Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.
Charting the Road to the Stars
“Stellaris: People of the Stars,” edited by Les Johnson and Robert E. Hampson, Baen Books, 2020, 448 pages, $8.99 (Paperback)
The Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop are a group who believe man can and must go to the stars. In 2016 the TVIW held a track on Homo Stellaris. Its task was to describe the foundations of a space-based society.
“Stellaris: People of the Stars,” edited by Les Johnson and Robert E. Hampson, is one of the fruits of that year’s workshop. It is a collection of non-fiction essays and science fiction stories about what it takes for humans to travel and live outside the Solar System.
Both non-fiction and fiction limit themselves to the possible based on today’s science. Extrapolation is permitted, especially in the life sciences. Faster-than-light travel and communications was excluded on the grounds that these cannot occur without some type of fundamental breakthrough in physics.
The essays cover the challenges inherent in slower-than-light travel between star systems. These include medical, biological, and security issues associated with multi-year travel in a hostile environment in a confined volume. They also examine the psychological and philosophical challenges. They also touch upon the issue of what defines humanity. When genetic tinkering is required to allow people to live in space or on ecosystems hostile to those adapted to that of Earth, when do you stop being human?
This issue is most thoroughly examined by the science fiction stories in the book. They are written by an all-star cast of modern writers of hard SF. The list includes Sarah Hoyt, William Ledbetter, Kevin J. Anderson, Todd McCaffrey, Les Johnson, and Daniel Hoyt. All of the stories were written for this collection.
“Burn the Boats,” by Sarah Hoyt, “Stella Infantes” by Kacey Ezell and Philip Wohlrab, and “The Smallest of Things by Catherine L. Smith examine the implications of genetic engineering as a means of enabling humans to live on alien worlds. “Those Left Behind” by Robert E. Hampson looks at bioengineering. Along with Daniel Hoyt’s “Exodus,” it explores the effect of slower-than-light travel on the families of the pioneers who remain on Earth.
Kevin A. Anderson’s haunting ”Time Flies” and Todd McCaffrey’s “At the Bottom of the White,” look at commercial trade using slower-than-light spaceships. “Our Worldship Broke!” by Jim Beall and “Nanny” by Les Johnson explore system failure on multi-year spaceflghts, both hardware and personnel.
“Stellaris” offers readers a view what of might be our future in space. Originally released in 2019, this is a new paperback reissue of this book.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.