When I reviewed the science fiction/mystery crossover anthology, Love, Murder
and Mayhem on this blog here, I particularly mentioned author Mary Fan's AI Sherlock story and the Brave New Girls anthologies which she co-edits with author Paige Daniels. Mary Fan noticed my review and sent me an ARC of Brave New Girls # 2 in return for this honest review.
Let me say that I was impressed by the series concept which is to encourage girls to study the sciences and enter scientific professions. The proceeds from this anthology go to the scholarship fund of the Society of Women Engineers. Although I am not myself a scientist, I would like to see a world where more girls consider these fields. I would also like to see an end to discrimination against woman scientists. See my review of The Other Einstein here for my remarks about discrimination against women in the professions. This anthology is probably aimed at girls. Yet it seems to me that unless boys also read anthologies like this one, the situation is unlikely to change.
My normal disclaimer when I review anthologies is that I usually only like a few stories. That disclaimer does apply here, but what is unusual is that I absolutely loved two of these stories. So I'll devote a paragraph to each.
My favorite was "Circus in the Sky" by Lisa Toohey. It combines two subjects which are perennial themes in my reading--circuses and animal welfare. Let me be clear that I don't enjoy circuses that imprison animals in order to entertain humans. The circus acts that attract my admiration exhibit human grace, skill and power. It's trapeze artists and acrobats that thrill me. Like Kaleigh, the protagonist of "Circus in the Sky", I believe animals belong in their natural habitats. This story is different from many others in this anthology. Kaleigh isn't an inventor or a tinkerer, but she does have scientific ambitions. Her scientific progenitor is a heroine of mine, Jane Goodall. Kaleigh is also very courageous. She stands up for an animal who has no other advocate within the circus that employs her. I was delighted to meet someone like her within the pages of a book. A novel dealing with Kaleigh's adventures in her future career could be amazing.
Another story that really wowed me was "Hack" by Evangeline Jennings. This story centers on the strong bond between two female protagonists in a desperate situation aboard a space ship where essential ship functions are failing. It's emotionally intense and very suspenseful. I appreciated the fact that the most knowledgeable of the pair of protagonists is disabled. There is a political substrate that readers may find topical. Jennings is much more explicit about her politics in her biographical note.
There were other stories that stood out. The dystopian "Our Very Respected and Always Benevolent Leader" was memorable because the non-deaf central characters communicated by hand signing. I was also struck by the ideology behind their communication choice. "In A Whole New Light" was a contemporary tale that dealt with bullying. That description sounds pedestrian, but it raised an ethical question for me. When I did research in my graduate program, I had to obtain consent from all participants. Is it ethical to experiment on someone without his knowledge if the result achieves a worthwhile goal? I thought this was a thought provoking issue. Finally, "Let Androids Eat Cake" got my attention by being the first steampunk story I'd read that took place during the French Revolution.
There were a few stories that I considered flawed. A story with a great deal of potential required more research in an area where I am no expert, but knew enough to spot inaccurate terminology. The same story also made a highly misleading statement about a legal issue. I spotted that because I had taken a course dealing with international law. Another story disappointed me because there appeared to have been no attempt at diplomacy in a conflict between two cities. Then there was a story that ended with an AI making what seemed to be a rather stupid decision that didn't take into consideration the likely motivations of the villains. Worse yet, the protagonist didn't question the AI's advice. It seemed to me that the author might have lost track of the narrative in that particular case.
Despite the stories to which I referred in the paragraph above, I thought there was enough worthwhile content in Brave New Girls #2 to recommend it to teens in search of science fiction adventure starring girls using science to achieve their goals.