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Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance, by Tobias S. Buckell

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Buckell and I started publishing short fiction around the same time, so while we’ve never really been in the same place at the same time long enough to say that we know each other well, I sure know what to look for in his work. So if this is your first Tobias S. Buckell collection, what should you expect (that he totally delivers here)?

Clear prose. Transparency is not the sole virtue prose can have, but it sure is a virtue prose can have, and Buckell’s has it. When you’re in the mood to never have to read a sentence three times to figure out what the author is on about, these are good hands to put yourself in and know that the story will be primary.

Strong roots. Buckell knows his genre. Several of these stories are responses to genre classics, and genre furniture abounds. Do you like stories about robots? aliens? generation ships? jungle Venus, for heaven’s sake? Buckell has you covered here. But those aren’t the only ones of his roots that are giving him a strong grounding here. One of the stories here has a hero with an ethnic and racial background very similar to Buckell’s own Caribbean-American biracial heritage, giving the character a depth and context that absolutely makes the story. The single collaboration in the volume–with Karen Lord, whose work I love–describes in its authors’ notes how these two writers of Caribbean heritage decided to go deep into their own loves and backgrounds, only to find the story incredibly popular and resonant. Which it should be. It’s a great piece.

New twists. Even people who want their science fiction to come with familiar genre furniture could just reread their old favorites if that’s all they wanted. Buckell is intensely thoughtful about the shapes of these stories, the ways in which the old takes don’t quite satisfy, the ways he can make them his own. Even when you’re reading another of his several alien stories, it’s never “oh yeah, another one of those” but rather “oh, interesting, that’s a different place to take it.”

If you haven’t been reading Tobias S. Buckell, this is a pretty ideal place to start. If you have, at least some of the stories will probably be old friends–but I personally like to have stories I’ve enjoyed relocated to convenient collections for me to reread at my leisure, and also even I hadn’t read all of these.

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