David Falkayn : Star Trader by Poul Anderson, compiled by Hank Davis
Swashbuckling David Falkayn and his diverse non-human crew travel the galaxy looking for trading opportunities to further enrich his benevolent yet non-too-scrupulous patron. Most of the stories involve the group meeting primitive civilisations and attempting contact which goes badly. The resolution will usually involve the traders figuring out some facet of the native’s culture or physiology that caused the misunderstanding.
I’ve never heard of David Falkayn before, but apparently he stars in a lot of Poul Anderson’s stories. This collection (edited and sycophantically introduced by Hank Davis) covers a lot of ground, from early works written in the 60 to quite modern stuff. The theme that the cultural differences between the traders and the groups they meet can be solved through knowledge and mutual understanding is solid, although some of the resolutions feel a little contrived and almost patronising. The best stories involve the crew interacting with superior cultures that have figured out something about humans that they are using as leverage.
Also, for an author that goes to great lengths to paint complex and sympathetic aliens Anderson sure writes some laughably sexist stories.
Recommend, but if you like this sort of thing.
Tales from Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
A collection of shorter tales set in the world of Earthsea, the storied archipelago setting of the Wizard of Earthsea novels the I devoured as a kid. These stories are not particularly linked to the main plot of the earlier books and stand alone nicely. Perhaps not Le Guin’s best works (they seem a little unambitious compared to her great novels), the writing still bubbles and flows like a cool stoney brook and it was a pleasure to dip my feet in again.
Robots : The Recent A.I. edited by Rich Horton & Sean Wallace
Now onto the hard stuff – a recent collection of robot tales. Usually these compilations are a mixed bag but I have no complaints about any of the stories, which are nicely varied but uniformly excellent. Most of the works are straight forward yarns (robot detective stories, thrillers, etc), with a sprinkling of the more experimental stuff that is usually skippable but works well here. There is lots of thoughtful and exciting writing on display.
Highly recommended if you like this sort of thing.