Fantastic Books, 2012, 514 pages
All the stories of Allen Steele's award-winning "Near Space" series--now in an expanded and revised second edition!
Since its first publication in 1999, "Sex and Violence in Zero-G" has become one of the most long-sought and hard-to-find of Steele's books. At last, this massive collection is back in print--complete with a new introduction, five additional stories, and a revised timeline.
Includes the Hugo Award-winning novella "The Death of Captain Future" and the Hugo Award-winning novelette "The Emperor of Mars."
I think Allen Steele was born in the wrong decade. These stories would have been perfect for the Golden Age of SF, and Steele probably could have ranked right up there with Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke. He is, in my opinion, a better writer than the last two, while his science and future history is more plausible than Heinlein's space operas.
The market for hard science fiction tales about colonizing the solar system, however, does not seem to be large. This volume with its slightly eye-roll-provoking title collects twenty short stories Allen Steele wrote from 1988 to around 2004, mostly published in magazines like Asimov's and Analog. Arranged in chronological order, and with a timeline at the end, his "Near Space" collection becomes a future history spanning the period from our return to the Moon (optimistically set in 2010 in the stories Steele wrote in the 90s) until the beginning of the 22nd century.
I really, really liked this collection. There are a few stand-outs (like the Hugo Award-winning The Death of Captain Future), but even the shortest and least memorable were still fun and entertaining.
Being written relatively recently, these stories don't show their age the way those set in a similar time and place but written a generation earlier do — the technology, from the Helium-3 fueled spaceships to the genetically-engineered Superiors (or "googles" as they are less fondly referred to by Primaries, or "apes") still reads as something science fictional but just within the range of believability.
There are funny, tragic, poignant, and mysterious tales here, a few bordering on military SF, and a couple that approach space horror. The history holds together pretty well for a bunch of stories written not necessarily in chronological sequence over the course of 16 years or so.
Highly recommended for anyone who wants a return to the space adventures that thrilled you as a young SF fan.
Verdict: These stories are all love letters to an earlier generation of science fiction, but the Near Space series is thoroughly modern SF. I think Allen Steele is underrated, and since I have always loved space adventures and short stories that all fit into an epic arc, this collection gets my Highly Recommended tag.
Also by Allen Steele: My reviews of Coyote and Apollo's Outcasts.
My complete list of book reviews.