The Final Frontier edited by Neil Clarke
The Final Frontier is a new collection of stories on the general theme of realistic space exploration and first contact. Clarke has pulled together an outstanding group of stories by excellent authors.
In this case, “realistic” means that most of the stories are strongly informed by and tethered to contemporary science and plausible speculation. That doesn’t mean there aren’t mind-blowing, far out scenarios. Some of these stories are breathtaking visions. (Egan’s method of star faring is still binging around my brain! Whoa!)
There are, of course, aliens and transformed humans, too. Some of the aliens are really, really alien. (Peter Watts’ first contact is unforgettable.) Some of the humans or descendants of humans are pretty alien, too.
But one thing that is notable about this collection is that these stories are rather pessimistic and sad. (As I said, “realistic”.) Space faring is just barely possible as far as we know, and hence, very, very risky. Many of the stories tell of failures and breakdowns, and of the sadness and loss of those who fall short of their hopes.
Generation ships even to nearby stars are a heck of a crapshoot. Everything has to go just right, and even then, odds are good that the destination will be lethal. Only the desperate will ever attempt such a migration, and most will surely fail.
These stories recount episodes of breakdowns of technical and human systems, when everything does not go just right. It’s grim and sad. And in many cases, lonely.
And I have to say that there is a lot of loneliness out there in space. Long distances mean long communication delays, assuming communication is even possible. And long durations mean that everyone you left behind is long dead. After long enough, the entire culture that you emerged from will be gone, if not the whole species. And after really long enough, the solar system will be gone.
It’s really, really lonely out there.
This is an excellent collection of stories, and also something of an antidote to the new-agey happy talk about leaving Earth and transcending humanity. As these stories suggest, humans may or may not successfully leave Earth, but it will not be soon, easy, or triumphant.
- Neil Clarke, ed. The Final Frontier: Stories of Exploring Space, Colonizing the Universe, and First Contact. Nightshade Books: New York, 2018.
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