Bad News From Orbit, by Ken Rand

Bad News From Orbit, by Ken Rand book coverGenre: Science Fiction Anthology
Publisher: Silver Lake Publishing
Published: 2004
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Pat Marlan

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As a fan of short fiction, I’ve run into Ken Rand’s name a few times, usually in some of the better quality ezines such as Neverworlds (alas, now defunct), Oceans of the Mind and Although he writes science fiction, most of Ken’s work delves more into the realm of fantasy, in the sense that tech occupies the background and people occupy the foreground. Ken has a unique gift for bringing characters to life and infusing them with that certain something that makes them seem real.

Bad News from Orbit offers up seven stories, all set on Berenson Corp. Station Number One, an orbital city circling the burned out cinder of Earth and dubbed “The One” by the locals. Most (but not all) detail some of the adventures of Pete Amundsen, a news reporter who manages to get himself into a variety of scrapes and convoluted back-street dealings. Other stories are about some of the more famous (or infamous) inhabitants of “The One”

As I read, I was reminded of Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Salon series and an older series that has recently been renewed–Thieves World. The seedy bar has long been a staple in various genres, a gathering place for losers and winners alike, people riding the crest of luck and those who seemed abandoned by it. It’s where nobility and the riff-raff can mingle, where deals are made and broken, where secrets are kept and revealed. It’s the Star Wars salon from Tattooine, where dispossessed Jedi Knights and orphaned farm boys rub shoulders with smugglers and pirates. What better place to discover adventure and hear tale tales?

Rand develops his characters so that they present a unique presence and that’s the true strength of this work. Heroes and villains, and some in between–all are presented here for your reading pleasure. My favorite was “Friends in High Places”, a tale where everyone has an ulterior motive; just who is tricking whom? “The Turning of an Unfriendly Card” is especially gruesome, though it illustrates how luck can morph between good and bad quicker than the eye can blink. The only one that left me cold was “Fruits of Their Labor”; despite its short length, I just didn’t “get it”. The other four stories are equally strong and equally enjoyable.

Rand isn’t doing anything new here; the jaded sf reader will recognize the places, people and situations, but despite the stereotypes, Rand manages to make them his own and suffuse them with his own off-kilter sense of irony and comeuppance. Bad News from Orbit makes for a delightful diversion, a fun romp through a world that, while it might not be new, is nevertheless entertaining.

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