‘futures’, edited by Peter Crowther, (Gollancz 2001)


As regular visitors to Best SF will know, I have been reviewing the PS Publishing chapbooks for some time. Each year UK publisher Gollancz has published a collection of four stories from PS Publishing, in handsome hardback and paperback versions, edited by Peter Crowther of PS Publishing. These Gollancz volumes were reviewed at length in the March 2003 issue of Interzone, by Bruce Gillespie, who was pondering ‘The Revival of the Science-Fiction Novella’. That review was slightly marred by the fact that the author concentrated purely on the Gollancz books and made no mention of the chapbook editions. (And the review also wasn’t up to date in terms of including the fourth in the series).

The first in the series, published in 2000, was ‘Foursight’ ( Amazon review ), which featured contemporary/dark fantasy stories by Graham Joyce, James Lovegrove, Kim Newman and Michael Marshall Smith. Due to their non-SF content (and my not having a copy), I haven’t reviewed that title.

The second in the series, is the volume in hand – ‘futures: the very best of British SF today’. I’ve previously reviewed three of the stories, and have reprinted the reviews here, but the Peter F. Hamilton story was a new one to me and is reviewed here for the first time.

Stephen Baxter. Reality Dust.

The PS Publishing volumes are broadly similar in size to the typical Asimovs/Analog/F&SF in terms of two dimensions, the third is slightly different as it measures only 70-odd pages. This impacts on the fourth dimension, as with a story as good as this the time taken to get through the pages is minimal!

Cost-wise the titles somewhat more than your average SF magazine, but hey, the books are autographed and are a limited print run.

This story picks up some generations after his ‘Cadre Siblings’ story published in Interzone in March 2000. I did have a complaint that the previous story was a bit rushed, and the longer space herein enables Baxter to weave an intriguing story.

Two threads are intertwined. In one a woman is pitched into a strange dusty landscape, her memory erased. As she struggles to get to grips with her destiny, the other story, starts on an Earth gradually recovering from being liberated from the tyranny of the Qax. One of the ‘jasofts’ – the despised collaborators, journeys with two whom are seeking to rebuild humanity, to Callisto.

There the nature of the other story is revealed, as quantum theory is used to enable other jasofts to flee into a reality which is sufficiently fundamental to the universe to bring the Xeelee to the moon.

Stirring stuff, with the ending, in which the two humans stand there helpless, almost reaching the peaks of Arthur C Clarke (one to whom Baxter is often compared).

Paul J. McAuley. Making History.

This is a prequel to the author’s ‘Quiet War’ sequence. Previously published stories include ‘Sea Change, with Monsters’ (Asimovs Sept 98, collected in Dozois’ 16th) in which Indira, a macroform hunter (subterranean genmod creatures created during the war) takes on a job on Europa, where a monastery claims that a ‘dragon’ is responsible for damaging their undersea farm. Other stories were ‘Second Skin’ (Asimovs April 1996 and Dozois’ 15th), which featured espionsage on Proteus, and ‘Gardens of Saturn’ (Interzone Nov 98).

The stories are set in the Solar System, which settlements on a number of planets, or more commonly, moons of planets. In this story, the immediate aftermath of a ruthless response to a bid for independence on Dione is the backdrop to a human tale. History is written by the winners, it is said, and we see this in action as the defeated citzens struggle to come to terms with their occupation. An older historian, and a vicious commander of the occupying force both fall into the web spun by a beautiful young woman, and the trio moves towards an inevitable fatal denoument in which intrigue, love and betrayal all play a part.

‘Making History’ is a more thoughtful, human story than others in the sequence, although does suffer slightly as being more of a sequence, and quite possible, the foundation for a novelisation. The ending leaves plenty of scope for future developments.

Peter F. Hamilton. Watching Trees Grow.

This story had been waiting to be read for some time. The size and weight of the book made take it on my daily commute impossible, and so it was put in the pile for ‘reading at home’. This is not something that I manage to do too often, due to any number of distractions. However, I perservered, and was pleased.

Hamilton provides a breathtaking novella, which covers a couple of centuries, and a quantum leap for humanity. What gives the story an added dimension is the starting point – Oxford, England, AD 1832. A telephone in the middle of the night wakes the main character, on Edward Raleigh, who is called to duty to investigate a murder, and is shortly picked up in a car. Telephone? Car? 1832?

We are in an alternate history, in which the Roman Empire did not fall, and which is governing the world. Furthermore, the Romans have achieved a healthy measure of longevity, which allows us to follow Edward Raleigh over a couple of centuries.

And if this isn’t enough, we get a (sort of) whodunnit, as Edward is patient enought to wait two centuries to finally finger the murderer of the young student at the beginning of the story. As the decades pass the forensic science improves, giving him the chance to eliminate various characters. But more interesting is the huge technological leaps, taking Edward from using Bakelite telephones at the end, to diving through wormholes as humanity spreads across the universe.

Cracking stuff!

Ian MacDonald. Tendeleo’s Story.

‘Evolution’s Shore’, (Interzone Feb 1996) collected in Dozois’ 14th, described the Chaga – a mysterious alien infestation creeping across Africa.

In that first story a western reporter flies in to view the Chaga. Here McDonald describes (vividly and what to me comes across authentically!) the menace from the perspective of a young African girl. Her father, the local minister, has a huge crisis of faith at the inexorable encroachment of the nanobot infestation. She finds herself morally and physically compromised, not by the chaga, but by her and others response to it and the enforced evacuation. With an echo of the evacuation of Hanoi, Tendeleo manages to flee the country, ending up in Manchester (England) and finding an Irish lover.

Her past catches up with her, as she is herself infected by the chaga, and she is forcibly repatriated.

The ending sees her and her lover facing up to the alien challenge and in fact embracing it, and from their own strength rebuilding that which had been taken from them, building a new, very new!, future for themselves and for humanity.

Conclusion.

This is a handsome hard-back book which would grace any shelf (albeit that the shape of the book will require a deep shelf!). The stories are of high quality, offering a lot of vision, and work together well. A recommended purchase for those of you who haven’t got the stories in their PS Publishing format.

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