Infinite Stars: Dark Frontiers (Infinite Stars #2) edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Oh gosh, how does any collection live up to its own hype of being “the definitive anthology of space opera”, especially when it’s the second of a series? Tho perhaps the series altogether is meant to be definitive?

Regardless, if you love you some space opera, this is a great place to not only immerse yourself in some of the finest representatives of the genre, but also to discover brand new authors and series you might not have been familiar with before. A particular delight of discovery for me was Weston Ochse and his deadpan look at alien invasion with The End-Of-The-World Bowling League, a story that expands on the Grunt Universe. I was also thrilled to make the acquaintance of Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series via its original representative in this volume, Ishigaki, as well as Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Diving series with the inclusion of Lieutenant Tightass. Another terrific story from a new-to-me author was The Traitor by David Weber, who also contributes a charming introduction. While his Honor Harrington series has been perpetually on my radar, this is the first time I’ve ever actually read his work, and I’m much the better for it (tho I can understand how his wife is not a fan of the ending of this particular story.)

If I’m being perfectly honest, tho, I picked up this book because of authors I was already familiar with and was panting to read more of. Top of that list is Curtis C Chen, whose Codename Kangaroo novels I adore. His original short, Fire In The Pocket, is a terrific look at a young Kangaroo and the beginnings of one of his most important professional partnerships. I was also really excited to read Becky Chamber’s A Good Heretic: I’ve been meaning to read her Wayfarers series for ages and this story only served to heighten my excitement at hopefully finding time for the first book soon. I was familiar with C. L. Moore’s fantasy work (Black God’s Kiss is a classic) but had never read any of her space westerns: Shambleau was exactly as unsettling and terrific as you can expect from an author who believes love to be the most devastating force in the universe. For some reason, I was surprised to discover here that Gardner Dozois wrote short stories in addition to compiling them. The inclusion of his A Special Kind Of Morning underlines his excellent taste in addition to highlighting his own skill at writing in the genre.

Special mention goes to A Beast For Norn, which is the only one of the 26 stories here I’ve encountered previously. Everyone and their mom knows George R. R. Martin for Game Of Thrones, but far fewer are familiar with his terrific Haviland Tuf stories, of which ABFN is an excellent example (tho my personal favorite is Guardians, because yummy.)

I’m not 100% sure of how well this volume fulfills the remit of space-opera-definitive but I definitely had a good time exploring the universes with the stories included here. Some worked better than others, but I was overall impressed with how I didn’t often feel like I was missing a huge chunk of information because a story was set in a larger, established universe. Bryan Thomas Schmidt has done a great job curating a collection that will whet the reader’s appetite for discovery with tantalizing glimpses into whole galaxies of space fiction that deserve to be more widely read. Recommended.

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