Skip to content

Final Frontier: A Sci-fi celebration by C. Stuart Hardwick (editor) #BookReview

50 years after the moon landings, Final Frontier recalls the thrill that gripped the world during the heady days of the Apollo program and glimpses wonders yet to come! In a dozen uplifting stories by today’s award-winning authors, find humour, tragedy, sacrifice and good old fashioned cussedness—with a healthy dose of optimism.

Final Frontier by C Stuart Hardwick book cover

Title: Final Frontier: A Sci-fi celebration | Author: C. Stuart Hardwick | Publisher: Got Sci | Pub. Date: 1 June 2019 | Pages: 325 | ISBN:  9781092784101 | Genre: Science Fiction | Language: English | Triggers: None | Rating: 4 out of 5 | Source: Author for review consideration

Page break indicator for Sci-Fi & Scary

Final Frontier Review

The band Red Hot Chilli Peppers wrote in their 1999 song “Californication” that “space may be the final frontier but it’s made in a Hollywood basement”. Through songs, films, and books, science fiction has been capturing our imaginations for decades. Our heroes traverse distances measured in lightyears within seconds while enjoying comfortable gravity and Earth-like pressure. I love science fiction, but I often fear that it is making us soft.  

“Final Frontier” is an anthology that celebrates “the indomitable spirit that carried humanity to the moon”. It is a collection of award-winning short stories, each grounded in reality, each reinforcing the message that mastery of the extra-terrestrial will not be handed to us on a pristine dish in a comfortable starship mess hall, it must be earned, it must be made through resilience, hard science, inevitable danger, and imagination. 

Mike Barretta kicks off with “The Rocket Maker”, a touching story of a disabled man who dreams of building a rocket and leaving Earth behind. Miguel makes a meagre living by sweeping streets but soon captures the imagination of his South or Central American nation when he begins assembling a collection of junk in the shape of a spacecraft. What starts as a crazy endeavour soon becomes a phenomenon. Miguel self-teaches and then actively teaches the poverty-stricken children around him. Formal education cannot hold a candle to what he achieves. This is a story of innovative and transformative power of dreams and it is beautifully written.  

“Low Arc” by Sean Monaghan is an Lunar-survival thriller that hammers home the ubiquitous and savage danger waiting for any who dare to set foot on the moon. Romance aside, the moon and low-Earth orbit want to kill you they exceptionally good at doing so. “Low Arc” also highlights the value of engineering know-how. When your tech fails, you either hot-wire things, or you die. Learn to take machines apart – it might save your life. 

In “We fly”, K.B. Rylander explores consciousness as a function of computer processing and memory. Natasha is a human or rather she was a human whose memories and neurological setup are uploaded into a space-exploring robot. The story opens with robo-Natasha grappling with mixed memories and her frustration at the lack of opportunity to leave the spacecraft and explore planets. “We fly” surfaces ethical questions around artificial intelligence. Is it monstrous to create a being that can suffer and is it ethical to kill it when it malfunctions? More interesting are questions this story about the nature of consciousness. Can consciousness be boiled down to a sufficiently complex neuron configuration and memory? Most provocative however is the suggestion that imperfection and insecurities are ultimately what make an AI human. 

I couldn’t get into “Doppler Shift” by Mike S. Rotundo, despite it being a well-written story that riffs on the idea of the mind as a collection of observable data. “Doppler Shift” presented a crisply-orchestrated exchange between psychologist and patient but for me did not deliver a satisfying conclusion. 

Ronald D. Ferguson’s “Intent to occupy” combines the awkwardness of a blind date with the popular contemporary idea of prospecting the asteroid belt and dwarf planets and the legalities of homesteading on pieces of rocks other than Earth. Ferguson’s future is one in which romance, even love, are boiled down to a legal transaction between two people, the ultimate marriage of convenience. The first date scene uses a doozy of a metaphor where exchanging personal data by tapping phones together serves as a surrogate for the first kiss. Adrienne Rich wrote that  “An honorable human relationship – that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’-  is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other”. Perhaps Ferguson is on to something or perhaps not. The reader gets to decide.

“Black Orbit” by Martin L. Shoemaker is a crime investigation set against the fascinating backdrop of mining minerals around the outer planets. The science and physics seem solid and do great justice to the deadly danger lurking out there for anyone daring to reap the solar system’s bounty. Though it plays out as a space thriller, I was hoping for more “thrill”. 

“That undiscovered country” by Nancy Fulda is one of this anthology’s stronger entries. The residents of an exospheric laboratory are old. They are very old. Norma Jean Goodwyn is over twelve decades old. Having benefited from modern medical treatments and clement gravity the crew have built a self-sustaining habitat through ingenuity. But now Earth wants to shut them down and bring them home to Earth’s merciless gravity. This is an obvious parallel to a modern phenomenon that we deal with now, probably for the first time at scale: an aging population pushing the limits of human longevity. Great story, I liked the characters and the space station is super cool.

Philip A. Kramer’s “Icarus Drowned” takes things to a more speculative dimension – the gravity dimension. Here we have a story that reminds me of the films “Innerspace” and “Interstellar”. The narrative contains advanced ideas but does not condescend nor does it blow the layperson away. Always exciting and funny, “Icarus Drowned” is a novel idea well-executed. 

Anyone planning to sign up for a stint on Mars may wish to read David D. Levine’s “Citizen-Astronaut” first. This is a story of a blogger who is invited to join a crew on the Red Planet. Levine takes the gloves off when describing the unpleasant conditions, the incessant labour, and the ubiquitous danger for anyone who abandons our comfortable blue marble. And of course, no one on Earth can know or they would shut Mars down for good!

“Burst mode” by Patrick Lundigran is an exploration in human-like artificial intelligence. I couldn’t quite get along with the dialogue-driven writing style and it is light on plot.

“Letting Go” by David Walton is a compact nail-biting thriller that succeeds at two things: presenting an awesome engineering and physics concept, and hooking the reader from the first page. You will want to consume this little story in one sitting. 

This collection of tales seeks a strong ending. “For all mankind” by C. Stuart Hardwick ironically centres around two women. “Mankind” seems to be an outdated word but then this story is set in the cold-war era where it wasn’t archaic. This is an engaging story of a mission two avert a meteor colliding with Earth. Unlike films “Armageddon”, “For all mankind” is actually well written with believable characters and true self-sacrifice. I liked the idea of women being more suited to space missions due to their lesser masses, food, and oxygen needs. The real message is that you don’t need to be a space-faring hero to save the world. Tatyana tells of how a single act of kindness by a Red Army officer in the horror of World War 2 allowed her to survive and go on to prevent the apocalypse. We can strike a spark where we can. 

You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads (Buying direct from retailers is a good way to support indie authors); however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.

Published inScience Fiction Book ReviewsStarred Reviews
©Sci-Fi & Scary 2019
%d bloggers like this: