime Books, and he is the Reprint Editor for Lightspeed Magazine. He contributes articles and reviews on SF and SF history to numerous publications.

This review and more like it in the November 2018 issue of Locus.

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