There is not much to say about the glorious genre of space opera that hasn’t been said a thousand times already. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of deal, one that has served to divide the science fiction community since time immemorial, bringing them together for the brief moments when someone plays the Doctor Who theme on the PA system. This is what Alex Shvartzman and William Snee must have had in mind, when they decided to see this anthology to fruition.
Dark Expanses is a thematic anthology, one based on a larger, established Universe: after millennia of undisputed rule of the Galaxy, the enigmatic (and seemingly omnipotent) Zyxlar have abandoned the Galaxy, leaving the myriad developed and burgeoning civilizations which they themselves had created and maintained through their technological marvels to fall into disarray. Dark Expanse tells the individual stories of these events, focusing on particular tragedies that take place in the composite anarchy that has swept the galaxy.
Nancy Fulda tells the story of two human survivors of the collapse, themselves mollycoddled pets of the Zyxla, making a number of terrible choices in an attempt to survive in midst of the Collapse. Alex Shvartzman tells the story of stiff upper-lipped detectives, struggling to bring a murderer to justice even in the face of Armaggedon. Ken Liu does what Ken Liu does best, which is paint a vast, beautiful world and then tear it down in just a few words. Deborah Walker shows the world crumpling in slow motion in the Zyxlar’s absence, David Walton has his characters dream big but know when they shouldn’t push their luck, Simon Kewin ponders the necessity of planetcide with his finger on the button. Michael Haynes makes sure we are lost in a claustrophobic maze that’s partly in our heads, Matt Mikalatos tells the tale of a catastrophic small-scale clash between Church and State, David Wayne writes about the particulars of a laser-gun standoff, Michael Greenhut tells the tale of people getting caught up in the apocalypse in the middle of their holidays, Alex Kane’s crew bargain for their lives, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro kills a beautiful creature for our perverse pleasure and Robert Lowel Russell unleashes ‘Your Inner Awesome!’ in what is probably my favorite story in the entire anthology.
The cover is so wall-size poster good and the writers play to their strengths. If you are a fan of the space opera genre with a burning desire to read the best it currently has to offer, then I cannot recommend Dark Expanse enough.