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The Starry Rift
edited by Jonathan Strahan
Viking, 544 pages

The Starry Rift
Jonathan Strahan
Jonathan Strahan was born in Belfast and moved to perth in 1968. He is the co-founder of Eidolon: The Journal of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy and is currently the reviews editor of Locus: The Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Field. He lives in Perth, Western Australia, with his family.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The New Space Opera
SF Site Review: The Jack Vance Treasury
SF Site Review: Best Short Novels 2006
SF Site Review: Best Short Novels 2005
SF Site Review: The Locus Awards

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

The last few years, there has been a relative boom in the young adult fiction market. At the same time, many science fiction readers, and writers, have bemoaned the fact that hardly anyone seems to be writing the kind of stories that lured them into science fiction when they were young. It is true that fantasy has come to dominate the YA market, influenced, no doubt, by the amazing success of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings movies. Reading is a habit that is generally acquired when people are young, and if what young people are reading is mainly fantasy, there's a good chance that fantasy is what they will read as adults.

The Starry Rift, an anthology of original stories edited by Jonathan Strahan, is an attempt to re-invent science fiction for the young readers of today. Strahan's goal is to re-capture that sense of wonder and amazement that characterized the Golden Age and the books that so many of today's SF writers grew up on. In order to do so, he has assembled a cast of many of the biggest names in science fiction today. The stories they've written are not copies of the old space-faring adventures of the 30s and 40s, instead they reflect the concerns and dreams of young people today. Is that enough to awaken the feeling of Wow! that so many of us remember from discovering SF in the minds of those reading them now? That's something that young readers will have to decide for themselves. I can say this, the stories in The Starry Rift are well written, imaginative, and representative of the best in science fiction today.

Scott Westerfield's "Ass-Hat Magic Spider" starts things off on a good note. This story of a young man with dreams of travel echoes the best of Robert A. Heinlein's juvenile novels, specifically recalling Farmer in the Sky in its uncompromising depiction of the need to shed much of this world before moving on to another. "The Surfer," by Kelly Link, brings us back down to earth in its tale of a soccer-obsessed fourteen year old who is forced to realize that other people are important, too, even those who believe in aliens.

That mix of here today reality and the imaginative use of science fictional elements is characteristic of several of the stories in The Starry Rift. Tricia Sullivan uses it to contrast the daily life of a suburban high school student with her alter ego as a fighter in a strange kind of interstellar warfare in "Post-Ironic Stress Syndrome," while Greg Egan's "Lost Continent" takes us into the politics and family life of a Middle East where the only hope of escape and a safe future lies through the doorway to another time.

There is also plenty here for those who think that science fiction should give us an encounter with the strange and unknown. Jeffrey Ford's "The Dismantled Invention of Fate" shows us that life and love can continue even in a time of unexplainable wonders and alien vistas. And in Alastair Reynolds' "The Star Surgeon's Apprentice," a young man running away from a crime finds redemption and a new purpose on a spaceship that is both more and less than it seems.

Stories by Cory Doctorow, Walter Jon Williams, Stephen Baxter and others round out the collection. Another way The Starry Rift connects to science fiction's past is in its size and variety of stories. The Starry Rift is just the kind of big collection that you used to find tucked away on the shelves of the local library, with each story a door into another universe of imagination and wonder. With any luck, that's just the kind of experience that The Starry Rift will provide for the young readers of today.

Copyright © 2008 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson believes that there is still plenty of sense of wonder to be found in science fiction's exploration of a universe of possibilities. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction. And, for something different, Greg blogs about news and politics relating to outdoors issues and the environment at Thinking Outside.

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