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Galactic Empires Paperback – January 17, 2017
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“Ambitious and impressive . . . I can honestly say that it's been a while since I've read a science fiction anthology that is as good and diverse as this one. . . . one of the best and most captivating science fiction anthologies of the year. Highly recommended!”―Risingshadow
Clarke has assembled a wide range of authors from old masters like Robert Silverberg to more recent talents such as Aliette De Bodard each offering a different take on the central premise. . . There isn’t a bad piece amongst them . . . the Galaxy really is there for the taking.”
Starburst, reviewed by Alister Davison
As editor Clarke points out in his introduction, when most people hear the term galactic empire, they immediately picture Darth Vader and Star Wars. But there is a long history of star-faring empires in the genre, with stories that imagine our human tendencies to explore and conquer among the stars. . . . The stories gathered here, all of which have appeared elsewhere, show the huge range of possibilities of the chosen theme.”
The first must-read anthology of the year, no question, is Neil Clarke’s Galactic Empires, an ambitious (read: huge) collection of SF tales featuring far-flung confederations in the stars. The TOC is a who’s-who of virtually everyone doing important work at short length in science fiction.”
John O’Neil, Black Gate
Neil Clarke is the editor for Clarkesworld Magazine, one of the absolute best short-fiction magazines on the internet, which makes this particular volume a must buy. The other reason to pick this up? The heavy-hitters on the table of contents."
The Verge, "16 science fiction and fantasy novels you don’t want to miss in January"
A superb collection of 22 . . . remarkable stories.”
BestScienceFictionBooks.com, 12 Great New SF Titles to Start 2017”
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Top Customer Reviews
Galactic Empires (edited by Neil Clarke) is an ambitious and impressive anthology of science fiction stories about galactic empires. It offers readers magnificent glimpses into different kinds of empires and allows readers to immerse themselves in fascinating stories. It's a gorgeous display of good storytelling and fantastic imagination, and it serves as a guide to what kind of galactic empires can be found in modern science fiction stories.
Neil Clarke has done an excellent job with this anthology, because he has gathered entertaining, intelligent and well written stories that showcase the versatility of galactic empire stories. Each of the stories emphasises different aspects of the genre in a compelling way, because readers will have an opportunity to read about humans in space, humans on distant planets, great empires, aliens and many other fascinating things.
As the editor mentions in his introduction, Star Wars is probably the first thing that comes to mind when people think about empires. However, there's much more to galactic empires than Star Wars, because they have existed for a long time in science fiction and the earliest stories were written decades ago. There are many kinds of empires that greatly differ from each other - for example, they can be small or great, benevolent or hostile - but there's one thing that unites them: they're all fictional empires that have their own laws and customs.
What makes Galactic Empires excellent and worth reading is that it has something for everybody. Whether you're an experienced science fiction reader or a newcomer to science fiction, you'll find something to love in this anthology. It doesn't disappoint readers, but holds them captivated by exciting happenings, fantastic sights and vistas, hard-boiled realism and good characterisation.
This anthology contains the following stories:
- Winning Piece - Paul J. McAuley
- Night's Slow Poison - Ann Leckie
- All the Painted Stars - Gwendolyn Clare
- Firstborn - Brandon Sanderson
- Riding the Crocodile - Greg Egan
- The Lost Princess Man - John Barnes
- The Waiting Stars - Aliette de Bodard
- Alien Archeology - Neal Asher
- The Muse of Empires Lost - Paul Berger
- Ghostweight - Yoon Ha Lee
- A Cold Heart - Tobias S. Buckell
- The Colonel Returns to the Stars - Robert Silverberg
- The Impossibles - Kristine Kathryn Rusch
- Utriusque Cosmi - Robert Charles Wilson
- Section Seven - John G. Hemry
- Invisible Empire of Ascending Light - Ken Scholes
- The Man with the Golden Balloon - Robert Reed
- Looking Through Lace - Ruth Nesvold
- A Letter from the Emperor - Steve Rasnic Tem
- The Wayfarer's Advice - Melinda Snodgrass
- Seven Years from Home - Naomi Novik
- Verthandi's Ring - Ian McDonald
All of these stories contain different themes and issues that are explored in a nuanced and engaging way. I found it intriguing how widely the themes ranged all the way from alien encounters and travelogues to space battles and family issues. These themes are explored entertainingly, because the authors have managed to write stories that easily capture the reader's interest in them (some of the stories are thought-provoking in the best possible way).
It's great that the authors emphasise different things in their stories, because there are many kinds of galactic empires and each of them is unique and original. Each of the galactic empires reflects the author's personal interests in science fiction. Although certain galactic empires may seem to appear similar in many ways, there are several details and nuances that separate them from each other.
Here are a few words about the stories (without spoilers) and my thoughts about them:
Winning Piece - Paul J. McAuley:
- A story about Carver White, a post-interstellar war prisoner escape and a kind of a treasure hunt.
- The author writes well about Carver, his brother Jarred and what has happened to them.
- I liked this story a lot and found it interesting.
Night's Slow Poison - Ann Leckie:
- This story is set in the same setting as the author's Ancillary Justice and tells of a galactic voyage, a spaceship and its passengers.
- An interesting and well written story that adds a bit of additional flavour to the author's science fiction series. I think that readers who have read the author's Imperial Radch novels will find this story especially interesting.
All the Painted Stars - Gwendolyn Clare:
- This is an excellent first contact story that has been written through the eyes of an alien being who encounters humans.
- I consider Gwendolyn Clare to be an author to watch, because she writes good fiction.
- I enjoyed this story, because it's an entertaining and a bit different kind of a science fiction story.
Firstborn - Brandon Sanderson:
- A story about Dennison Crestmar who is the son of High Duke Sennion Crestmar and the younger brother of Varion Crestmar. A lot is expected from Dennison, but he has no talents for war, because he is not a good leader (people think that he's an idiot).
- This was my first foray into the author's science fiction stories, because I had only read his epic fantasy stories.
- I found the characterisation to be satisfyingly complex in this story.
- An excellent and entertaining story that reminded me a bit of L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s stories.
Riding the Crocodile - Greg Egan:
- In this story, Leila and Jasmin, who have been married for a long time, begin to contemplate death and want to attempt to do something grand and audacious. They decide to observe the Aloof who have maintained their isolation and silence for many years.
- An interesting and well written story.
The Lost Princess Man - John Barnes:
- A well written story about a conman called Aurigar who is interested in the lost princess scam and is very good at it (he convinces a woman that she's a lost member of a royal family).
- This is one of my favourite stories in this anthology, because it's very entertaining.
- I haven't read many stories by John Barnes, but if all of them are as good as this one, I definitely have to take a look at them.
The Waiting Stars - Aliette de Bodard:
- A brilliant and beautifully written story about the Viet Dai, the Mind-ships and girls in an orphanage.
- This story takes place in the author's Xuya universe.
- This is one of the best stories in this anthology, because it's something a bit different. I enjoyed the author's way of writing about the characters and cultural issues.
- I highly recommend this story to everyone who loves well written science fiction, because it's an excellent story.
Alien Archeology - Neal Asher:
- A well written and complex story about what happens when a criminal called Jael robs a man called Rho and nearly kills him.
- This story takes place in the author's Polity universe.
- I enjoyed the author's vision of the future, body modifications and cyborgs.
- I think that science fiction readers will find this story very intriguing, because it showcases the author's range of imagination.
The Muse of Empires Lost - Paul Berger:
- In this story, Jemmi has the ability to bend other people's minds to her will. Jemmi meets another person who has the same ability.
- I found the atmosphere interesting and enjoyed how the author told the story.
- An excellent story.
Ghostweight - Yoon Ha Lee:
- A story about a girl called Lisse in a conquered and ruined world called Rhaion. Lisse is accompanied by a ghost.
- I loved the author's way of evoking a sense of a lost and ruined world, because his descriptions highlighted the atmosphere in a perfect way.
- An excellent and wonderfully written story that deserves to be read by science fiction readers.
A Cold Heart - Tobias S. Buckell:
- A story about a mercenary called Pepper whose memories have been stolen by the alien Satrapi.
- I enjoyed reading about the protagonist and what he did.
- An interesting story.
The Colonel Returns to the Stars - Robert Silverberg:
- In this story, a retired colonel is called back to duty for a new mission.
- I haven't read many stories by Robert Silverberg, so I can't compare this story to his other stories, but I found it interesting and enjoyed it. I intend to take a closer look at the author's stories, because this story intrigued me.
The Impossibles - Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
- A story about Kerrie who works in the public defender's office at the Interspecies Court.
- This story is set in the author's Retrieval Artist series.
- The author touches on such themes as victory and loss in an interesting way.
- An intriguing story that made me curious about the author's series (I intend to read the series, because I liked this story).
Utriusque Cosmi - Robert Charles Wilson:
- In this story, Carlotta, who was once a human, revisits her younger self. When she was young, she lived on Earth and had to make a decision of staying and facing a death or leaving her body behind and going to the stars.
- This delicate story is a fascinating exploration of faith and the end of the world.
- I have to mention that I'm a big fan of Robert Charles Wilson's novels, because he has never disappointed me with his fiction. Unfortunately, I'm not very familiar with his short fiction, because I've mostly read his novels. It was great to notice that this story was just as good as his novels.
- I highly recommend this story to those who love beautifully written and thoughtful science fiction.
Section Seven - John G. Hemry:
- In this story, Foster - posed as a sales professional - arrives in Valentia, because he has an assignment there.
- This is a relatively short, but very good story.
- An interesting story that will intrigue fans of the author's fiction.
Invisible Empire of Ascending Light - Ken Scholes:
- This is an especially interesting piece of science fiction, because it's a slighty different kind of a look at what it means to become successor to the throne.
- The author writes well about Tana Berrique and her difficult task.
- This story has a fascinating theological feel to it.
The Man with the Golden Balloon - Robert Reed:
- This well written story about secrets and exploration is set in the same world as the author's Ship novels.
- I haven't read Robert Reed as widely as I would've liked to do, but I'll soon take a look at his novels, because I found this story fascinating.
- I think that many science fiction readers will enjoy this story.
Looking Through Lace - Ruth Nesvold:
- A fascinating story about xenolinguist Dr. Toni Donato and her assignment on Christmas. Toni tries to understand the culture and immerses herself in her work.
- The author writes well about Toni and how she tries to figure things out.
- I enjoyed reading this complex and intelligent story, because it had a feel of mystery to it.
- When I read this story, it immediately became one of my favourite stories in this anthology, because it's excellent.
A Letter from the Emperor - Steve Rasnic Tem:
- This story is one of the highlights of this anthology, because the author evokes feelings of loneliness and regret in a touching way. In this story, an old man, who awaits a letter from the emperor, claims to have known the emperor and says that he served with him when he was young.
- I found this story interesting and enjoyed the characterisation.
- An excellent and well written story.
The Wayfarer's Advice - Melinda Snodgrass:
- In this fascinating story, Princess Mercedes is awakened from deep coma.
- I liked this story very much, because the author writes fluently about many things and pays attention to details.
- Unfortunately, I haven't had an opportunity to read many stories by Melinda Snodgrass yet, but after reading this story I can say that her fiction has found a place on my reading list.
Seven Years from Home - Naomi Novik:
- This is an excellent and fascinatingly written story about a woman, Ruth Patrona, who is on an assignment from her government and travels to a warring planet where she ends up getting involved in the local war.
- It was interesting for me to read this science fiction story, because I was only familiar with Naomi Novik's fantasy series (Temeraire). I was positively surprised to find out that the author writes nuanced science fiction.
- One of the best things about this story is that it features sufficiently detailed worldbuilding.
- I believe that this story will be of special interest to those who have read the author's fantasy series, because it's something different.
Verthandi's Ring - Ian McDonald:
- A magnificent story about intergalactic battles and future cultures.
- If you're not familiar with such terms as space opera and galactic empire, this story will give you a taste of them.
- This is an excellent and fitting final story to this anthology, because it's epic and memorable.
I have nothing bad to say about any of these diverse stories, because I found all of them interesting. I enjoyed reading them, because each of the authors had their own vision of galactic empires. The authors explored many themes and issues ranging from loneliness and isolation to war and different cultures in their own way and paid attention to details.
Although I enjoyed all of the stories, I was especially impressed by Brandon Sanderson's "Firstborn", Greg Egan's "Riding the Crocodile", John Barnes' "The Lost Princess Man", Aliette de Bodard's "The Waiting Stars", Neal Asher's "Alien Archeology", Paul Berger's "The Muse of Empires Lost", Ken Scholes' "Invisible Empire of Ascending Light", Ruth Nesvold's "Looking Through Lace", Steve Rasnic Tem's "A Letter from the Emperor", Melinda Snodgrass' "The Wayfarer's Advice", Naomi Novik's "Seven Years from Home" and Ian McDonald's "Verthandi's Ring". In my opinion, these stories stood out among the other stories, because they were fascinating and well written stories.
I want to mention separately that Robert Charles Wilson's "Utriusque Cosmi" and Yoon Ha Lee's "Ghostweight" deserve all the praise they get, because they're beautifully written stories. They're something different and deeply compelling for those who love thoughtfully written stories (there's a literary feel to them that I find mesmerising). In my opinion, these stories alone are reason enough to read this anthology.
I think it's good to mention that some of the stories in this anthology are connected to the authors' novels and their long-running series. If you're familiar with their novels, you may understand certain things better, but knowledge about them is not necessary, because these stories can be read as standalone stories. (I'll also briefly mention that all of the stories have previously appeared elsewhere.)
I can honestly say that it's been a while since I've read a science fiction anthology that is as good and diverse as this one. I was fascinated by the epic scope of some of the stories and was intrigued by how well the authors wrote about what the protagonists experienced in space and on planets and how they handled difficult situations. The complex characterisation in some of the stories appealed strongly to me, because I enjoy good characterisation.
Galactic Empires is an anthology that is worth reading and praising, because it's a fantastic glimpse into what galactic empires are like and what can happen in them. If you're looking for something exciting, intelligent and captivating to read, you should consider reading this anthology, because it's one of the best and most captivating science fiction anthologies of the year.
What Neil Clarke has done here is create a collection that hits just the right spot with the right balance. Obviously, everything is galactic - whether it's a human-settled planet, or humans somewhere in space, or even no humans at all, just aliens - and based around empires - some benign, some conquering, others falling apart. Multispecies, multiracial, multigendered; nothing ever exactly fitting in our earthly constraints, every story mindblowing in its own way.
The only drawback of this anthology is that it takes an extremely long time to get through. This is mainly because each story is a novella in its own right but also because you can't just sit down and power through the whole thing. You need time and space in between each achingly beautiful story to just rest and let your emotions finish unfurling (and your brain to stop internally squealing) before you launch yourself headlong into the next adventure.
*Note: I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review via Edelweiss.
As an avid sci-fi reader, this anthology holds a special place in my heart. It contains believable settings, really alien aliens, and some real surprises. A few notable experiences in this collection:
- Practically tasting the jungle dirt in Naomi Novik's “Seven Years from Home”
- A hard-earned ending in Robert Silverberg's “The Colonel Returns to the Stars”
- An unforgettable tactical campaign in Yoon Ha Lee's “Ghostweight”
Do yourself a favor; read this book. Savor story after story until you reach the last page, crying for more.