Review: Shine

I picked up Shine after I had such a good time reading Engineering Infinity.  Shine is billed as “an anthology of near-future optimistic science fiction.”  I was looking for another collection, this was advertised in the back of Engineering Infinity, and I really had to see what they could pull off within those constraints.  Our guide through this happy near-future is Jetse de Vries.

Constraining tone and setting is an interesting approach, and a remarkable set of authors took up the challenge.  From my perspective, the most successful authors in here are the ones who most aggressively subverted one limitation or the other.  That is not surprising; looking at a constraint in a new way is something great SF writers do.  I enjoyed how the folks in Engineering Infinity interpreted the “hard SF” constraint, and I similarly enjoyed most of these.

Optimism is a particularly interesting constraint.  With the exception of Ben Bova’s almost jingoistic odes to space exploration, I can’t think of a lot of SF that is optimistic in tone.  The most Bova-esque story in Shine, Jason Stoddard’s “Overhead” is instructive in how the most successful authors in here attacked the problem.  Setting up multiple perspectives and letting the reader decide who to root for helps, though in “Overhead” there is little mystery where the author’s sympathies lie.  Others provide more complex options.

I should say that “Overhead” is a propulsive, interesting story and that I enjoyed it a lot, but it did not break the mold of a bunch of plucky explorers going into space against any of society’s objections.

Overall, I found Shine to be more hit-or-miss than I found Infinity, but if the lows were more mundane, the highs were higher.  I particularly liked Holly Phillip’s character study of an artist in “Summer Ice,” Marti Ness’s writing clinic in “Twittering the Starts” which expresses a short story as a series of reverse-chronological-order tweets, Alastair Reynolds’s delightful “At Budokan” which I won’t spoil, and Madeline Ashby’s heartbreaking “Ishin.”  Ashby clearly slipped past the “optimistic” requirement with a Hollywood ending, but I’m not fooled.  Finally, I feel like I should mention Gord Sellar’s “Sarging Rassmussen: A Report (by Organic),”  because it is so much the kind of story that resists description, but is so much fun to follow along with.

Because of the high variance, readers are likely to find some stories they dislike in Shine, perhaps some of the ones I like so much. The ones I liked I liked so much that the collection was worth it.  I don’t know that a collection can get a better review than than.


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