Galactic Empires - Stephen Baxter, Gardner R. Dozois, Ian McDonald, Peter F. Hamilton, Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Neal Asher Galactic Empires is a collection of six novellas written by some of the more influential authors of this generation's hard SF writers, including one of my favorites, Alastair Reynolds. As you might gather, the underlying theme of the collection is "galactic empires." In a brief preface, Dozois is coy about defining what "galactic empires" means but broadly speaking it refers to stories set against a backdrop galactic, if not universal, in scope. Which leaves room for a great many conceptions.

The book leads off with Peter Hamilton's "The Demon Trap." This is a conventional police procedural set in the future history of Pandora's Star and features Paula Myo, the cop genetically engineered to pursue "justice" to the exclusion of all else. If you're a Hamilton fan, you'll like the story. I am not, so can only give it - at most - 2 stars.

"Owner Space" is Neal Asher's contribution. Most of humanity is oppressed by the Collective, an "evil empire" for the Space Age that ruthlessly supresses individualism and initiative. "Societal Assets" are the best and brightest of the Collective and the worst offenders in its eyes. Opposed to the Collective are the Grazen, a hive intelligence, and Owner Space, a region ruled by a singular human who commands technology superior to both Grazen and Collective, and who allows no one to enter his domain. A group of escaping SAs are forced to enter Owner Space pursued by both Collective and Grazen ships. It's a reasonably good adventure but not memorable. The Owner of Owner Space is too much a deus ex machina to allow for a great deal of suspense, and the societies of the Collective and Grazen are too broadly and derivatively drawn to be especially interesting. Two stars.

In "The Man with the Golden Balloon" we return to Robert Reed's world of Marrow. Two of the planet-sized ship's inhabitants encounter a being who claims to represent a universe-spanning association of intelligences that have covertly manipulated the cosmos' development for eons. Again, two stars. It's hard to have any interest in the self-righteous boastings of a near-omnipotent super alien.

I've already reviewed Alastair Reynolds's The Six Directions of Space here. I'll reiterate in this review the feeling that Reynolds could have done so much more with the concept of an alternate history where the Mongols led humans into space. As it stands, he doesn't and the main character, Yellow Dog, remains uninteresting, though she has potential. And there's a scene of gratuitous, gruesome animal cruelty that left (leaves) me squirming.

The final two entries - Stephen Baxter's "The Seer and the Silverman" and Ian McDonald's "The Tear" - are the best in the collection. The former revolves around a young man's (Donn) attempt to reconcile the alien Ghosts with the relentless, xenophobic expansion of the human Coalition. It doesn't carry us quite so far into the territory of alien psyches as Blindsight but it's well written and enjoyable. I've wanted to read Baxter's Xeelee series for several years now but have never gotten around to it. This story reinforces that intention. Three stars.

The last story is also a foray into alien consciousness (including altered human ones) and the survival of intelligence beyond the end of our universe. The human protagonist's culture deliberately cultivates multiple personalities in its citizens (thus the story is told from several POVs all sharing the same physical body). McDonald is a good writer and keeps your interest up. A plus is that though the ending is suitably "cosmic" the players remain believably human. Three stars.

I've read all the authors in this volume with varying degrees of pleasure. I can't recommend this particular collection, however, as examples of their best work. Except for the last two, the stories were too staid and safe, not very exciting examples of the Space Opera genre.