Having belatedly reviewed Fast Forward #1, what does the 2008 #2 have to offer?
Paul Cornell. Catherine Drewe.
Cornell packs a lot into a short space – a sort of James Bond in space on acid. Hamilton is given a top-secret mission, and is soon to be off-world, masquerading as manual slave labour, in the hope of taking out the target he has been given. However, in the mines of the planet which he is working, there is a sudden revelation, and he comes face to face with his potential victim. It’s all done at breathtaking speed, with ideas firing off in all directions from an author with novels and Dr. Who scripts under his belt. There’s perhaps more than a touch of a visual feel to the story, more suggestive of a script.
Kay Kenyon. Cyto Couture.
An inventive setting in which a young orphan boy is brought to work on the nearby farm. The farm owners are wealthy, and one of the daughters is seeking to enhance her status as a celebrity fashion designer, through growing ever more creative haute couture in the biological sheds. Nat struggles to integrate with the other farm workers, but has a knack with the strange semi-sentient creatures which grown the fashion items, and also strikes up an unlikely relationship with the dowdier sister who is faced with a wedding she doesn’t want, to a man she doesn’t love, in a dress being designed by her sister that could not have been designed to show her up.
When the farm sets alight, there are beasts to be saved, reputations to be ruined, and lives to be freed.
Chris Nakashima-Brown. The Sun Also Explodes.
An artist amongst a group of fellow dilettantes strikes up a relationship with a woman which appears to be helping get over a number of issues. She is able to smooth out the scars of past military action, and also provide an intruiging bio-replacement for a certain other part.
Nancy Kress. The Kindness of Strangers.
Classic Kress. Alien invasion and interference seen through the eyes of a woman who has managed to escape the culling of a large proportion of humanity – this throught he aliens simply wiping out the larger cities on the planet. She is with her lover, or the man who was about to be her ex-lover, and she is desperate to keep him, even though he blames her for being away from the city in which his wife and daughter were.
A motley collection of people are drawn together, and she finds solace in a suprising source, through an extended family. In dealing with a near-fatal accident to a child, she faces up to the aliens, and, whilst they are able to instantly heal the aliens, there are some unpalatable truths about what is happening, and more importantly, why, that she has to come to terms with.
Jack Skillingstead. Alone with an Inconvenient Companion.
More than a touch of the PK Dick’s in a subtle short. In the middle of a large hotel hosting a convention, the protagonist is indeed very alone. Having left his wife, he is feeling disengaged, is paranoid about the world he lives in, and those around him, and the increasing state interference in his life, and toilet cubicles that appear to offer medical and lifestl ye advice are a sign of the times. Even being approached by an attractive blonde is problematic – as she is evidently hiding behind a form of cosmetic surgery. How real is she, the talking toilet, the hotel staff? Is the gun on his pillow the most real thing in his life, and will it end his life? Even when he appears to be on top of his paranoia, and gets the girl, the final twist in the tale is a twist of a knife in his heart.
Benjamin Rosenbaum and Cory Doctorow. True Names.
The longest story in the volume by far, and a mind-boggler. How’s this for an opening :
‘Beebe fried the asteroid to slag when it left, exterminating millions of itself..
The asteroid was a high-end system: a kilometer-thick shell of femtoscale crystalline lattices, running cool at five degrees kelvin, powered by a hot coare of fissiles. Quintillions of qubits, loaded up with powerful utilities and the caconical release of Standard Existence. Room for plenty of Beebe.’
And it just gets better. What is Beebe you ponder? After being a single entity at risk of destruction ‘..Beebe became a probability as much as a person: smeared out across a heptillion random, generative varied selves, a multiplicitous grinding macrocosm of rod-logic and qubits that computed deliberately corrupted versions of Beebeself in order that this evolution might yield higher orders of intelligence, and more stable survival strategies, smarter more efficient Beebes that would thrive until the silent creep of entropy extinguished every sentience.’
Rosentorow takes us into a future that it hi-tech, silicon rather than biological, with intelligences spinning off multiple instances of self, against a background of a galactic-spanning threat, but makes the entities one with which we can engage, showing how we it could be possible to retain those complex states which makes us human rather than simply been on/off binary states.
It’s one of the most sfnal SF stories I’ve read for a while, and it’s one of the stories that is a ‘must read’ for any serious SF reader.
Jack McDevitt. Molly’s Kids.
Alpha Centauri is the distant destination for a probe with a purpose-built AI. It’s an 8,000 year trip, and come launch day the AI decides that the long, lonely trip with little at the end of, is not a journey on which it wishes to commence. It’s a surprise to the launch team, as the AI isn’t supposed to be self-aware. With the plug threatened to be pulled on the mission even as the countdown is due to start, the team have to decide wether to accede to the AI’s request not to go, or to persuade it otherwise.
Paul McAuley. Adventure.
A shorter story, in which a young man finally manages to get off-world, and is able to use the new, alien environment to find himself.
Mike Resnick and Pat Cadigan. Not Quite Alone in the Dream Quarter.
A strange symbiotic relationship between humans and the new arrivals, The Dreams, is explored as one human wakes up to find the Dream with whom he has spent the night is dead. It has been clear to us humans what we get from the relationship, as the ‘tears’ of The Dreams take us to other worlds. But what are we giving in return?
Ian McDonald. An Eligible Boy.
Another in McDonald’s series about a near-future hi-tech India, and up to the usual standard as we follow a young man who relies on an AI to woo a young woman, with an entirely believable society obsessed with celebrity being the backdrop. Watch out for the forthcoming collection of shorts ‘Cyberabad Days’, and if you haven’t already ready the novel ‘River of Gods’, may I inquire why?
Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Seniorsource.
Rusch melds her SF and crime writing personas to produce a neat little tale in which an ageing policeman has a particularly pressing personal reason to solve the crime put before him – he needs to secure his longevity in a near future in which a healthy old age is not a right.
Karl Schroeder and Tobias S. Buckell. Mitigation.
Near future science thriller set in a world where climate change has made signficant impact. Chauncie has a chance to earn some money in a high-risk heist of a bio-ark : he has a moral choice to make as to whether he should destroy precious seed specimens in order to extract and store their DNA for the future of humanity, in anticipation of an imminent raid by cyber-terrorists.
Jeff Carlson. Long Eyes.
A human intelligence embedded as an AI on a lonely mission between systems finds a trace of humanity ekeing out a living in a most inhospitable, distant location. It’s a humanity far removed from its origin, having had to make major sacrifices to survive. What choices should she make as to their future?
Paolo Bacigalupi. The Gambler.
Bacigalupi explores the world of hi-tech internet media, through the eyes of someone working, but somewhat detached, from the hyper-obsessed American culture. One of the stars of his news gathering corporation gets a hot story and generates enough traffic to their site to guarantee bonuses all round. Having left a lot behind in his native Laos, Ong finds himself, instead of writing niche stories with low levels of footfall, he has a chance to hit the big time in being pitched in with a major celebrity from his home country and with, seemingly, a lot in common. However, it turns out that the celebrity has very much embraced the modern culture of the US, and he has to take a gamble on which route to take.
As with #1, another handsome collection of short SF from some of the biggest names in SF. Praise especially for making room for the lengthy Rosenbaum/Doctorow story.