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The New Space Opera 2
edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan
HarperCollins Eos, 560 pages

Gardner Dozois
Gardner Dozois was the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine for many years and is the editor of the annual anthology series The Year's Best Science Fiction, as well as many other anthologies. He has won more than 10 Hugo Awards as the year's best editor, and 2 Nebula Awards for his own short fiction. His short fiction appears in Geodesic Dreams: The Best Short Fiction of Gardner Dozois. He is the author or editor of better than 70 books, including the anthologies The Good Old Stuff and The Good New Stuff. He's also edited such theme anthologies as Dinosaurs! and Dog Tales!. He lives in Philadelphia.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The New Space Opera
SF Site Review: One Million A.D.
SF Site Review: Galileo's Children
SF Site Review: Strangers
SF Site Review: Future Sports
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Science Fiction, Eighteenth Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Space Soldiers
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Science Fiction: 17th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Isaac Asimov's Solar System
SF Site Review: Isaac Asimov's Werewolves
SF Site Review: Future War
SF Site Review: The Good Old Stuff
SF Site Review: Nanotech
SF Site Review: Isaac Asimov's Detectives
SF Site Review: Roads Not Taken: Tales of Alternate History
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Science Fiction: Fifteenth Annual Collection

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: Eclipse Two
SF Site Review: Eclipse One
SF Site Review: The Starry Rift
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 Rich Horton

The New Space Opera 2 Two years ago Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan gave us The New Space Opera, a brilliant original anthology of Space Opera short fiction. The "New Space Opera" was then an already well-documented phenomenon at novel length, centered perhaps on such (very different) British writers as Iain M. Banks, Colin Greenland, and Peter F. Hamilton. (Though I would argue that its roots can be traced as far back as Samuel R. Delany's Nova (1968) and M. John Harrison's The Centauri Device (1975).) The New Space Opera differs from the Old Space Opera mainly in displaying a generally more cynical political attitude, in being better written, and (often) in having slightly more rigorous scientific underpinnings. Which is to say, really, that it's Space Opera written from the perspective of SF writers of our time. Perhaps the only difference with Old Space Opera is that sometimes writers took it less seriously than their usual Science Fiction: the New stuff is as respectable as the rest of the field.

At any rate, Dozois and Strahan's 2007 outing was first rate. They are back in 2009, and the book is pretty much as good. (I suppose on balance I'd give the first book honors -- just because sequels are always a letdown, aren't they?) If there is a difference in the books taken as a whole, it is that this new book seems to have a greater number of stories more or less making fun of the whole idea of Space Opera, or at least of subsets of it. (Most obvious case is Cory Doctorow's "To Go Boldly." No prize for guessing which TV show it is most directly mocking.) But this is a shift in balance, not a stark change in philosophy.

Maybe the story that most characterizes this book is John Kessel's "Events Preceding the Helvetican Renaissance." The story seems to want to wink at the conventions and pretensions of Space Opera, while at the same time it uses them to tell a bang up story. And it all works -- I had lots of fun following the monk Adlan in his attempt to steal a play and thereby bring down the Empire. In so doing, he activates a soldier who had been hidden away for decades in a nine-dimensional pouch. All goes as we might expect -- the two face dangers, question each other's motivations, and eventually both succeed and fall in love. But Kessel undercuts traditional Space Operatic assumptions in several ways -- the main characters's back stories, the ambiguous decision the hero makes at the end, and the quiet denouement. I should add that the furniture of the story is effective as well -- the clever supertech like the nine-dimensional pouch, the truly exciting action, and the hints of neat long history preceding the story, including the extinction and the restoration of humankind.

Kessel's story is one of my favorites here. The other is Peter Watts's "The Island." This is less pure Space Opera than a piece of very far future hard SF. The narrator is a woman on a slower-than-light ship which has spent millennia upon millennia placing "stargates" -- as such they lay the foundation for civilizations that don't even know of them. She has been woken again for another construction job, but this one comes with complications. It seems that if they place the stargate where planned, they will wipe out a nearby alien society. She -- in company with the enemy AI that runs the ship, and with a naïve young man who seems to be her son -- must decide if the risk of moving the stargate is necessary to take. The story has plenty of SFnal cool -- the far reaches of time, the strange alien society they encounter, the weirdness of the more or less contemporary humans who have lived so far to the future -- and it closes with a bitter twist.

There's a lot more in the book, of course. Robert Charles Wilson's "Utriusque Cosmi" is a cool story about a woman snatched from the Earth just before it is destroyed -- and eventually, of course, it is about why Earth is destroyed, which turns out to be a story about a much larger civilization, in both a temporal and spatial sense. "Cracklegrackle," by Justina Robson, is also strong, about a man trying to learn what happened to his daughter on Mars, and thus having to cooperate with one of the "Forged" -- a greatly altered posthuman. The story moves from Mars to Jupiter, and concerns slavery and what makes one human.

Other stories include a John C. Wright story, set in his Golden Age future, "The Far End of History," which plays with the Odysseus/Penelope story as a romance between a planet and a moon; a solid YA-ish adventure story "Chameleons" from Elizabeth Moon; strong cynical work from Bruce Sterling, "Join the Navy and See the Worlds", about an American space hero adrift in a newly ascendant India; and a clever John Barnes piece, "The Lost Princess Man," about a conman who likes the "lost princess" scam: convincing a woman she's a lost member of the royal family as a pretext to selling her... with twist upon twist resulting.

The rest of the book is mostly quite entertaining as well -- save just a couple of disappointments. Many of the stories are, truth be told, a bit routine, or a bit too arch in their attitude towards the genre, but for all that they held my interest. And given the quality of the best stories, the book as a whole is another winner.

Copyright © 2009 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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