“An anthology of optimistic science fiction” from British publisher Solaris, a book which used the Internet to a large degree in promoting its publication and garnering story submissions.
Eric Gregory. The Earth of Yunhe.
In the opening story in a volume dedicated to ‘optimistic near-future SF’, Gregory takes a look at the challenges to the old traditional ways that will be made by the new. Set in rural China, in a town devastated by environmental disaster, a young sister has to decide whether to stand by her brother, imprisoned for preaching a pan-national, crowdsourcing, flashmob approach to the challenges they face, or by her father, who is the symbol of the old ways. (Fortunately, the new ways have what amounts to magic dust on their side…)
Jacques Barcia. The Greenman Watches the Black Bar Go Up, Up, Up.
A city in Brazil, a society in which carbon is the currency of the day, and a protagonist mourning his lost same-sex lover, who took up arms to fight for the environment, provide a more unusual setting than most. Inacio has his cyber-sleuthing skills called upon – as he is hired to do some ultra-quick research into a company about to launch a new product in the morning. As happens in the best stories, Inacio has to find out about himself during the events of the night, and he is able to play a small, but important, role in making the world a better place.
Jason Stoddard. Overhead.
Stoddard looks at a near-future with corporations taking over the role of countries, and the societal impact of a post-scarcity economy, where everybody has in theory everything they need. What price then the future of humanity, historically driven forward by need, and a desire to see over the next hill? On the darkside of the moon the fruit of one millionaire’s foresight and determination to reach out has its own future threatened – and this colony has to decide whether the re-embrace Earth, or to reach out to that which is further out and which is unknowable. It’s a good story, one that begs for more detail and to be continued.
Holly Phillips. Summer Ice.
A young artist, in a hot Mediterranean city where climate change is beginning to impact on life, with drought being the main issue, finds inspiration in the local ice cream parlour. It’s a nice enough story, well written and capturing the languid nature of life and love in a sapping heat, but not SF, and barely speculative.
Paula R. Stiles. Sustainable Development.
Short piece site in francophile West Africa, where the woman have not reaped the benefits of technology, and the traditional roles for women remain in place, even though the daily drudge could be alleviated by technology. Until the women get a hold of the technology. And, erm, that’s it. I’m sure you could expand this into a longer story that would give more satisfaction. You could even shrink it further into a flash short, or a haiku, or tweet to probably greater effect.
Gareth L. Powell and Aliette de Bodard.
One of the things I’m liking about this anthology is that the stories have a much more international flavour than most SF, and here Powell and de Bodard set their story in France. There’s a background of a wave of labour strikes (a very old French tradition which I heartily endorse), and the protagonist is a woman working for an IT company who has a bugger of a boss who certainly isn’t into liberte, equalite and fraternite. She’s working for a new church, as per the title, who are using IT to offer redemption – and the story works well with the solid setting, exploring issues around AI and sentience, impact on society and on individuals. The cyber-terrorist she meets, and his two hench-emos add a bit of colour. My recommendation to the authors would be to tweak it a bit and to get a script written and get it touted around Hollywood.
Lavie Tidhar. The Solnet Ascendancy.
A light tone from Tidhar, as he looks at how Vanuatu transforms itself from an idyllic place with little technology, to a worldwide internet hub.
Mari Ness. Twittering the Stars.
A twitter-format story, which can be read in either direction, and is, unlike the stories in the volume so far, set in space, and is also the least near-future and optimistic.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Seeds.
Editor de Vries provides another story set outside the usual SF settings (ie space or the USA), for which he is to be applauded. It’s a short piece, which gets across a single idea relating to the use of technology in ways other than intended, for the benefit of local people, rather than corporations, but that’s about it.
Alastair Reynolds. At Budokan.
Getting Alastair Reynolds’ name on a book cover is of course a Good Thing. However, I’m not so sure though that getting him to write a Near Future Optimistic story is a Good Thing, as his strengths are far future, galactic-spanning stories. And whilst it’s Near Future, I’m not so sure about the Optimistic – after all it’s a world in which Heavy Metal music still holds sway…
And if you think (like I do) that the likes of Kiss are the nadir of humanity, then a future in which Monsters of Rock are indeed just that, with the might Tyrannosaurus Rex re-created to serve up high octane rock, is hardly going to be an optimistic one. But Reynolds has his tongue firmly in his cheek as he looks at the lengths the rock industry will go to please their audience.
Gord Sellar. Sarging Rasmussen : a Report (by Organic).
A clever look at how psychology, NLP and the like could be used for political gain, with a group of highly-trained recruits using a range of interpersonal techniques at their disposal across a range of political and social exchanges. However, one alpha male finds out that whilst you can successfuly game a system, there may be somebody else the next level up who is gaming you.
Jason Andrews. Scheherazade Cast in Starlight.
A very short story which looks at how web 2.0 technologies could bring about the downfall of progressive regimes, with a 1001 blogs helping to turn the evil tide.
Eva Maria Chapman. Russian Roulette 2020.
A near future in which teens are even worse than they can be now in terms of being hooked up to the internet, networking online, pursuing virtual lives through online avatars considerably different to their real selves. A student finds himself, reluctantly, falling for a young woman on a farming retreat the school have gone on, and willing to give up his connectivity. It’s not the most subtle story in the volume, and there’s some creaky dialogue in there.
Kay Kenyon. Castoff World.
The strongest story in the volume so far. Kenyon has a tight focus on how global climate changes can affect individuals. There are essentially three characters – the young girl through whose eyes the story unfolds; her grandfather through whom we find out just how much of the society we are familiar with has been lost; and Nora, the nano-bot controlled floating recycling facility, drifting in the sea, on whom they live and on whom they very much rely.
In contrast to the previous story, which I read with a somewhat dismayed feeling that the number of pages yet to be read just didn’t seem to be reducing, this was one of those stories where the ending came all too quickly. It’s a story that could have been longer, and perhaps have seen a bit more human invention and challenge to get to the end, rather than being a largely passive passenger, but a tip for inclusion in one of next year’s annual collections.
Ken Edgett. Paul Kishosha’s Children.
As noted already, a strong feature of the collection is the global perspective the stories bring, and Edgett’s looks into the possibilities for Africa in the year’s ahead. His hero (for indeed he is a hero rather than a protagonist) turns his back on the west and his role with NASA, and is able to use his talents to help his country and his country’s children to reach for the stars, a role previously left to the west. Slightly sentimental perhaps, but Kishosha is a Mandela for the next generations to come.
Madeline Asby. Ishin.
The role of the West, and technology, in particular, surveillance technology comes under scrutiny, and the roles of the government, and the individuals in their employ are analysed in a Muslim setting. Can individuals play a role to help those who they are amongst, against political pressures from above?
A good attempt by Jetse de Vries to gather together an anthology, and raise its profile using the Internet. Top marks for the global breadth of the stories, and for Solaris for putting out an anthology with so few ‘big names’ on the cover. It is the case that the more experienced authors do provide the stronger stories, and there a couple of stories which are quite weak, but Stoddard, Powell and de Bodard, and Sellar provide strong support to Kenyon, who has the story of the volume.