When writing a novel set in our own world, authors can use shorthand to set the scene. Big Ben, San Marco, or the Arc d'Triomphe all conjure images regarding the architecture, food, language, and attitude of a place. Science fiction authors, however, must spend more time creating their setting and shaping their worlds.
Author and editor Robert Silverberg has invited ten other science fiction authors to write new stories in some of the worlds they have already created. The result is Far Horizons, an anthology of 11 new stories set in some of the most popular science fictional worlds of the past 30 years. In addition to providing new readers with an introduction to these fictitious worlds and longtime readers a return ticket to their favorite universes, Far Horizons demonstrates the breadth of the science fiction genre.
More than just rocket ships and aliens, science fiction includes the "soft sciences," as ably demonstrated by Ursula K. Le Guin's story, "Old Music and the Slave Woman," which tackles the issues of slavery and rebellion in very human terms. Orson Scott Card's "Investment Counselor" leaves even the softer sciences behind as he sets up the relationship between his hero, Ender Wiggin, and Jane, the artificial intelligence which plays such a large role in the later books of his Ender saga.
Rocket ships and aliens, however, aren't left behind. David Brin's Uplift universe has always been filled with exotic creatures, and "Temptation," his contribution, continues this tradition, telling his story through the eyes of enhanced dolphins. Brin's colleague, Gregory Benford, looks at even stranger aliens in "A Hunger for the Infinite." Benford's aliens are mechanical creatures intent on destroying all biological-based life in the galaxy. More altruistic aliens and their spaceships may be found in Frederik Pohl's "The Boy Who Would Live Forever," a novella set among his Heechee novels. In this story, Pohl shows the boredom aboard a starship, as well as introduces creatures with almost godlike powers.
These stories, and the other six tales, provide an overview of what science fiction has become in the 1990s. While all of the authors have moved beyond the space operatic roots which spawned the genre, those roots can still be seen in several of the stories.
Steven Silver is a freelance book reviewer in Northbrook, Illinois.