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Cosmic Tales: Adventures in Sol System

edited by TKF Weisskopf

(Baen Books, paperback, 416 pages, 17 June 2004; ISBN: 0743488326.)

Review by Elizabeth Barrette

This anthology harks back to an earlier age of science cover scanfiction, with its cover featuring a tailfinned rocket. But it also looks to the immediate future, because the stories all take place within our own solar system. The technology and challenges are things we may face for real within our own lifetime. Some of the stories are dark, some bright; some funny, some haunting. They all evoke a sense of wonder, which is the whole point of reading science fiction in the first place.

The best story on technical grounds is Travis Taylor's "Cleaning Lady," no surprise since Travis is a rocket scientist as well as a writer. In "Cleaning Lady" the characters use solar sails to steer asteroids, diverting NEOs away from Earth to asteroid mining stations. When a bunch of radicals intervene, it's up to Tamara to keep them from knocking more asteroids towards Earth. Sound impossible? Read the nonfiction article "Are We There Yet?" for a detailed analysis of the science (and the fiction) in the story. Also watch for the author's first novel, Warp Speed, due out from Baen this year.

The most subtle and complex -- the funniest and most poignant -- and the most likely to happen in real life is Wen Spencer's outrageous "Moon Monkeys." I'm not going to blow the surprise. Just read the story, and try to figure out before the end of it why someone would send a succession of monkeys to the Moon, disasters notwithstanding.

Other stories stood out for varying reasons. Margaret Ball looks at interpersonal dynamics in space, and the different ways of solving problems, in "Communications Problem." Rebecca Lickiss introduces a fascinating set of prosthetic legs in "Time in Purgatory." Paul Chafe brings us a very hefty story, "The Cutting Fringe," about an attempt to take over the world by a businessman and his pet genius; complete with "The Science in the Story" following it. I like seeing longer stories published, and I like scientific commentary.

Cosmic Tales is an excellent anthology of science fiction set close to home and more-or-less close to now. It fosters a sense that great futures are, if not within our immediate reach, at least within hope. Most highly recommended.

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