I was surprised to find a published collection of Robert Reed’s older Greatship stories. I’ve blogged about this fine author before: his decent novels and his superior shorter fiction, like here.
I saw the Kindle edition greatly discounted, so I borrowed my wife’s device and decided I would try it out on an electronic reader. It’s been an interesting experience. I’m used to grasping coins and music discs by their edges, so that instinct had to be tempered.
I think I could get used to reading on a Kindle more regularly. I do love to read. And the basic Kindle runs forever on one charge. My wife picked up this nifty leather case at the Goodwill to go with her reader. It’s not made for it, but it might well be. So I settled in a few weeks ago, and I’ve been taking my times with this book.
Some of the short stories here I’ve read before and others I haven’t. The stories range from very good to quite excellent. Robert Reed has solved the problem of the vastness of interstellar space and the mixing of humans and aliens. The greatship is just a means of bringing many different species and cultures together. The ship may be the size of Neptune, but that’s small enough to mix and mingle, if one wishes. Or to hide and never be found, as some characters attempt in these stories.
I found myself more intrigued by the ship, but I realize the author is mixing and mingling different beings in this setting. The ship is just the stage. In “Alone” we get to explore the ship from the outside in–that’s probably why I liked that story so much. It’s also told from the point of view of a robot who isn’t quite what he seems. “The Man With The Golden Balloon” begins like a Journey to the Center of the Earth adventure and turns out to be something quite menacing. Then there are a few startling surprises at the end of the tale. I like to see menace in science fiction. Authors who believe in aliens can bring this quality rather convincingly. Maybe all too easily. I see enough menace in human interactions to know that one doesn’t need monsters to scare. The dark side of humanity does that all too well.
What’s not to like about this book? I thought the “bridges” between stories were okay. As the Amazon reviewers tell, the editing is non-existent. Heck, if Mr Reed sent me the advance copies of this, I would have picked up the error every 500 words. Let me say it again: this published book is not edited. Spell-check: that’s it.
Human beings are immortal on the Greatship. That makes for a very, very static and traditional society. Few young people are around, and the authorities have been in place for tens of thousands of years. One story involves a person high up on the ship’s staff who does something illegal rather on his own. That’s a surprise.
One couple has been married for tens of thousands of years, to the amazement of their friends. That gets explored in a cursory kind of way. The socialite wife goes to parties and dabbles here and there. Her husband is the big adventure-seeker and goes off for a century or two now and then, always returning. So the relationship works in part because of this release valve? Okay …
Religion is portrayed occasionally, but in a “noble savage” kind of way with various alien cultures. What happens to the prospects for eternal life supernaturally if one can live forever in a grand and fun universe?
Good science fiction provokes thought. Robert Reed is familiar territory for me. So the thinking is familiar after all these years. Good stories. It confirms what I read in one reviewer that science fiction is a medium best handled through shorter forms. Bring out one new idea. Bring on one’s characters. See what happens, and end it. Except in the hands of greatness, novels are a poorer idea.
Robert Reed provides a lot of thoughtfulness in his short stories. He’s an author I recommend.