April 2023’s Life Beyond Us: An Original Anthology of SF Stories and Science Essays was edited by Julie Nováková, Lucas K. Law & Susan Forest. This anthology was sponsored by the European Astrobiology Institute, the European Science Foundation (ESF), and the Laksa Media Group. It comprises essays and stories by dozens of named authors, many of them well known as SF authors, and several unnamed authors.
Some online booksellers list this book as being by Stephen Baxter (author), Peter Watts (author), and Julie Nováková (editor). While technically true, it could give the impression to careless readers that Baxter and Watts helped edit, and of course it fails to credit Law and Forest at all.
This was the subject of a Kickstarter campaign of which I was a supporter. As I recall, the book was delivered in a reasonably timely manner given that the world is on fire (proposed delivery: September 2022, actual delivery January 2023). Take note, publishers planning anthologies who want the book delivered faster than The Last Dangerous Visions, and consider Julie Nováková, Lucas K. Law & Susan Forest for your anthological needs.
What makes the above more impressive that this is not a slender book. Online sources assert the book is 584 pages long. When I open it in Calibre, it is 1343 pages long. My Kobo no longer connects to my laptop so I cannot import it there but I am inclined to think the page count will be impressive there as well. My normal practice is to read a given book one evening and do the first draft the next day. In this case, I’ve been reading the book since May.
The editors embrace a time-honored approach that dates back at least as far as the Twayne Triplets: a science essay, in this case on an aspect of astrobiology, accompanied by a story illustrating the issue at hand. To avoid undermining suspense by giving away the nature of the story, the fiction precedes the essay, which probably for the best.
As one might expect from the page count and the focus on short stories, there are an impressive number of works of fiction and non-fiction, ranging over a very wide field of topics. Being a jaded and obsessive grognard, many of the non-fiction subjects are familiar to me. However, all of the fiction is (of course) original and always competent. Teenage me would have had their mind blown to encounter this impressive tome.
Do not fret that the Kickstarter is long over. The book is available from the following booksellers.
Foreword (Life Beyond Us) • essay by Julie Nováková
Life on other worlds: awesome idea!
Introduction (Life Beyond Us) • essay by Stephen Baxter
Rather muddled essay on alien life, in fiction and otherwise.
“Hemlock on Mars” • short story by Eric Choi
How far should a scientist go to preserve Mars’ pristine condition?
Planetary Protection • essay by Giovanni Poggiali
A discussion of the contamination issues touched on by the story.
“The Dog Star Killer” • short story by Renan Bernardo
An astronaut journeys to a small Bok globule headed towards the Solar System, hoping to find her mother, lost exploring it years before.
That Cold Black Cloud • essay by Stefano Sandrelli
A discussion of the interstellar medium, from dense regions to extremely empty voids.
“Titan of Chaos” • short story by G. David Nordley
A close encounter with unexpected phenomena on Venus.
Flying Instead of Diving • essay by Fabian Klenner
A discussion of Titan as an abode of life.
“Cloudskimmer” • short story by Geoffrey A. Landis
Human exploration of Venus’ upper atmosphere yields a serendipitous discovery, one that robots would have been hard pressed to make.
Earth’s Sister Planet • essay by Dennis Honing
An essay about Venus as we currently understand it.
“The Lament of Kivu Lacus” • short story by B. Zelkovich
Married scientists, one terminally ill, try to make sense of the whale-like entities within Titan.
Robots in Space Are Great • essay by Ania Losiak
An essay on robots’ tremendous utility for space exploration.
“Heavy Lies” • short story by Rich Larson
A grim tale of biological destiny on an alien world.
“Major Transitions” • essay by Stephen Francis Mann
Musings on the paths between simple and complex life.
“The World of Silver” • short story by Tomáš Petrásek
A stranded human allies with an enigmatic alien, only belatedly comprehending that the dangers facing the pair include other humans.
Wet Wet Wet • essay by William Bains
A discussion of other fluids life might use.
“Spider Plant” • short story by Tessa Fisher
Following artificial radio signals back to their source, scientists are baffled to find no evidence of civilization, not even a ruined one.
Signs of Life (and How to Find Them) • essay by Tessa Fisher
Will we be able to recognize life for what it is?
“This Is How We Save Them” • short story by Deji Bryce Olukotun
An ill-fated hunting expedition on a terraformed exomoon yields unexpected scientific bounty.
Valuing Life • essay by Erik Persson
A discussion of the challenges of conservation, not least of which is agreeing on a definition.
“The Far Side of the Door” • short story by Premee Mohamed
Confronted by a long-overlooked enigmatic lifeform, humans struggle to bridge the vast communications gulf.
Space Agriculture • essay by Raymond M. Wheeler
A discussion of the challenges inherent in growing food in space.
“Ranya’s Crash” • short story by Lisa Jenny Krieg (trans. of Die Todbringerin)
A young human takes advantage of an opportunity to expiate some of her people’s transgressions against aliens.
You Are Not Alone! • essay by Jacques Arnould
A discussion in the ethics of the other, from communicating with them to creating them.
“Spiral” • short story by Arula Ratnakar
An explorer is utterly transformed by their experience.
Spiraling Into the Unknown • essay by Tomáš Petrásek?
A short discussion of the forms life might take.
“The Last Cathedral of Earth, in Flight” • short story by Tobias S. Buckell
Having succeeded beyond wildest dreams in the quest to find alien life, the last remnants of humanity search for some way to survive an extremely hostile universe.
The Latest Black Hole Planet, in Formation • essay by Amedeo Romagnolo
A discussion of the challenges faced by life on worlds in the close vicinity of black holes.
“The Secret History of the Greatest Discovery” • short story by Valentin D. Ivanov
As the end of the Cold War looms, an obscure astronomer discovers evidence of extraterrestrial life stupendously more advanced than Earth.
Cooperation Without Communication • essay by Valentin D. Ivanov]
A discussion of the challenges of SETI.
“Human Beans” • short story by Eugen Bacon
Society’s outcasts find belonging on other worlds.
Microbial Life and Belonging • essay by Tony Milligan
An analysis of the themes of Bacon’s story.
“The Mirrored Symphony” • short story by D. A. Xiaolin Spires
Explorers encounter bizarre aliens who desire a very specific thing from humans: art.
Mirror Images • essay by Dimitra Demertzi
A discussion of chirality — handedness — in biochemistry.
“Lumenfabulator” • short story by Liu Yang
A young person on an unearthly exoplanet tries to make sense of ancient tales.
Crystal Green Persuasion • essay by Nina Kopacz
A discussion of the possible origins of life.
“Cyclic Amplification, Meaning Family” • short story by Bogi Takács
Contact with alien intelligence proves transformative.
The Science of Xenolinguistics • essay by Sheri Wells-Jensen
A discussion of the challenges of communication between very dissimilar beings.
“The Diaphanous” • short story by Gregory Benford
Human civilization’s exploration of the cosmos is complicated by the hostility of diaphanous plasma-based entities.
Life 2.0 • essay by Geoffrey A. Landis
Life could take exotic form; would we recognize it as life if we encountered it?
“The Sphinx of Adzhimushkaj” • short story by Brian Rappatta
Two crewmen, one inexperienced, struggle to survive in an alien environment.
Finding Common Ground • essay by Philippe Nauny
A discussion of the challenges of inter-species communication.
Defective • novelette by Peter Watts
A scientist wrestles with the inherent moral issues of a zero-sum struggle for survival with desperate and extremely alien aliens.
How Did They Know It Was Agni? • essay by Joanna Piotrowska
How do we squeeze every possible bit of information out of electromagnetic radiation?
“The Dangers We Choose” • short story by Malka Older
Another tale of first contact across significant communications barriers, this time with an aquatic species.
The Habitability of Water Worlds • essay by Floris van der Tak
A discussion of the habitability of worlds with oceans far deeper than Earth’s.
“Third Life” • short story by Julie E. Czerneda
A promising relationship is complicated by biological reality.
The Unveiled Possibilities of Biomaterials in Space • essay by Martina Dimoska
A discussion of the possibilities inherent in the materials created by living beings, silk being one important example.
“Forever the Forest” • short story by Simone Heller
Kind thoughts from a forest-bound tree on the curious mobile lifeforms that visit.
Astra Narrans • essay by Connor Martini
Another essay on the difficulties of communication.
“Still As Bright” • short story by Mary Robinette Kowal
A rocket pilot effectively and convincingly argues the case for exoplanet research.
— And the Moon Be Still As Bright • essay by José A. Caballero
In the context of skeptical discussion of certain elements of Kowal’s stories, Caballero expounds on exoplanet research.
“Devil in the Deep” • short story by Lucie Lukačovičová
Research in an extraordinarily deep (and dangerous) mine yields unexpected benefits.
Some Like It Hot • essay by Natuschka Lee and Lucie Lukačovičová
Scientific speculations on deep, hot biospheres.
“Deep Blue Neon” • short story by Jana Bianchi
Contact with non-human intelligence is achieved through a most unexpected communications channel.
Destined for Symbiosis • essay by Jan Toman
A discussion of symbiosis.
Afterword I (Life Beyond Us) • essay by Wolf D. Geppert
On the utility of science fiction for the cause of science.
Afterword II (Life Beyond Us) • essay by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law
A rallying cry to preserve nature.
Acknowledgments (Life Beyond Us) • essay by uncredited
What it says on the tin.
About the Contributors (Life Beyond Us) • essay by uncredited
Short but informative biographies of the contributors.
About the Editors (Life Beyond Us) • essay by uncredited
Short but informative biographies of the editors.
Copyright Acknowledgments (Life Beyond Us) • essay by uncredited
What it says on the tin.
European Astrobiology Institute (EAI) • essay by uncredited
A short essay about the European Astrobiology Institute.
European Science Foundation (ESF) • essay by uncredited
A short essay about the ESF.
Laksa Media Groups Inc. (LMG) • essay by uncredited
A short essay about the Laksa Media Groups Inc.