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Beyond the Aquila Rift (SF) - Alastair Reynolds ****

In an article I read recently, the author opined that would-be novelists shouldn't consider writing short stories as training for the craft of novel-writing, as the discipline is totally different. This is certainly true for most short stories - but, strangely, this collection by Alastair Reynolds (almost all on the long side as short stories go) is the exception that proves the rule. The majority of these pieces are, in effect, the seeds of novels.

Usually a short story will be a compact, self-sustained morsel of reading - a tiny delight, often with a twist in the tail.  These chunky pieces feel as if they could so easily be continued to fill out a full novel. It's not that they don't work standalone. This book isn't like reading a collection of opening chapter samples (thank goodness). The stories are satisfying as they stand - but cry out to be expanded. They're rather like the pilot episodes for TV shows.

I don't think this is a bad thing at all - there is some scintillating fiction here. But it did get a trifle overwhelming as the reader works through the 784 pages of this massive collection. I think I'd have preferred it had there been just a few of these pilot stories, and more snappy little true short stories. (There are a couple, but not many.) Real short stories may be limited in opportunity for character and world building, but they are miniature masterpieces when written well, and a lighter read than this collection proved to be.

Don't get me wrong. It's a great collection - it's just almost too much for one book, and when you're expecting the chocolate box delights of a short story collection, getting a meaty banquet can be overwhelming. Even so, there are at least half a dozen absolutely superb stories here and only one or two that don't quite make the grade. It's a remarkable collection. 

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Review by Brian Clegg

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