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The Year's Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction
Edited by Allan Kaster
Narrated by Tom Dheere, Vanessa Hart and Sue Bilich
Infinivox, 9 hours, 4 minutes

The Year's Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction
Allan Kaster
Allan Kaster is a baseball-loving, guitar-playing, science fiction fan that happens to be a native Texan that can't get enough Mexican food. He has a loving wife and two teenage kids. By training, he is an anaerobic microbiologist.

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SF Site Review: Mini-Masterpieces of Science Fiction

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Susan Dunman

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Annual "best of" short story anthologies are a long-standing tradition within the science fiction publishing community. As an audio fan, it's encouraging to see this same tradition being embraced by science fiction audio publishers such as Infinivox. This year, Infinivox editor Allan Kaster has made his selections from science fiction prose originally written in 2008 and his top ten picks are ones to be proud of, including two Hugo Award winners. No doubt about it, there's something here for any science fiction fan to appreciate and enjoy.

The collection starts off with, "The Ray Gun: A Love Story," by James Alan Gardner. As you might suspect, it's about a ray gun, but it's also about Jack, the young boy who finds it and will be changed forever. But is it a case of Jack changing his life because of the weapon or the ray gun having an alien influence over Jack's future?

Sometimes it pays to be a mechanical genius and sometimes it doesn't. That's not really the moral to Jeff VanderMeer's story, "Fixing Hanover," but it does explore consequences to actions and how there are times when those actions may be unavoidable.

Another story examining consequences is, "Turing's Apples," by Stephen Baxter. When Jack's older brother, Wilson, discovers the first signal from intelligent life received from outer space, he is determined to interpret the message, no matter the outcome. As an unwilling accomplice, Jack discovers, too late, that both the cost and consequences of their actions are far higher than either brother could possibly imagine.

H.P. Lovecraft fans should get a kick out of Elizabeth Bear's, "Shoggoths in Bloom." As a tribute to Lovecraft, this story works so well on so many different levels. Obviously, I'm not the only one to come to this conclusion, as it recently won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Novelette.

"Exhalation," by Ted Chiang, is another Hugo winner, receiving the award for Best Short Story. It's a robot story unlike any I've ever heard. Mechanical men living in their own mechanical world refill their lungs with argon gas each day in order to survive. This was such a unique story and told in such a clever way that I had to go back and listen to it twice!

If your preferences turn more toward the action suspense novel or thriller, then both "The Art of Alchemy," by Ted Kosmatka and "Five Thrillers," by Robert Reed, should be right up your alley. "The Art of Alchemy" looks at what might happen when a new discovery could result in the demise of a currently successful technology that's keeping shareholders happy. And "Five Thrillers" takes listeners down a frightening path as a genetically enhanced psychopath employs all of his alarming skill to protect the human race.

It's almost impossible to not rate each story as you hear it being read and, for me, "The Dream of Reason," by Jeffrey Ford, was the least enjoyable. I don't think I ever really got the point, unless it was that scientists can believe and do incredibly stupid things. But you may have an entirely different reaction, which is the beauty of a short story collection.

Sometimes stories defy categorization, and that would be true for, "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss," by Kij Johnson. As part of a performing circus act, 26 monkeys can disappear into thin air. No one can explain how this happens and, in the end, does it really matter? You be the judge after reading this baffling, yet intriguing tale that doesn't try to explain the universe.

"The City of the Dead," by Paul McAuley, is my favorite in the collection and I'm not really sure why. An aging scientist lives in a deserted area on a remote planet to study alien animals called hive rats. But some local thugs are tipped off that she may be studying things more alien that overgrown rats and there's money to be made. However, they don't count on the resilience of the scientist and the local constable -- both of whom are clever ladies you really don't want to mess with.

All of the stories are expertly narrated by Tom Dheere, Vanessa Hart and Sue Bilich. Dheere has the lion's share of the narration, but each of the narrators take a low-key approach, using subtle shifts in accents, pitch, and pacing to differentiate characters when needed. This method works well with these stories because they don't need extra help to be effective. The stories cover a broad range of subject matter and offer a variety of styles. So, while you may not find every single selection to your taste, it's also a sure bet that at least a few will reverberate through your brain for days, weeks, or maybe even years after you've heard this production.

Copyright © 2009 Susan Dunman

Susan became a librarian many light years ago and has been reviewing books ever since. Audiobooks and graphic novels have expanded her quest to find the best science fiction in Libraryland.


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