After generations of warfare against the ominous Swarm, the United Planetary Alliance settles on a desperate gambit—send a squad of Marines to steal one of the Swarm’s bio-organic battleships. However, it turns out the ship isn’t merely alive but fully sentient… and it has a mission of its own.
Under New Suns (Tales From the Year Between Book 2) is an anthology written and illustrated by over twenty authors and illustrators, detailing an epic space opera told in the form of star maps, illustrations, comics, poetry, flash fiction, short stories, verse, and even a stage play. The galaxy, dimension, and reality-bending twists and turns caught me off guard in every segment of the story.
We start off with some beautifully detailed star maps by Aaron Hockett to orient us to the surroundings our heroes encounter and a summarized explanation of the mission. This swiftly changes to comic panels (also by Hockett) that detail the beginning of the story. The desperate plan: steal a Swarm ship. But right off the bat, we know not all will go according to plan as our heroes soon discover the ship is capable of more than it seems.
From there, it’s all hands on deck, as we’re introduced to the substantial crew, then we’re treated to a swirling poem to set the mood by Phebe Yawson, Spinning in Space.
Then, the strangeness begins.
I’ll put this up top so there’s no question: if you like space operas, you’ll have fun with this anthology. At the end of the day, it was an entertaining read that would be best read a few stories at a time, so you never quite lose traction or the plotline.
Keep in mind, though each story is written by a separate author, there is a coherent thread throughout. Although the chronology of the stories does jump around, they are meant to be read in sequence. I wouldn’t recommend moving around, or an already cerebral story may become impossible to parse.
Even if you’re not already a space-opera aficionado, general sci-fi and speculative fiction fans will get a kick out of this as well, and part of this is because of the diversity of content. What makes Under New Suns stand out as a space-opera is it draws on a lot of different aspects of science fiction, not just space travel. It’s science fiction with an emphasis on its root: science.
There’s one story in particular that focuses on oceanography, exploring what the oceans of an alien planet might look like, but through the lens of the knowledge of Earth’s oceans. Another later story focuses on chemistry. We have stories that touch on meteorology, genomics, anthropology, on and on.
This may feel like it should be expected, but so many space operas get so inundated in engineering and astrophysics they forget that other sciences should become just as involved. This is a testament to what happens when you have multiple voices coming to the table with diverse ideas.
What I Liked
As always don’t forget to check the Trigger Warnings at the bottom of the page if you have concerns.
I already talked a little bit about the diversity of scientific methodologies being something I enjoyed in Under New Suns. On the same wavelength, I also loved the diversity of writing styles and formats. There’s anything from star maps to comic illustrations, from flash fiction to stage plays. More specific than that, there are stories that are very character-driven and intimate, and then those that are very action-packed and plot-driven. Each author has their own voice, and it gives something different to the over-arching story.
And speaking of the plot itself, it was at times entertaining, then intellectual, and suddenly emotional. By the end, there were so many different threads going so many different directions it became a little difficult to pick through them all, but I can’t help but think that some of the complexity was on purpose for reasons I won’t get into (sorry, spoilers!)
I will end my review with a little bit of enticement for those of you who are already salivating at the idea of reading Under New Suns. The next Tales from The Years Between Anthology? Pirates. I’m there.
Sexual Situations, Drug Use, Violence