Ray Gun Reviews
SF/F reviews — and ray guns!

Federations, edited by John Joseph Adams

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Federations, edited by John Joseph Adams
Prime Books, 2009, 379pp

Federations is a recent volume edited by the increasingly prolific anthologist John Joseph Adams, assistant editor at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Most of his other anthologies have had more of a horror flavor. Federations is his first collection of only SF stories.

The twenty-three stores are a mix of reprints and original works, written by a mix of familiar and new authors. There are a couple stories not at all to my tastes, but overall the stories are very good, and in more than a few instances, truly exquisite.

Familiar names and milieus include Orson Scott Card’s story set in the Enderverse, Lois McMaster Bujold’s eerily touching offering in the same setting as her Barrayar series, and Anne McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who Returned,” sequel to The Ship Who Sang. Some authors more usually connected to fantasy rather than SF also make an appearance: e.g., L. E. Modesitt, Jr., George R. R. Martin, and Catherynne M. Valente. There are also old hands at SF beside those already mentioned above — e.g., Robert Silverberg, Alastair Reynolds, and Alan Dean Foster — and authors that are only beginning their careers in speculative fiction.

All of the stories in the collection deal with challenges faced by interstellar societies. Most are not either for or against such societies (though there are a few on either side). The majority fall in the middle, where day-to-day life comes into conflict with the ideals held by society. Some deal with issues that are transparently twenty-first-century problems in a SF dress. A couple are meant to be just silly and fun. A few (the best of the collection, in my opinion) truly manage to capture that sense of wonder at the heart of great science fiction.

My favorite stories in the anthology include Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason’s “Prisons,” which shows a revolt on a prison planet causing surprising problems for those in power in the Federation. Perhaps we are all in prisons of our own making. John C. Wright’s “Twilight of the Gods” portrays life on a ship sent on a generations-long mission of interstellar war. In such confines, old stories take on new life.

Yoon Ha Lee’s “Swanwatch” is about life, music, and black holes. In a galactic society approaching utopia, perhaps death is the true final frontier. Mary Rosenblum’s “My She” is a lovely, poignant story of friendship across lines of class and species. I think Cordwainer Smith would have liked Rosenblum’s story quite a lot, and faithful readers of my reviews will know what high praise this is from me.

All in all, Adams’s anthology is a success. The stories are on the shorter side, many able to be read in one sitting, which means you can pick up the volume as time permits. More importantly, the stories are fun. Once you start reading, you’ll want to pick up the volume until you’ve read them all. Then you’ll want to go back and re-read your favorites. I hope that Adams makes the time to edit more collections of science fiction in the future.

(Reviewed by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt)

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