New Frontiers by Ben Bova
Published by Tor, July 22, 2014. Hardcover of 334 pages at $25.99.
The cover: The jacket art is by John Harris showing a series of immense structures bearing large satellite dishes. Tiny ships can be seen flying about these edifices. They are on a planet that is completely barren and dry, as evidenced by the cracks in its surface. A lone ground transport leaves a trail of dust in its wake as it moves before these giants. The skyline is a burnt, dead violet, with the outline of a huge burning star taking up much of the background, within which it states “A collection of tales about the past, the present, and the future.” This text is different from images of the cover that I have found online. The title of this collection is in bold, all-white caps at the top, while the author’s name is at the bottom in larger font. Very well done cover that gave me a 1970’s vibe because of the art’s abstractness. It captures a definite feeling without being concrete in its structures. After checking online, I found that Harris’s work has also been used on the novels of Frederik Pohl, Jack McDevitt, and Orson Scott Card. This illustration is a classy introduction to the stories within. Overall grade: A
The premise: From the inside front cover, “Frontiers can be found in all directions. Frontiers of time and space, as well as frontiers of courage, devotion, love, hate, and the outer limits of the human spirit. This outstanding collection of stories by one of science fiction’s premier talents spans the length and breadth of history and the universe, while exploring thought-provoking new ideas and dilemmas. From the Baghdad of the Arabian Nights to a vast interstellar empire thousands of years in the future, from the Vatican to a one-man vessel drifting in the vast emptiness of the Asteroid Belt, from virtual reality duels to the subtle intricacies of time travel and a gold tournament on the Moon, here are tales of scoundrels and heroes, scientists, and explorers, aliens and artificial intelligences, and even a young Albert Einstein. Each of them stands at the border of a new frontier and must venture out into unexplored territory–and the limitless imagination of Ben Bova.” This is a good tease giving readers and idea of what stories they will read without giving anything away. I appreciated this summary being written this way. Overall grade: A
The stories: There are fourteen short stories in this book and all of them are winners. I’ve never been a particular fan of short stories put out by one author, instead preferring collections that embrace a single thing written by many hands. I approached this book with some trepidation and came to enjoy it immensely. These tales cover a behind the scenes peek at events occurring during the Arabian Nights, a true conclusion to a, if not the, classic Hollywood movie, and the story of a man and his computer. Every one of these is a hit, but four really stood out. “In Trust” is a brilliant story of a man who tries to evade impending death, while guaranteeing his future. This is the type of story that The Twilight Zone is known for. It was wonderful. Of the same ilk with its mounting tension and rapid twist ending is “The Question.” In this tale an alien ship has finally found Earth and the world goes into a panic. Virtual Reality is the topic of two stories, with “Bloodless Victory” being my favorite of the pair. An important legal decision is about to be decided upon and an important wager is made upon it. The final tale that left its mark upon me was “Inspiration.” This is a time travel story that gathers four individuals together for a purpose that only one can truly fathom. Discussing more than a sentence for each of these would ruin the joy that readers will encounter on their own, and I don’t want to do that to anyone. Overall grade: A+
The final line: This is the best collection of short stories I’ve encountered by any one author. They all create a sense of wonder, awe, and glee I haven’t seen in the glut of recent dystopian, disaster plagued fiction of late. I left this collection optimistic, warm, and thinking about the future. That’s the greatest gift any story can leave a reader. There is an error with the title, though; it should be New Frontiers of Gold, because each of these is golden. Overall grade: A+
Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!”, he reviewed comics for TrekWeb, and he currently reviews Trek comics at TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for two years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.