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21st Century Science Fiction (SF) - David Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Eds.) ****

I saw this 2013 collection of twenty-first century SF short stories recommended as a way of discovering authors that are new to the reader - and it worked really well for me. It's an impressively meaty collection running to 576 pages featuring 34 stories ranging in length from a Nature sub-1,000 words short short to a novella.

Inevitably there were a couple of stories I didn't enjoy - but in a collection of this size, two was an impressively small miss list. For me Finisterra by David Moles never engaged me, while A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel by Yoon Ha Lee simply didn't work as a story - but those aside, while there was a mix of quality and style, every other story had something going for it.

If I were to pick out one favourite it was Cory Doctorow's novella Chicken Little which closes the book - I thought Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was excellent, and the contribution here reminded me that here's a writer that I want to revisit very soon. Chicken Little takes what could almost be considered a science fiction cliché - brains in a jar - and makes something remarkable of it by combining it with runaway capitalism and some genuinely interesting characters.

That's just one example of many I could pick out. What's excellent is I now have a whole catalogue of names I've not touched before - I'd read books by just three of the selection on offer - to explore further. And even if you don't use it in this way as a sampler, it remains an impressively solid collection of science fiction stories (especially good value on Kindle). 

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Review by Brian Clegg - See all of Brian's online articles or subscribe to a weekly digest for free here


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