Monday, July 20, 2009

Book/Magazine Review: Federations edited by John Joseph Adams

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

It's a testament to the strength of the editor when a mixed anthology--one that features both reprints and original stories--features a consistent selection that one has trouble discerning which is which (or ceases to care about identifying them). Federations is one of those anthologies where I open the book and each story is a treat, perhaps not necessarily the type that makes me clamor this or that is an award winner, but definitely stories that are enjoyable in their own context and theme.

Speaking of theme, "federations" is honestly one of those subject matter that baffles me. It's not quite space opera but there's a definite science fiction bent to it. At the end of the day, I dismissed the concept and simply enjoyed the book for what it is.

When it comes to the stories, I didn't find any bad stories here, although there are a few which were simply ho-hum, especially along the lines of "I have a concept here" and there's little conflict that follows afterward. For the most part though, a lot of the stories fell under the enjoyable but not as striking as I'd want them to be category, although there are stories that stood out for one reason or another. One of the pieces that's noteworthy is "Golubash, or Wine-Blood-War-Elegy" by Catherynne M. Valente and I was genuinely surprised to find the author contributing a story to such an anthology. Upon reading the first few lines, one immediately identifies it as classic Valente as she manages to infuse a science fiction piece with her fantastical and lyrical sensibilities. There's a lot of experimental techniques here and one could easily fall in love with the story for any of those techniques but it's the culmination of all those elements that makes this one of the best stories in the anthology--and a fitting final story to the book.

"Symbiont" by Robert Silverberg explores a SF concept but manages to anchor itself with character as the protagonist's humanity is the core focus of the story, which in turn provokes the reader to ponder on a real-world concern. The strength is the emotional impact it has and its ability to resonate long after you've read the last lines. As far as reprints go, this is a fine choice, especially considering it was originally published back in 1985 for Playboy.

While there's more than one humorous piece in the book, "The One with the Interstellar Group Consciousness" by James Alan Gardner was the most fun, at the same time managing to juggle disparate science fiction cliches and finding a place for them in one narrative. If one looks carefully at the structure of the story, there's a certain formula and predictability to it but it's proof of the author's talent that he makes you forget all that so that by the time you reach the last paragraph, it's a welcome surprise.

Federations is an accessible science fiction anthology and features both recognizable and refreshing elements of the genre. No regrets on my part and one of the more enjoyable books I've encountered in quite some time.

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