Review of Cosmic Powers, Edited by John Joseph Adams

By Lis Carey: This is just one kickass good anthology. Go buy a copy in your preferred format now.

Okay, okay, you want to know more.

Every one of these stories is, as advertised, far-future, galaxy-spanning, and involves people confronting huge problems caused by technology, in some cases so advanced as to be, as Arthur C. Clarke said, “indistinguishable from magic.”

They vary wildly in tone, also.

Charlie Jane Anders’ “A Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime” is just really funny.

“The Chameleon’s Gloves” by Yoon Ha Lee features an interstellar thief saddled with the unenviable job of committing one theft not for profit but to prevent the deaths of billions. I hadn’t been attracted to what I’ve heard of Ninefox Gambit, but now I very much want to read it.

“Diamond and the Worldbreaker” by Linda Nagata gives us a twelve-year-old who just wanted a chance to be the bad guy for once, and her mother whose job it is to prevent the kind of chaos created by the kind of “bad guy” her daughter admires.

In Becky Chambers’ “The Sighted Watchmaker,” Umos has the responsibility of tending a planet through its evolution, and wishes he could have the guidance of the Makers. But who are the Makers? Meanwhile, Seanan McGuire’s “Bring the Kids and Revisit the Past at the Traveling Retro Funfair” is straight up adventure.

There’s more variety and excellent storytelling in store as well.

It’s rare that I’ve enjoyed an anthology so thoroughly, and Yoon Ha Lee isn’t the only author represented here for whom I will be seeking out more work when I previously had my doubts.

Highly recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

26 thoughts on “Review of Cosmic Powers, Edited by John Joseph Adams

  1. I started reading this yesterday, funnily enough. I’m about half a dozen stories in and it’s extremely enjoyable so far. The tone of the stories brings to mind Jack Kirby-era comics – big brash plotting, primary colours, lots of fun.

  2. Thanks for this review, Lis! I’m on the wait list at my library when the book gets acquisitioned, and I’m looking forward to it. 🙂

  3. I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

    I’m sorry, but I can’t read this without wanting to add: “I am in good health and am not being coerced in any way. My family, friends, pets, and book collection are safe and happy and I am able to see them whenever I wish. I am not able to respond to your messages at this time but I hope someday to be able to do so.”

  4. But it’s good you’re making it scroll. A real good thing. And tomorrow… tomorrow’s gonna be a… pixel day!”

  5. And it has a Chris Foss cover. The 15 year old living in my head wants this now. So does the 50 year old me with the credit card.

  6. Ooooh. I now have the perfect spur to get me to finish Death’s End. Because without something to look forward to (Yoon Ha Lee! Linda Nagata! Becky Chambers!), I’d just continue to look at my Kindle with loathing. Thanks for the timely and enthusiastic review!

  7. Actually, Vylar Kaftan wrote “The Sighted Watchmaker”. The Becky Chambers story in Cosmic Powers is “The Deckhand, the Nova Blade, and the Thrice-Sung Texts”, a very sharp and funny story, already on my list of the best short sf fiction of 2017.

  8. @Roger–I can correct errors when I have recovered from the hardships I have denied to Ghostbird that I am suffering. Because of course I am not suffering any hardships or privations, and I see my pets and my book collection whenever I wish. Really! Why would you doubt it?

    @Mister Dalliard–I suggest the 15yo you and the 50 yo you get together. I’m sure you can work out a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

  9. Mister Dalliard: And it has a Chris Foss cover. The 15 year old living in my head wants this now. So does the 50 year old me with the credit card.

    I find that cover Baen levels of horrible, and may have to put a temporary slipcover on it while I’m reading it. It’s times like this when I regret that the grocery stores don’t use brown paper sacks any more.

  10. I’m a bit sympathetic to JJ’s cover complaint. Why would a spaceship need or want such, umm, “striking” colors? It reminds me of some of the old “dazzle camoflage” ships, as run thru an adult coloring book worked on by a Timothy Leary acolyte.

    (There’s probably an actual story that could be written around that cover, to explain why a space-faring race would riot their ships in a multitude of colors.)

    (Remembering the old movie Operation Petticoat, where a WWII submarine was painted pink because they only had enough white lead primer and enough red lead primer to do a primary coat if they mixed the two, then had to rush to sea when the Japanese attacked without a chance to apply the topcoat of grey paint.)

  11. Bruce Arthurs on April 28, 2017 at 3:39 pm said:

    (There’s probably an actual story that could be written around that cover, to explain why a space-faring race would riot their ships in a multitude of colors.)

    I think it is self-explanatory, after all why does Foss have colourful spaceships and why do people put them on book covers? If humans now like spaceships that look like boiled sugar confectionary, then it is plausible that humans in the future will as well (or at least some of them).

    I think this also explains why spaceships will have go-faster stripes, cool pointy bits and vestigial wings. Space archaeologists will be able to date ancient spaceships not by their technology (which will have plateuaed at some point), but by the lurching fashion trends.

  12. @Mister Dalliard @JJ @Bruce

    Yeah, like much of Chris Foss’ artwork, the spaceships on the cover make no real sense and the colours and patterns are downright ridiculous.

    However, I have to admit that like many SFF fans who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s, I have a soft spot for Chris Foss covers, because he illustrated a lot of SF covers, particularly for UK editions, when I started reading SF. And so Chris Foss art is forever linked to the joy of reading my way through Isaac Asimov’s entire SF output over the course of a summer and fall in the late 1980s. Okay, so my copies of Second Foundation and Foundations Edge were US editions with Michael Whelan covers, which were nice, but not quite as eye-catching as the Chris Foss covers.

    So space opera + John Joseph Adams + great line-up of authors + Chris Foss cover = Must have this.

  13. Foss’s spaceships were also notable for their, um, interesting arrangements of engines.

  14. Bruce Arthurs: I’m a bit sympathetic to JJ’s cover complaint. Why would a spaceship need or want such, umm, “striking” colors?

    If it’s anything like one of those Culture ships with an AI, that’s probably mating plumage. 😉

  15. Bruce Arthurs on April 28, 2017 at 3:39 pm said:

    (There’s probably an actual story that could be written around that cover, to explain why a space-faring race would riot their ships in a multitude of colors.)

    If such a story was written then it could no longer have a Chris Foss cover since they famously never actually depict anything in the book.

    Cora on April 28, 2017 at 4:18 pm said:

    However, I have to admit that like many SFF fans who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s, I have a soft spot for Chris Foss covers, because he illustrated a lot of SF covers, particularly for UK editions, when I started reading SF. And so Chris Foss art is forever linked to the joy of reading my way through Isaac Asimov’s entire SF output over the course of a summer and fall in the late 1980s.

    That would be me just a couple of years earlier. All the Asimovs in the UK editions in as short a time as possible in 1980. And then the Doc Smiths.

    The early-teen me in my head is able to admit that this is far from Foss’s best work but this kind of story, which in early-80’s Australia was covered in his work, is where my love for SF really grabbed hold. These are my nutty nuggets.

  16. Mike Glyer: If it’s anything like one of those Culture ships with an AI, that’s probably mating plumage.

    *snort*

    Now that is actually an explanation I could buy, given that, as a recent Scroll item pointed out, we are unconsciously programming our AIs to have human preferences and characteristics.

  17. @Mister Dalliard
    I didn’t discover Doc Smith until several years later (which proved to be too late, because by then I’d read/watched so much later works inspired by Smith that the originals fell flat – never mind that they were badly dated by that point), but once I discovered Asimov, I also discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs, Anne McCaffrey, Poul Anderson, C.J. Cherryh, Arthur C. Clarke, Harry Harrison and a host of others. And yes, the Chris Foss covers signalled “These are the books you love” to me more than anything else. So even if they make no sense and this particular Chris Foss cover isn’t one of his best works, it still hits my sweet spot.

  18. Mike Glyer: If it’s anything like one of those Culture ships with an AI, that’s probably mating plumage.

    And now I have pictures in my head that aren’t going to go away any time soon.

    If I don’t get much done today I’ll know who to blame.

  19. @Mike Glyer

    If it’s anything like one of those Culture ships with an AI, that’s probably mating plumage.

    LOL I’m now awaiting a series based on this premise.

  20. @Lis Carey

    Great review. I couldn’t decide whether to get this the other day. It’s now on my wishlist TBR.

    @Greg

    It’s international law TO judge a book by it’s cover. It’s why so many males in the US won’t read books with pink covers or UF/PNR.

  21. Having just finished this I totally concur with Lis and Greg’s reviews: this is excellent. The theme is fun and the stories do a good job of keeping to it, so you get a fairly consistent feel to the whole anthology even though there’s a mix of action, humour, etc. As well as having some really good stories (my personal favourite might be Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance by Tobias S. Buckell) the overall standard is high so that you don’t get much in the way of meh.
    One minor point : a small number of the stories are reprints so if you’re taking notes for noms just check the copyright page at the end first.

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