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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Prolific editor Edward E. Kramer has joined forces with author Brad Linaweaver to bring SF fans "Free Space," a shared-universe anthology that consistently provides solid, and sometimes spectacular, reading.
The problem with shared-world anthologies is that often the contributors seem too restricted by the rules the editors have set down. Having to place their stories in an environment over which they don't have total control sometimes leaves writers without the ability to let their creative juices flow rather than trickle. Kramer and Linaweaver have generously—and wisely—provided only the barest bones of requirements for their contributors to follow in this anthology, letting readers witness some of SF's most respected authors at their wildest.
However, Kramer and Linaweaver do have a point to get across. The theme of the anthology is that space travel has become common for humanity, and governments are faced with the conflict of who owns property in outer space. Does it belong to whoever finds it first? Does it belong to whoever has the military powers to keep it? Or does it belong to whoever provided the funding for the excursion that resulted in finding a particular chunk of outer space? It's an interesting theme that will particularly appeal to those fascinated with libertarianism, which focuses on the concept of a person being somewhat defined by his or her property.
The good news is that the anthology is, for the most part, relatively light on political tirades and heavy on good story-driven science fiction. Not surprisingly, the best stories are theones in which the authors only touch upon politics and concentrate on giving readers a good story to follow. Robert J. Sawyer turns in a page-turner entitled "The Hand You're Dealt," which mixes hard-boiled mystery with lighthearted SF. Sawyer has concocted a logical though unpredictable mystery that only briefly addresses the theme of property ownership in outer space. "Early Bird" by Gregory Benford tackles the issue more directly, in the story of a woman trying to physically capture a wormhole—and to negotiate a high price for it with the government that blackmailed her into attempting the dangerous feat. It's a clever hard-SF story that will be particularly enjoyable to readers (and moviegoers) who recently encountered the theory of wormholes in the film version of Carl Sagan's "Contact."
Peter Crowther, coauthor of the brilliant fantasy novel "Escardy Gap,"provides the highlight of the anthology with his story "The Killing of Davis-Davis." This will be of little surprise to readers who have encountered Crowther's work before, since time and time again he writes flawlessly suspenseful and thought-provoking stories in fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Ironically, Crowther's tale has almost nothing to do with "Free Space's" theme. His story is a mind-bendingly original take on the overworked time-travel genre. To detail the plot would be to ruin the story's suspense, but it's safe to say that it contains one of the finest literary descriptions of the universe having a nervous breakdown.
Other contributors in this impressive collection include James P. Hogan, William F. Wu, Dafydd ab Hugh, and L. Neil Smith. Esteemed heavyweight authors such as Ray Bradbury and Robert Anton Wilson provide some poetry pieces that are entertaining interludes between the sometimes not-so-short stories. And though "Free Space" contains plenty of excellent reading, it falls prey to an occasional clunker in which the author provides dull political commentary cloaked by only the barest bones of a story line. Overall, however, "Free Space" is very much worth reading, and I have little doubt that some of its stronger pieces will end up on the ballots next year for the Hugo and Nebula awards.—Matt Schwartz