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Bewildering Stories

Bascomb James, ed. Hyperpowers

reviewed by Alison McBain

Editor: Bascomb James
Publisher: Third Flatiron Publishing
Date: May 18, 2016
Paperback: 174 pages
ISBN: 0692714073; 9780692714072

I’ve often enjoyed reading the anthologies by Third Flatiron, often edited by publisher Juliana Rew. In fact, I had a story published by them a couple years ago in Abbreviated Epics. So I started to read their new anthology, Hyperpowers, with anticipation. It is guest-edited by Bascomb James, and the theme of the book is space opera and military SF stories, genres I’ve enjoyed since reading Heinlein when I was a kid.

Of the sixteen stories in the collection, there were some narratives which I found enjoyable, and a few that weren’t to my taste. Some of the ideas behind the stories have been done before in longer form.

There were stories similar in concept to Red Shirts, Star Trek IV, Terminator, Total Recall and Starship Troopers, among others. I don’t mind ideas similar to already popular stories, but I often look for something new added to the narrative, and I felt some of these stories fell a bit flat.

While I enjoyed the final story, since the theme of the anthology is space opera and the last story is a fantasy fairy tale, it felt somewhat of a strange note to end on. So while I enjoyed many of the works, the anthology as a whole felt a little less cohesive than I had hoped for.

However, there were several strong stories in the collection. This included “Symphony in First Contact, Hostile,” by Sam Belotto, Jr. I thought the concept was original, about what lengths humans will go to when aliens invade. Without giving away any spoilers, I enjoyed the perspective and the way the ending of the story was handled, since it wasn’t straightforward but bittersweet.

A story which I also enjoyed was “Duck and Cover,” by Erik B. Scott. In this amusing short, the humans’ plan of defense against alien attack might work better than they thought it would. This story turned out to be one of my favorites, as it was a good change of pace from the more serious stories in the anthology.

“The Mytilenian Delay,” by Neil James Hudson, highlights a universe-sized war so old that the players have never known a time of peace. The captain of a starship is faced with the terrible decision of whether or not to follow orders or to save a rebel planet. I liked the central conflict, the pacing of the story and the big reveal at the ending.

Noel Ayers’ “Yesterday’s Weapon” examines what happens in the aftermath of war. When separated by conflict and an alien race, the question is whether two lovers can find a way to reunite, despite the political and physical differences that separate them. While I could guess at the ending from the first page, I still thought it was a nice piece, and the writing carried me right along. It was different in tone from many of the other stories of the collection, and I felt it stood out in a good way.

“Claim Jumpers,” by Eliotte Rusty Harold, might be my favorite of the anthology. Alone in the deep reaches of space, crystal miner Vonjane encounters an alien ship intent on stealing her cargo. But the stakes are more than her job, they are life and death.

I found that Mr. Harold’s story has a great mixture of tech and narrative, with just the right number of details to make the portrayal of the future feel realistic. In tone, it reminded me of Nancy Kress, one of my favorite sci-fi authors. I thought it quite clever how the events of the story evolve, and how the main character handles the situation presented. Also, I’m a sucker for a good last line. This story hit all the sweet spots for me, and I’ll definitely look out for more work by Mr. Harold.

All in all, I enjoyed reading the anthology, although I thought there were a few stories that weren’t to my personal taste. I would have liked to see more original concepts in the premises of the stories represented, although the quality of the writing was high. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for more work by several of the authors.

Copyright © 2016 by Alison McBain

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