Review: Carbide Tipped Pens

6 years ago
Til Knowles

Carbide Tipped Pens is a collection of science fiction stories. Compiled and edited by six time Hugo-winning author Ben Bova and aerospace engineer Eric Choi, Carbide Tipped Pens presents seventeen short stories delving into detailed ‘what ifs’ and their consequences. The authors from all parts of the globe – Australia, North America, China, Europe – and the majority are both writers and scientists. This diversity and technical knowledge makes for a series of engaging and practically-possible tales, united by genre.

carbide tipped pens cover

The stories, Choi writes in the preface, are all hard science fiction.

Ben and I were looking for stories that follow the classic definition of hard SF, in which some element of science or technology is so central to the plot that there would be no story if that element were removed. The science and engineering portrayed in the stories would be consistent with current understanding or be a logical and reasonable extrapolation thereof.

It’s an accurate description of the collection, but each story also contains a resolutely human component. It’s a central part of all science fiction, the world and societies that have lead to the technological developments are important, and like any piece of fiction the characters need to be fleshed out, but in each of the stories presented in Carbide Tipped Pens the connection goes beyond that. These stories provide something human; insight, emotional response, a societal snap shot. This is particularly true of the first story in the collection, Daniel H. Wilson’s “The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever”. The story captures the human in science and the science in the human as it were, folding the gap between facts and unavoidable emotions. Dirk Strasser’s “The Mandelbrot Bet” has a similar effect as it explores the conflicts of morality and truth.

Other stories seek to gauge the effects of politics on progress and visa versa. Doug Beason’s “Thunderwell” and Liu Cixin’s “The Circle” push the conflicts between personal and political motivations, while “The Snows of Yesteryear” and “Skin Deep” position corporations in their narrative streams. They feel like cautionary tales. By contrast, Bova and Choi’s contributions to the collection are upbeat, focusing on individuals effected by technological growth.

With a couple of exceptions, the writing style of each story complements it’s intriguing premises of the stories. There’s stories told first, third and even second person narration, vivid imagery and paired back minimalism, the air of timelessness and the feeling of the here and now.

Given the backgrounds of so many of the writers, it is no surprise that the stories are full of scientific detail, expertly integrated into the narrative. The technology is expansive and well thought out, the consequences interesting. Choi says “our fondest wish is for Carbide Tipped Pens to not only entertain but to educate and convey the sense of wonder of the Golden Age to a new generation of readers.”

In both desires, Carbide Tipped Pens succeeds.

Carbide Tipped Pens is available from December 2nd, 2014. The collection is published by Tom Doherty Associates as A Tor Book.

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