Engineering Infinity


Jonathan Strahan


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

November 19, 2011

rom the title Engineering Infinity, I assumed that this would be a collection of science fiction stories about big engineering projects (Dyson Spheres, space elevators, FTL space ships) and stories about infinity - the end of time, the edge of the universe, or multiverse, or exploring blackholes. But my assumption was wrong. This is a collection of science fiction stories, but I did not detect any theme. Certainly there was no emphasis on engineering nor the infinity of space/time. The collection itself is uneven. There are 14 stories, almost all written by authors that I recognize.

Malak - by Peter Watts. I really have enjoyed everything I previously read by Peter Watts, so this story was a disappointment. It is a solid story, but I was expecting the usual Watts brilliance, and that was not on display here. This is a story about a near future military drone named Azrael that may be coming self aware. What if a killing machine develops a conscience?

Watching the Music Dance - by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I skipped this story, even though it is only a few pages. In the past I have found Rusch's stories to be unbelievably contrived and now I just avoid her work.

Laika's Ghost - by Karl Schroeder. I really loved Schroeder's novel Ventus, and Permanence was pretty good too. This story is set in on a near future earth. An investigator lands at a ruined landscape in Kazakhstan. He is looking for lost nukes from the old Soviet empire.

The Invasion of Mars - by Stephen Baxter. Another story set on near future earth. Aliens have entered the solar system, and they don't appear to be friendly. But it turns out they are not after us Earthlings, but hostile toward a previously unknown civilization on Venus. War ensues, with Earth has an insignificant bystander. The idea is cool, but the actual story isn't so great.

The Server and the Dragon - by Hannu Rajaniemi. This is the first time I have read anything by Rajaniemi. He tells a story about a server that constructs itself around a star to be a part of the galatic network. Unfortunately, there appears to have been a mistake, and by the time the server has built itself, it realizes it is tied to a star that has been flung out from the galatic disk into inter-galactic space. The server will never attach itself to the network it was designed for, so it begins to dabble in physics to amuse itself. One day a "dragon" comes...

Bit Rot - by Charles Stross. Here is another consistently excellent author, and he doesn't disappoint with this tale, it is my favorite one in the collection. Stross tells a story of a group of "post-humanity" astronauts who are journeying across interstellar space. These astronauts are tough and smart, but unfortunately an unexpected star explosion near by has drenched them with lethal levels of gamma rays, corrupting everything on board. The astronauts are not immediately destroyed, but they are programmed to seek out uncontaminated materials to repair their damaged parts. I liked this story, it seemed like it could be expanded into a big story or novel.

Creatures With Wings - by Kathleen Ann Goonan. Although this isn't a long story, for stretches I was bored and other pages I was quite intrigued. In the end, I was disappointed by the final explanation resolution. This story is about a Hawaiian man who, along with a band of monks, is taken aboard a spaceship and transported to a distant planet. Everyone meditates. Questions are sort of answered.

Walls of Flesh, Bars of Bone - by Damien Broderick and Barbara Lamar. I didn't like this at all. Isn't everyone bored with time travel stories where your future self sends a message to the present self? Plus, this had the least interesting setting - present day USA.

Mantis - by Robert Reed. It pains me to say this, because Robert Reed writes terrific stories, but this story about "Are we really alive, or are we just a creation in someone else's reality" struck me as trite. Certainly uninteresting. .

Judgement Eve - by John C. Wright. In a distant future, god-like beings (they seem to be modeled after Greek gods) confront each other. I like the fanatastic setting and Wright's ability to convey ideas that seem like the super-science of an advanced age.

A Soldier of the City - by David Moles. In the far future, an attack by terrorists destroys a city. Soldiers are marshalled to strike in revenge. It has some nice descriptions of space combat.

Mercies - by Gregory Benford. A time travel story. A man dying of an incurable disease decides to spend the remaining days of his life travelling backwards in time, finding and killing serial killers before they can begin their campaigns of death.

The Ki-anna - by Gwyneth Jones. For some reason I found this story about cannibalism by a race of intelligent beings to be uninteresting. It seemed like it would fit right into a Dangerous Visions collection by Harlan Ellison, if it had been written 40 years ago.

The Birds and the Bees and the Gasoline Trees - by John Barnes. Set in the Antarctic region on a future earth, a manufactured human joins up with a crew of humans exploring a strange bloom of plant life. This is a cool story, and it has a nice slant on the Panspermia concept of life dispersal across the galaxy.