Review: Trace the Stars

Posted: November 1, 2019 by in Books that are Mediocre (3/5 single_star) Meta: Jaleta Clegg (Ed), Joe Monson (Ed), Hard SF, Science Fiction, Space Opera, Anthology, Short Fiction

It’s been too long since I read me some short stories. Only one other anthology in the last year, in fact. Yeesh. You’d think I’d been avoiding them purposefully, but that would definitely be incorrect. Anyone out there have a suggestion for some good short fiction I can get my hands on? Something in anthology form and not a collection, if possible (unless it’s really good). Anthologies just give you so much variety that I can’t help but be glad I read them — despite what overall rating I give them — because there’s usually at least a few good ones that will rise to the top. And then I have some good suggestions on new authors to go chase down.

I found out about this one because of an email submission from our contact form. Like, from here on the website. Yeah. See. It does happen. Not very often I’ll grant you. AND, as it happens, I have somewhat of a geographical connection to the anthology. Oh, AND I met Joe at another convention, and he was a cool guy. So there’s that stuff too. Sorry if I got anyone’s hopes up. Anyhow. Time for some shortness. You ready?

TRACE THE STARS (Amazon) is an anthology put together for the express benefit of the participants of a science fiction and fantasy convention that I frequently visit. LTUE (Life, The Universe, and Everything — Website) is a three-day academic symposium on all aspects of science fiction and fantasy held annually in Utah. They really tend to focus a lot on the art of writing. Was one of the reasons why I first started attending more than a decade ago. All of the stories in this anthology were donated by authors that had some connection to the convention, and according to the publisher’s website, all proceeds from sales of this anthology will go toward reducing the costs of students to attend the convention. Which is cool. So, good cause at the very least, and it contains some stories from more than a few authors I’d read before. Deal.

As per my typical layout for these reviews, here’s a breakout of how I’d have rated the individual stories in the anthology:

  • Loved – 1
  • Liked – 4
  • Liked & Hated – 2
  • Mediocre – 5
  • Didn’t Like – 4
  • Hated – 1

Was a bit funny just how perfectly the ratings arrayed themselves this time. Nice bell curve. Not really a surprise though, based on my history with these things. I’ll highlight a few of my favorites.

The Road Not Taken by Sandra Tayler — A woman was duplicated after an accident within a wormhole she traveled through. Her copy stayed in a relationship with the man she had been with at the time. She’s meeting the copy for the first time in a long while and “catching up”, but mostly wondering at the differences between them. Strong character basis, and if I was disappointed with anything it would be the fact that the story doesn’t really do anything with the setup. It’s a great setup. Would have been nice to see something more happen with it though. Impressive.

Angles of Incidence by Nancy Fulda — A woman is taken to see the queen of an alien civilization. She’s a massive worm/grub-like thing. The woman has to figure out how to speak to the grub, after asking to speak to the queen. This was the first story in the anthology, and it took a long time to get started. Had me worrying for a bit at my acceptance to read the thing. Once the story got moving though, things definitely got interesting. The science is a bit wonky and unrealistic at the end, but I really liked the concepts. A good start to the group.

The Ghost Conductor of the Interstellar Express by Brad Torgerson — A girl that traveled from Earth in a sleeper-ship with her brother is recruited to pilot small spaceships out into the blackness of space and “gently nudge” asteroids into collision paths of a target planet as part of their initial terraforming efforts for it. Her brother disappeared on a similar flight, but she is bound and determined to help humanity in this way. There are some large coincidences that happen at the end, and it felt a bit rushed. There’s a part of me that thinks ending the story earlier could have focused it and made it significantly better. Definitely a good story though. I’ve come across three short stories by Mr. Torgerson now, and reading this one has definitely given me a taste for wanting to read a novel from him. Will likely chase one down.

And my absolute favorite of the bunch:

Knowing Me by Eric G. Swedin — An extreme introvert learns to build computational models of large-scale wars and after succeeding at it, he is convinced by another scientist to model the war of global warming. In an attempt to complete the solution of the war, the main character travels to a comet with his wife and another couple. Great character. I really think he nailed the extreme introverted personality of the MC while still being able to hold onto the wonder and majesty of outer space. The science the story contained was fun, and several of the themes the author presents along the way are currently applicable. All around, great science fiction.

TRACE THE STARS has 17 sci-fi stories about aliens, danger, and humanity, and even if every story doesn't push your buttons, all profits go to a good cause.

In general, I liked the ones toward the beginning of the anthology better than those that came later. There were a handful where I didn’t particularly care for the means of storytelling, but by the end they hit some pretty big feels. I can appreciate those kinds of stories, even if the whole experience wasn’t up to my liking. I’m big on impact in some way, shape, or form, and a solid ending with impact goes a long way in my book.

So there you are. Another round of short fiction options for you, and another author or two for me to chase after. I’d say we both came out on top. Wouldn’t you?

  • Recommended Age: 17+ for a single story (Neo Nihon), and otherwise 14+
  • Language: Very little
  • Violence: One story (Neo Nihon) includes widespread death. Otherwise, nothing gory or particularly violent.
  • Sex: One story (Neo Nihon) includes rape of the POV character and also widespread rape among the population. Otherwise, only a few vague references.

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