Dan Keating's Reviews > Federations

Federations by John Joseph Adams
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Apr 10, 12

Read in April, 2012

John Joseph Adams' Federations is at-best a mediocre collection, putting together a few really good stories with a few really bad stories and a bunch of mediocre, interesting-but-could-have been better stories. My two biggest complaints about the collection are that it tends towards super-contemporary and slightly juvenile styles and it also contains several stories which are sequels, prequels, or otherwise part of story arcs set across multiple stories and novels by their authors, making the stories themselves hard to follow if you're not familiar with that author (and those characters') other stories.

Anyway, broken down by story:

"Mazer in Prison," by Orson Scott Card : Didn't finish it. This is one of the aforementioned stories based in the authors' other work. I've never read Card's major work and what was presented early in this story didn't invigorate me enough to try.

"Carthago Delenda Est," by Genevieve Valentine : An interesting, if somewhat philosophically basic, story about reaching political equilibrium in an otherwise-divided galaxy. Decent story, relatively well told, but nothing too special.

"Life-Suspension," by LE Modesitt, Jr : This Asian themed story manages to do "mythology in space" without succumbing to Star Wars level tackiness. It also manages to be a story about real, relatable people as well as a story about the universe's mysteries. Once again, nothing that'll blow you away, but it's still a good story.

"Terra-Exulta," by SL Gilbow : Stories told in 100% expository fashion tend to bore me. This one didn't do much to alleviate that. The story has pretty decent voice, but its premise is apparently largely to creep out the audience, something which it manages only peripherally. Pass.

"Aftermaths," by Lois McMaster Bujold : Another solid story. Although this one is also part of a larger story arc written by the author in novel form, this story stands on its own well, and, as the introduction promises, explores the grim professions that crop up out of war. Worth reading.

"Someone Is Stealing the Great Throne Rooms of the Galaxy!" by Harry Turtledove : Skipped. I used to love Turtledove, too, but his supreme lack of style - and intelligence - in this piece is unforgivable. I'm really not sure how this piece wormed its way into this - or any other - collection.

"Prisons," by Kevin J Anderson and Doug Beason : I was surprised at the sophistication of this story, given Anderson's predilection for relatively simple storytelling. That isn't to say that it's super sophisticated; just that it's deeper than what I was expecting. Also, the detached tone the story takes towards its characters' strong, and conflicting, senses of morality is relatively well done. Well worth reading.

"Different Day," by K Tempest Bradford : Bradford's channeling of the "American Everyman" for a brief monologue, reacting to the presence and politics of more-advanced alien races in modern-day American, is a bit on the puerile side, but that is by design. Ultimately, it gets across the sense of hypocrisy with which we'd regard aliens visiting Earth with the same motives we visit other countries right now. And it's extremely short, so it's not like reading it will set you back more than a few minutes.

"Twilight of the Gods," by John C Wright : Another story that's part of an extended arc by the author, this story actually is one of my favorites in the collection. The exploration of society aboard a generational warship that experienced a great cataclysm that caused its crew to lose its way, turning the ship into a microcostic world with warring states, is engaging and interesting from beginning to end. It's easy to picture both the large scale and small scale implications of every facet of the story, which is well-written overall. Definitely worth a look.

"Warship," by George RR Martin and George Guthridge : A short and semi-pointless parable about the advance of war technology. Doesn't really have enough to it to be a really good story. Mercifully it's over fast, but you can skip it just as easily.

"Swanwatch," by Yoon Ha Lee : Another mysterious mythology-in-space story with a decidedly Asian style. This story has a bit of a learning curve to it, meaning that the first page or two will be confusing. It's worth it, though. Once the full picture begins to resolve, the story is quite gorgeous.

"Spirey and the Queen," by Alastair Reynolds : I have mixed feelings about this story. The exposition and imagery give a definite feeling of other-ness; these are not human beings as we know them. However, the dialogue is every consistent with standard, modern English dialogue, which is every by design so that readers can continue to relate to the story, or by fault of the author not developing voice well. Hard to tell. The story itself is pretty good, but doesn't really pick up until about a third of the way through. There's a lot of violation of the show-don't-tell rule here, too.

"Pardon Our Conquest," by Alan Dean Foster : Kind of like the above-mentioned "Warship," this story feels more like a pointless anecdote than a full story. While it has some interesting ideas - the culture clash between a less-advanced but extremely aggressive species which has decided to surrender to a technologically superior but benevolent civilization rather than lose at war, while the latter superior civilization takes their surrender as an opportunity to let them join their society - it ultimately plays these clashes off more as gags than as an intellectual exploration of the incident.

"Symbiont," by Robert Silverberg : This story creeped me out, which is definitely what it set out to do. It's actually more the description of what the humans do to their "Ovoid" enemies during the war that creeped me out than the rest of the story - which almost seemed fitting after that one paragraph. Silverberg was definitely channeling the masculine, jingoistic science fiction of Card, Bova, and Heinlein with this one.

"The Ship Who Returned," by Anne McAffery : Yet another story that is the sequel to something else. This one manages to stand on its own mostly on virtue of near-constant expository reminiscing, which feels a little excessive. Unfortunately, the way this story is written won't appeal to anyone fully - people who are already fans of the other stories will be bored with the constant rehash, and new fans will be put off by all the exposition.

"My She," by Mary Rosenblum : Another skip. Didn't look appealing. Might return to it later.

"The Shoulders of Giants," by Robert J Sawyer : Very simplistic. From the beginning I figured the sleeper ship might arrive to find that people beat them to their destination, but the story doesn't really do anything with that except glorify the desire to explore in an empty way. I thought, when they decided to push off again and try for something even further away, that the author might go the Stanislaw Lem distance and show them being overtaken by human progress again, but to no avail. Aggressively mediocre.

"The Culture Archivist," by Jeremiah Tolbert : It says in the introduction that Tolbert was heavily inspired by Star Trek for this story, and that it arose out of imagining how the Federation and the Borg in Star Trek really aren't so different, assimilating other cultures and all, and what would the Federation/Borg be like together as a capitalist entity? The story serves as much as a meganerd homage to Star Trek as it does to a satire of cultural assimilation. Decently done but it does feel a bit juvenile, and if you're not heavily familiar with both Trek lore and contemporary internet-nerd culture you'll probably be quite lost reading it.

"The Other Side of Jordan," by Robert Steele : This story is mostly summary and exposition. Its ideas and societies and economic structures are pretty interesting, but ultimately it fails to deliver a really good storytelling experience. It feels more like a long-winded dust jacket than a story.

"Like They Always Been Free," by Georgina Li : Definitely, by far the strongest voice in the collection. This story positively drips with the sense of how alien it is from our own world viewpoint. Short, and probably could have been longer to be a more fulfilling story, but definitely a high point of the collection.

"Eskhara," by Trent Hergenrader : Another parable, this time about the disturbance of native cultures by unwanted, ignorant, and insensitive visitors. The story gets its point across and leaves the reader feeling pretty lousy, while maintaining a decent sense of character and a relative lack of melodrama. Its one downfall is that it might still be too light to really hit readers as hard as it could otherwise.

"The One with the Interstellar Group Consciousness, " by James Alan Gardner : Despite its title (and some of its stereotypical characterizations) seemingly taking inspiration from the sitcom Friends, this story is mostly a success, due in large part to its excellent premise: anthropomorphisizing societies, a trick which tickles me to death. The story itself is almost overwhelmingly simplistic, and the language used once again borders on the juvenile at times, but its still a great concept that isn't so terribly executed that its ruined.

"Golubash, or Wine-War-Blood-Elegy," by Catherynne M Valente : Skipped. Once again, I might take a look at this again in the future, but the first couple of pages felt too disjointed for me to continue.

And that's it. Of these, the best are "Life-Suspension," "Aftermaths," "Twilight of the Gods," "Swanwatch," "Like They Always Been Free," and "Eskhara." I'm still not sure I'd recommend a purchase, but a grabbing a copy from the library to take in a few of the stories isn't a bad idea if you're looking for a few fun, but not terribly ground-breaking, reads. I think the one largest drawback to the collection is that fails to demonstrate even once the full breadth of what space opera can do, which is truly a shame.
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