Derek Künsken burst onto the science fiction scene with his mind bending science fiction heist novel The Quantum Magician. That turned out to be the first novel in a quartet (it was followed by The Quantum Garden and The Quantum War with a fourth to come) which has significantly broadened out his universe. More backstory to this universe came with 2020’s House of Styx, set on Venus hundreds of years before the Quantum Evolution series and awaiting a follow up concluding novel. Given the breadth of his vision and the connectedness of his novels it is no surprise that Flight From the Ages and Other Stories, a collection of short stories and novellas, mainly serves to fill in gaps and detail of these sprawling, connected sagas.
The book opens with Beneath Sunlit Shallows, a dark look at the circumstances that gave rise to one of the prominent newly evolved species of mankind in the Quantum Evolution series. Other stories that fill in different niches in these tales include Persephone Descending, which acts as a prequel of sorts to House of Styx. And Pollen from a Future Harvest which explores more fully the strange plant species that has evolved to take advantage of time travel first encountered in The Quantum Garden. The three other stories could also exist in the Künsken future universe, particularly Tool Use By Humans of Danzhai County which explores the creation of Artificial Intelligences in the twenty first and second centuries.
Through all of these stories, Künsken continues to explore some similar themes to his novels. The issue of humans living in extreme conditions and what they might do to survive, including the extreme situation that the colonists of Epsilon Indi find themselves in and what lengths they go to breed new generations of survivors. A different form of survival is considered in Schools of Clay. And Künsken’s particular form of artificial intelligences get stories of their own.
The thematic connection helps the stories stand together as a coherent collection rather than just a group of backstories and explainers for other materials. But that said, the stories will work much better with some knowledge of the broader universe. Those who know the characters and their lives and struggles and attitudes from those longer forms will find this collection adds depth to these stories and vice versa. For those who have not read any other of Künsken’s works this will only be a taster for the much broader and deeper universe that he continues to expand and deepen.