Writing reviews can be challenging -- trying to talk about a story without giving it away is tough. It's a heavy responsibility too. There you are, reading something someone has slaved over for, offering your opinion. And that's what a review is after all, just an opinion. I like to think mine is an informed opinion, only because of the amount of reading I've done over the years, and my little bit of dabbling in writing, but maybe I'm deluded.
So, while writing a book review is hard, writing a review of a short story collection is even harder. Generally a book will have a handful of main characters, one or two main themes, a few minor themes, a handful of big events.... But when it's a story collection, you have this scenario repeated in a compressed form for however many stories are in the book. Yikes.
Should I write an individual review for each story? Or just sum up the whole collection? I never quite know what to do, so I guess I'll just dive in and start swimming (or sinking).
Cracking the Sky, by Brenda Cooper, is a great collection. She has eight full length science fiction and fantasy novel published, and has appeared in Asimov's and Analog and various other magazines and anthologies numerous times starting back in 2001. Cracking the Sky is a collection of these previously published stories, plus a couple of never-seen-befores, broken down into sections:
On a Future Earth
- The Robot's Girl
- Savant Songs
- Riding in Mexico
- The War of the Flowers
- Trainer of Whales
- Star of Humanity
- My Father's Singularity
- The Trellis (with Larry Niven)
- Second Shift
- Blood Bonds
Stories From Freemont's Children
- The Hebras and the Demons of the Damned
- The Street of All Designs
Short and to the Point
- My Grandfather's River
- Tea With Jillian
- For the Love of Mechanical Minds
- Entropy and Emergence
- Alien Graveyards
- A Hand and Honor
- Mind Expeditions
Military Science Fiction
- For the Love of Metal Dogs
- Cracking the Sky
One of the themes that seems to run through Cooper's work is the one of family and relationships and the sacrifices people are willing to make for the ones they love. Service and compassion for others. One can't help coming away from this collection feeling some hope for the human race. Sure, overall we're a mess, but her stories remind us of the power of love and commitment on an individual level, something I think it's easy to forget about under the constant bombardment of Bad News(TM) from today's media.
This human empathy and compassion takes a variety of forms. A neighbor couple's concern for a girl being raised by robots (The Robot's Girl); a father setting out on a dangerous mission to rescue his daughter (The Trellis); a son's desperate attempt to save his aging father (My Father's Singularity); a granddaughter investing untold hours and effort to virtually re-create a river from her grandfather's past (My Grandfather's River); a sister's personal sacrifice to obtain a better future for her disabled twin (Blood Bonds); a woman's love for a man she'll never meet (Second Shift).... the list goes on.
Each story here offers a confirmation of what, at our core, makes us human and how doing for others is not labor, but rather the way we feed and grow our humanity.