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Space Inc., edited by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW, 2003, 320 pp.
Space Inc. is an anthology of science fiction short stories that takes as its premise the question of what jobs might look like in the future. The cover blurb rather accurately tells us that Space Inc. has “14 all-original tales of the careers that await us in the universe.” And fortunately Czerneda has assembled quite a diverse group of stories here. I confess to some anxiety when I started reading Space Inc.; the basic story idea, in the hands of a less than competent writer, could turn out to be very dull. In the range of occupations that people today take part in, some are fulfilling of course, but others are mind-numbing and not so exciting. Sweatshops in space! There could be some drama in that if you’re fighting the injustice, but not such a scintillating read if you’re the one doing the sweating. As I’ve said, Space Inc. has quite a diversity of contribution, and while there are some stories about the harsh or gloomy aspects of work in the future, these stories are nicely balanced out by other interesting or funny or intricately detailed stories.
Science fiction humour is notoriously difficult to pull off, but when it happens, it’s always a striking thing. Tanya Huff’s light-hearted “I Knew a Guy Once” is also the strongest story in Space Inc., and it closes out the collection. A bartender named Able Harris is on her way to a space station near Jupiter; the last bartender died in an accident. Also on the shuttle to the station is a psychologist who has been called in due to declining productivity. Able always has a story ready, usually prefaced by the line that makes up the title. The sheer repetition is sometimes a bit much, but Huff makes a surprisingly subtle and insightful comment about human nature with this story. And she makes great use of what is becoming a Huff trademark in her science fiction, the cheerfully competent underdog.
The other story that I admired a great deal in Space Inc. is Alison Sinclair’s “Suspended Lives.” This work fits right in with Sinclair’s medical knowledge, and it’s definitely not a story that just any sf writer could put together convincingly. “Suspended Lives” is a day in the life of a surgeon on a space station, and Sinclair throws just about everything possible at her hapless protagonist. The level of detail here is quite thrilling actually, and Sinclair has used some credible speculation about the enabling effect of IT on future medical treatment. The sober nature of “Suspended Lives” couldn’t be more opposite to “I Knew a Guy Once” but the two stories complement each other nicely, and form a pattern for the rest of the collection.
Two other more light-hearted stories that are worth reading are “The Eightfold Career Path; Or Invisible Duties” by the ever-reliable James Alan Gardner and “Attached Please Find My Novel” by Sean P. Fodera. Gardner’s story is certainly the oddest in this book. It uses a frame story that has Marco Polo talking to Kublai Khan; Khan tells of a Shaolin monk who had visions of the future. Each vision concerns some aspect of work in the future, usually with an ironic twist; best of all, Gardner cuts to the heart of some sf pomposity in each section. Fodera’s story is about an editor on a colonial world who is looking for a big hit for the struggling company. The editor finds it in a science fiction novel written by an alien. It’s an sf insider story, with some neat detail about what a publishing company might be like in the future. Ultimately, neither story matches up to the high bar of humour and insight set by the Huff story already discussed.
Two stories that take us into the grimmer aspects of working class life in the future are “Porter’s Progess” by Isaac Szpindel and “Riggers” by Michael E. Picray. Szpindel takes us into the world of a porter named Peter; he is an expendable member of the crew of some transit near Venus and he hasn’t come to expect much concern about worker safety from his supervisors. Picray’s story is somewhat similar in that it is about two working class guys named Cap and Harley who are doing the extremely dangerous job of keeping the rigging in good shape on the Solar Sail Factory Ship Inner Space. When a breakdown in solar weather forecasting occurs, their lives are put in peril. Will they survive?
The other stories in Space Inc. are “Catalog of Woe” by Mindy L. Klasky, the story of a librarian who has an important ethical decision to make about the dissemination of information about an alien species; “Ferret and Red” by Josepha Sherman, a nifty story that follows the two title characters as they deal with ship repairs for a very haughty alien race; “A Man’s Place” by Eric Choi, a puzzle story that gives us a lunar chef who has to figure out an illness on the base; “Dancing in the Dark” by Nancy Kress, about a ballet instructor who has to give lessons to the Alien Visitor children; “The Siren Stone” by Derwin Mak, a story about an asteroid demolition crew that runs into an unusual asteroid; “Feef’s House” by Doranna Durgin, about a young and destitute girl who saves a life in the aftermath of an explosion; “Field Trip” by S.M. and Janet Stirling, about a young woman who has to chaperone some kids on a trip to a space station; and “Come All Ye Faithful” by Robert J. Sawyer, a story about a Martian priest desperate enough for a flock that he manipulates a miraculous tale.
Space Inc. is the first anthology of this type by Czerneda. Previously, she has put together a number of excellent collections intended for classroom use, using science fiction to teach science to kids. I hope Czerneda has the time to do more of both types of anthology in the future!
Last modified: October 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 by James Schellenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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