4 Stars, Less Than Three Press, Reviewed by Jennifer, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Keep the Stars Running – An Anthology from Less Than Three Press

Title: Keep the Stars Running

Author: Various

Publisher: Less Than Three Press

Pages/Word Count: 419 Pages

At a Glance: A diverse anthology with great stories and even greater characters.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: Space is not always filled with adventures and glory. Not everybody goes racing off to battle evil and save the galaxy. Between the rebels, pirates, royals, and spies are the everyday people who work hard just to get by and ensure everyone gets home safe. Less Than Three Press presents a collection of tales about the ordinary folks who keep the stars running.

The Prince and the Programmer by Cassandra Pierce
The Aurora Conspiracy by Lexi Ander
About a Bot by Andrea Speed
Flight Risk by Talya Andor
Survival by Leona Carver

Dividers

Review: I greatly appreciate the scope of this project. Though at times it dragged, the focus behind this anthology is unique and was a pleasure to read because it focused on the lesser known aspects of space adventures. As the blurb states, it’s not always filled with adventures and glory, and very often those behind the scenes are unrecognized. In this anthology, however, the mechanics and other personnel get to truly shine.

It’s difficult reviewing an anthology as a whole because of the individual stories it contains, but I will do this review in two parts. First, each story as an individual, and then the anthology as a whole. Because there are only five stories in this anthology, reviewing each one isn’t too difficult, even if they could—and sometimes should¬—have been published on their own. I am presenting the stories in the order that they are published in the book. Also, please forgive my poor descriptions of the stories. I tried to write short blurbs for them, but failed a bit.

The Prince and the Programmer by Cassandra Pierce

Jasno Erys is a foodsynth repair technician. When he is called to the suite of Prince Darex, he expects to get his job done and move on, but that’s not to be the case. When kidnappers enter the suite and find only Jasno, they mistake him for the prince and take him to their client. Of course, the client realizes he isn’t the prince, but Jasno manages to find himself in a position he’d always dreamed of—creating new foodsynth items and becoming a chef.

I rather liked this story. Of course, it has some elements where you need to suspend belief (just look at the title), but it was a fun story and I felt for Jasno. He’s stuck in a position he excels at, but his superiors won’t let him test his creativity. That’s just beyond the scope of his position. While he can fix the foodsynth machines, he can also create new recipes that actually taste like something. And Prince Tergus is not all he appears to be either. He’s a desperate man in love, who realizes almost too late that what he really wants wasn’t what he initially thought.
As a start to an anthology, I thought this story was perfect. It kept me engaged and really set the pace. I appreciated Jasno’s position as a foodsynth repairman-turned-chef (think of a Star Trek replicator for food only). It’s not something one would usually think of for a science fiction story, but hey, those things are going to break down at some time, right? It’s a dirty, tedious job, but someone has to do it.

In terms of the length, this story took up 18% of the book (according to my Kindle), which was a decent length for a shorter novella. Given that they are five stories, I thought it was the perfect length.

About a Bot by Andrea Speed.

Tahir is the Chief Maintenance Officer of a space station, though he refers to himself as the head janitor. His job is rather monotonous, as he is the only flesh and blood member of his staff. The rest consists of various robots. His task is to make sure they perform up to their standards and tinker with them when they’re taken offline to be replaced. When a new station decides to do a report on the people “behind the scenes,” Tahir is chosen and runs into his former crush, Jorian. But, unbeknownst to them, they’re about to contend with an alien enemy that humanity can barely stand up against.

This was my favorite story in the book for one reason, and I have just two words: Bagel bot.

Andrea Speed has such a unique sense of humor, and that is entirely on display in this story. Tahir has “pets” from robots no longer needed, and one of them is the aptly named Bagel bot who is shaped like, well, a bagel. There are others, but there was something just so endearing about her that made the story, even when I was wondering if mankind was about to be destroyed.

Tahir and Jorian have good chemistry, and when the enemy targets the space station, Tahir’s quick thinking and bumbling manages to buy them more time. Sadly, this story is short, and I really wanted more. I could easily see this turned into a full novel, and if I could, I would demand it. In terms of length, it’s the shortest at just 12% of the book. It ended far too soon.

The Aurora Conspiracy by Lexi Ander

Aliens and mining gone wrong. Conspiracies. Long lost loves. I don’t really know how else to describe this.

My second favorite story in this anthology because ALIENS. There’s something just so awesome about reading tales of alien species. Regin and Makari are great characters. I found Regin amusing, partially because of his small amount of feline DNA and how they drugged him with catnip to interrogate him, and Makari for his protective instincts concerning Regin, whom he loves and considers his mate, despite their years of separation.

At 20% of the book, this is a sizeable and well-paced story that starts with an interrogation and follows Regin, Makari, and friends to discover the possible conspiracy with the mining company. Add in a robot named Danny, who thinks he is James Bond, and, well, you have some great entertainment. Regin and Makari made me swoon, and Danny made me laugh. All of which make a great combination. The book is packed with action right until the end, and I really hoped for a good outcome for the boys since they had been torn apart years before.

Flight Risk by Talya Andor

Kiel is a hearing impaired mechanic who works on Gryphon Gears on a planet with limited water resources. He prefers to work on the gears, keeps his head down, and keep to himself, away from the pilots who like to torment him and the other mechanics. When Marco transfers in and is assigned to Bravo team, he doesn’t leave Kiel alone, even though it’s just what Kiel wants. Or is it? When a possible security breach and treason threatens their safety, it’s up to Marco and Kiel to save everyone at the base.

For me, initially, this story dragged. While I enjoyed Kiel and learning about what made him tick, and enjoyed watching Marco try to get Kiel into bed, I often put the book down. It’s only about 22% of the book, but it seemed a lot longer. At the end, however, the action picked up and I couldn’t put down the story. There were a few things that bothered me, such as the outright nastiness in Bravo team’s personalities, especially given what they were trying to do. It seemed contradictory, but I didn’t notice until after I finished the story. I liked Marco and Kiel, but they were the only characters who really got to shine, and I would have liked some other supporting characters who had more screen time.

Survival by Leona Carver

Valentin Mashir was supposed to be a colonist put in cryo for a trip to a new planet, but he’s been upgraded to work in one of the botanical labs and is given a crash course before the trip is underway. After a harrowing experience being put into cryo, Valentin is rudely awakened seventy years early, when the ship sensors detect problems with the plant life in the park. Along with a skeleton crew, they’ll have to get the park back under control and figure out what’s going on, or destroy the park to save the ship.

I don’t even know where to go with this review. The story starts going in one direction, and I’m like, oh, cool, this is nice. And then I think I know what’s going to happen, but the author does a 90 degree turn into the realm of mythology, and I’m staring at the book like, what… the heck just happened? It’s not bad, per se, I rather enjoyed it, but it took an interesting route that I did NOT expect.

This story has very little romance. There’s sex, yes, two men blowing off steam, but that’s it. I wanted romance, but didn’t get it. Fyodor is an intriguing character as a genetically engineered being, and I rather liked his cocky attitude. Valentin is a human who is used to the slums of earth, but he loves the trees he helped plant and wants to work with them.

I really can’t give away too much without ruining the story, but I will say that after being rudely woken from his cryo sleep, Valentin and the group discover something has caused the park to grow exponentially fast, and the roots have spread and are interfering with the ship. While the story is long, the longest in the book, it read pretty quickly.

As an entire anthology, I liked Keep the Stars Running for several reasons. First, the obvious: it goes behind the scenes and really looks at the various people who form support staff. I like that they are given their moments to shine. Some end up saving lives, others don’t, but they all do their jobs well. Second is the diversity. While yes, they all have gay characters, they are also a diverse cast. There are several people of color, and I’m not talking about the alien species encountered, but humans. I loved that. Too often people of color are left out of science fiction, and I think that hurts the genre. Finally, most of the stories have characters with disabilities. They were injured in one way or another, but that doesn’t stop them from working. Some have cybernetic implants to help them, others have had new limbs attached that aren’t quite up to the task. In the case of Kiel, he and the other mechanics have lost their hearing due to the nature of their jobs. The authors really went above and beyond to show that there is no cookie cutter mold for a hero, and they created an incredibly diverse cast within their respective stories. For that I commend them and the publisher.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely. I only hope there are more anthologies like this one in the works, because I now have a soft spot for mechanics.

TNA_Signature_Jennifer

 

 

 

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