Stellaris is one of the strangest books I’ve read in a while. In combining fiction with scientific discussion of the underlying issues, it feels like a real throwback to an earlier era in which space stories, in order to be taken seriously, needed scientific bylines explaining the fiction.
This one is in that vein, except it updates the science, bringing the knowledge gained in 60 years of human spaceflight to the format.
And wow, does it ever work.
There’s a reason the Golden Age of Science Fiction truly was a golden age, and that has to do with moving beyond the old unscientific Sword & Planet stuff and into a new era of scientifically driven tales using the best guesses available in the 1930s and 1940s as to what was coming. The stories that came out of this weren’t pure escapism: they inspired generations of scientists and engineers with the tantalizing glimpses of plausible futures. Of course, most of them didn’t come to pass, but not because they were deemed impossible at the time of writing.
This book rekindles that feeling (or in the cases of readers unfamiliar with the Golden Age, creates that wonder for the first time) as we look at the challenges we now know will be facing anyone attempting to colonize the stars. The best part about it is that the fiction in this volume is related to the nonfiction, so you always feel that the issues are precisely the ones that should be focused on, as opposed to a random collection of ideas the writers put on the page.
My overall impression of this book is that anyone who wants to be a science fiction writer absolutely must read it (unless you’re focused on dreary earth-based political SF, in which case you won’t need it). It not only gives amazing pointers on the tech directions you should be looking at as well as very good short stories, but it ALSO rekindles the sense of wonder and “what if” that seems to be absent from so much of today’s genre work. I remember a time when SF used to be about kindling the imagination and inspiring the next generation of explorers.
Every one of the fiction pieces is great but if I had to choose a favorite story, I’d say it’s Les Johnson’s “Nanny”. Powerful and a little heartbreaking, but hopeful and spectacular. William Ledbetter’s “Bridging” was another standout in a strong field. But they’re all so good, I’m certain everyone will have a different favorite.
Anyhow, this is one that should energize you and rekindle your desire to see humanity expand and leave the people incapable of seeing beyond Earth behind.
To the stars!
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose most recent novel is entitled Lost Island Rampage. It might have been a pleasant Indian Ocean Travel book except it’s full of man-eating dinosaurs. You can check it out here.