Book Review – A Kepler’s Dozen: Thirteen Stories About Distant Worlds that Really Exist

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Edited by Steve B. Howell and David Lee Summers

Anthologies are always interesting books to read and review. By design, they’re inconsistent, with a range of authors writing on a theme, rather than a straight up narrative. Sometimes, the authors at the table do a stellar job, while there are others that are more of a mixed bag. A Kepler’s Dozen falls under that category, but it’s well worth picking up for what it represents as a whole.

A couple of years ago, NASA launched a revolutionary new orbital observatory that has radically changed our understanding of the universe around us. It’s a planet finder, one that has found hundreds and hundreds of planets, demonstrating that our system is far from alone in the Milky Way. Suddenly, the strange and exotic planets that we’ve imagined in science fiction potentially have real counterparts. This anthology seeks to play off of that, by gathering a group of authors all writing about planets that the Kepler has found. It’s a unique anthology in that regard, and the information pages on the individual planets are just as interesting as the thirteen stories put together here.

Science fiction has always had a curious relationship with real science: the hard science fiction of the 1940s and 1950s has fallen away in the face of scientific advances, and often, there’s few stories that will hold up to the modern day – at least where the scientific elements are concerned. The stories here are take the best from both (13?) worlds, and work with the information at hand, using science as the starting point, rather than the predictive one.

The thirteen stories here are a mixed bag. There’s several standouts: Mike Brotherton – who runs the Launchpad Writer’s Workshop, which trains SF professionals in astronomy – starts off the anthology with “Middle Ground”, about a scientist at odds with a colonist ship, Carol Hightshoe’s “Omega Shadows”, Mike Wilson’s “Exposure at 35b”, David Lee Summers’ “Hot Pursuit” and “Tracking the Glints” by Anna Paradox are all entertaining and interesting stories that harken back the golden age of science fiction. Other entries in the book are decent, but either not terribly memorable or with prose that feels lacking.

The strength of this particular anthology isn’t in the individual stories, however; it’s the tone that it captures, where science is of paramount importance in the background of each story. With real world data used as the background of each entry, this book counters an argument that’s often leveled against the genre: real world science (and by this, it’s typically meant as astronomy or orbital mechanics) is absent. It’s not here, and while there’s some other fantastic elements, such as post-humanism, there’s also some acutely aware stories on societal issues as well, which makes this a fairly well rounded volume.

As a whole, the anthology is an interesting case, but one that’s worth picking up and thumbing through. While individual entries are sometimes lacking, the book as a whole is an entertaining grouping of fiction that stands out for its use of real science, and as a nostalgic throwback to the early days of science fiction.

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