The Year’s Top Short SF Novels 4 edited by Allan Kaster (CD review).

December 14, 2014 | By | Reply More

‘The Year’s Top Short SF Novels 4’ is a substantial collection of Science Fiction, plenty to get your teeth into especially with Christmas coming up. Obviously, this is an ideal present, if you are into the commercial excesses of Yuletide and, basically, who except for humbugs like the editor and myself, are not? Here we have seven stories, each on average about a couple of hours in length, unabridged, of course, by seven well-known award-winning authors from 2013. Not full-length novels, the stories equate to the approximate length of a movie which is just enough time to get acquainted with the characters and setting. They are called short SF novels though why they can’t be called novellas defeats me! Nevertheless, being the fourth such collection, the idea obviously has been successful and, in this case, the trend continues with what can only be described as a quality product.


Martin L Shoemaker is a software designer and also a writer. His story, ‘Murder On The Aldrin Express’, sounds a bit like Hercule Poirot and so it is, but with a difference. Sabotage and murder takes place on a spaceship from the planet Mars. The captain, Nick Aames, is a rather awkward individual and the chief, Anson Carver, has had to be a diplomat to keep everyone on the ship happy. When a death takes place, sabotage seems to be behind it, thus giving rise to the cry of vile murder. They have to team up to solve the mystery before Earth is reached and the perpetrator escapes.

Robert Reed, from the USA, has an entry with ‘Precious Mind’, which is a part of his ‘Great Ship’ stories. Basically, an enormous spaceship is found empty and wandering in the galaxy. Big enough to take billions of people, this is a story of its salvage by a strange immortal man, kidnapped for this particular purpose. It’s an interesting story which makes you want to read the rest of the series.

Nancy Kress, the well-known author, comes up with mind-reading in a story entitled, ‘One’. It’s a boxer who gains the ability to read minds. Is this the result of brain damage? Whatever the outcome, he tries to make his way from being down and out to being a champion.

‘Feral Moon’ by Alexander Joblokov is an interesting story about Phobos, one of the planet Mars’ satellites, and a war of attrition taking place on it. In this future world, the solar system has been populated by humans and aliens and they are not getting on all that well.

Vylar Kaftan’s story, ‘The Weight Of The Sunrise’ is alternative history. Probably all history is a bit alternative because it depends on who wins the battle but, in this case, the Incas are still about and they make an alliance with Virginians in the fight against the British. It all sounds a bit ridiculous and it really is but it makes a good story nonetheless.

Michael Blumlein’s story, ‘Success’, is about a successful biologist with personality problems. In trying to write about the subject, he becomes confused and deranged. A good story which delves into the human psyche.

Finally, none other than the British writer, Stephen Baxter, with a novella called ‘Earth 1’. Xaian normalisation is a period in history far into the distant future when humans are but a subject for archaeology. Well, humans of our type, that is. Digging up the past can lead to more questions than answers and this is the case in this adventure. Baxter is one of the finest authors around the moment and this is an excellent story.

What you see above is a spectrum of stories of different character but all within the Science Fiction genre. They are of varying pace and style, some sharp and witty while others are moderate and descriptive. Some you will like more than others but the end result will be quite satisfying.

As with all the short story collections produced by this company, the narration is very good and precise. You couldn’t really get any better and these are discs which will be a welcome addition to your library. Okay, it’s available as download as well but there is something more concrete and tangible with a physical book, albeit on discs, which is presented in a really nice package. It’s definitely recommended, even if only for a Christmas present. Alternatively, keep it for yourself and give them a pair of socks instead!

Rod MacDonald

December 2014

(pub: Infinivox/Audiotexttapes. 14 CDs 16 hours 7 stories. Price: $ inc p&p  (US). ISBN: 978-1-884612-74-9)

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Category: Music/Audio, Scifi

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