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The Year's Top Short SF Novels edited by Allan Kaster

1/12/2011. Contributed by Rod MacDonald

Buy The Year’s Top Short SF Novels edited in the USA - or Buy The Year’s Top Short SF Novels edited in the UK

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pub: Infinivox/Audiotexttapes. 14 CDs 15 hours. Price: $39.99 inc p&p (US). ISBN: 978-1-884612-97-8. Kindle edition: GBP 3.50 (UK) $7.00 (US).

check out websites: www.audiotexttapes.netand

Every now and then something really good comes on to the market and here we have it with this collection, ‘The Year’s Top Short SF Novels’, from Audio Text. In this attractively packaged box of 14 CDs, 15 hours plus, there are seven unabridged works each telling different stories in the realms of Science Fiction. The price is reasonable enough for what you get and, if you find that this is too much their website provides a link to Amazon where the whole lot can be purchased in Kindle format for about seven US dollars. However, having listened to the CDs which are expertly narrated by experienced readers, this package is by far the better option. The stories were a pleasure to listen to. Having reviewed lots of different editions by Audio Text in the past, I would say that this is the best that they have ever produced.

The first name that came to my attention from the list was Stephen Baxter who needs no introduction to most readers of this review. Now in his 50s, he is probably at his peak regarding writing skills. I think he is one of the best writers around at the moment and he appears in this collection with a very good story entitled ‘Return To Titan’.

Baxter’s works are quite diverse in subject matter. He writes about ecology, history, anthropology, alternative history and space related Science Fiction. The story comes from the Xeelee sequence of books. They tell of man's venture into space and the conflict between humanity and aliens called the Xeelee. The series encompasses many books and a huge expanse of time but if you haven't read any of them before, have a look at the author's website to get a better idea. This is a very engrossing tale about a father and son and the quest for interstellar flight through dimensional travel. There may be an obstacle in the path in the form of an alien sentient life-form. A great story, one you will really enjoy.

Planetary science and Venus is the subject behind the Geoffrey A Landis story ‘The Sultan Of The Clouds’. Landis is a NASA scientist working on research concerning the planet Mars and is a well-known writer of so-called hard Science Fiction. In the future, Venus is inhabited and people are living on floating cities but problems arise which have to be tackled.

David Moles continues with ‘Seven Cities Of Gold’. A very complex and intriguing novella, this alternate history crystallises into a new world very much different from the one we know. In our history, the Muslim expansion stopped at the boundary of Europe but in this version, much of North America has converted to Islam and they are at war with Christians in the north of the continent. A Japanese Buddhist woman has to try to negotiate peace after a nuclear device was detonated in a Muslim city by a radical Christian. She has to locate the charismatic Christian leader making a journey reminiscent of ‘Heart Of Darkness’. Good writing and explosive stuff.

American Stevan Popkes is another scientist who has also done work on NASA projects to Mars. ‘Jackie's Boy’ is about an elephant and a child travelling through the United States after an apocalypse. Slightly along the lines of ‘The Road’, we're taken on a journey in search of sanctuary. This experienced author has been around for some time and has won many awards in the past. The quality of his writing shines through in this narration.

There are few more prolific writers than Robert Reed from Nebraska, USA. He is in this collection with ‘A History Of Terraforming’. The ambition of a young boy is to follow his father's work in terraforming the planet Mars and other planets in the solar system but he discovers that humans as well as rocks have been changed. A very interesting story.

Yet another space scientist, this time with the ESA, Alistair Reynolds from Wales creates an interesting scenario with the resurgence of the Soviet Union in ‘Troika’. A challenging situation for anyone to work in, this makes life very difficult for the survivor from a mission to investigate an alien object. The truth versus dogma! Reynolds has already achieved much success but I hope we'll be hearing a lot more from him in the future, especially with the new ‘Doctor Who’ novel.

Finally, Rick Wilber from Florida gives us ‘Several Items Of Interest’. This novella, first published in ‘Asimov's Science Fiction’ in 2010, is set in a future when Earth is ruled by aliens. Insurrection arises and aliens attempt to stop this using a collaborator. Very good writing which is what you would expect from a professor of journalism.

Yes, a more than pleasing audio book collection. It is well presented and as usual from this company, the narration is very good. The authors are all exceptionally talented and the selection by editor Allan Kaster provides a diverse range of subject matter, enough to please everyone. An ideal Christmas present, very probably, but I would be reluctant to give this away to anyone. I would want to keep it for myself. Definitely recommended.

Rod MacDonald

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