A magazine-style format with a new Chris Foss on the cover and classic illustrations of his throughout, and a focus on looking at potential implications of technological developments.
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Cory Doctorow. The Brave Little Toaster.
A gently humorous, cautionary tale to start the attractive anthology from The Technology Review.
The stories in the volume are themed around new and emergent technologies, and Doctorow looks at the risks in giving just a little too much intelligence to our domestic appliances. If you weren’t worried about your fridge talking to you before this, then you will after reading it. (Me, I worry that I’ll get to the fridge and it will refer me to the fruit bowl until the bathroom scales give the fridge the ok to open the door again).
It’s nicely told, and it’s a shame (IMHO) that Doctorow is able to make his living from writing stuff other than fiction. The guy should be locked up in an attic and forced to write more fiction*.
* I should point out for the sake of clarity that I’m not actually promoting his kidnapping, incarceration and Kathy Bates’ ‘Misery’-style forced writing.
Vandana Singh. Indra’s Web.
Singh takes on the issue of energy and its creation/conservation in a neat story whose sub-continent setting is a refreshing change, as she describes the impact of renewable energy on a community, and on the individuals in that community. With a strong human thread throughout, complemented by an interconnected web of which we can only guess at. It’s a balance that Singh handles well, as she invariably does.
Ken Liu. Real Artists.
Liu looks into the not-too-distant-future and the impact of technology on making movies. Or, rather, an even greater impact, as young Sophia gets her chance to work for the leading digital movie company. Having cut her teeth on cutting up their movies and re-editing them, she has proven her credentials, but credentials to do just what in an age when the power of computers is so great…
Joe Haldeman. Complete Sentence.
Three-pager which looks briefly at the potential for virtual reality to be used in the penal system – how much better it could be if a long prison stretch was carried out in virtual reality overnight, with decades experienced by the con in that short space of time.
Ma Boyong. The Mark Twain Robots.
Good to see editor Stephen Cass throwing in one completely new (to me) author into the collection. Boyong takes a look at robotics, in an Asimovian take on giving robots the human touch. Surely giving robots a sense of humour would be a good thing? It’s Asimovian in that it could have been one of his stories from the 50s, making it feel a bit out of place in a forward-looking volume published 50 years later
Pat Cadigan. Cody.
Cadigan has a much longer story than the others in the volume, and makes the most of it. It’s sort of cyberpunk as it might happen now, as opposed to the cyberpunk as we imagined it in the 80s.
It’s grim and realistic, as we follow Cody, who is a courier. Thing is, he’s carrying data in his brain, which has had memories removed to make space for that package. Unfortunately for him, there are people other than the intended recipient who are interested in getting hold of that data, which opens up a world of pain for him. It’s gritty and noiry and an engrossing read.
Ken MacLeod. The Surface of Last Scattering.
An intelligent story from MacLeod, the first in this volume I’d tip for Year’s Best honours. The setting is Glasgow Queen Street Station in the near future, one in which an act of political idealism has led to a major impact on humanity – that act is the clever bit in the story, a subtle act. The story follows the meeting of the now adult child of the person who committed that act, as the father is released from prison, and looks at the impulses behind the original act, the son’s responses to it, and the impact on society. A great read, with the railway station coming across strongly in the story!
Paul Di Filippo. Specter-Bombing the Beer Goggles.
I’ve been very much in tune with Di Filippo’s way of looking at the world for many years now, and it’s re-assuring that I’m remaining in tune as the years progress. He takes a look at the quest of love (as is often the case) with a protagonist who can struggle with relationships with the fairer sex. Here his protagonist is hamstrung by his near-fetishistic obsession with females with elven beauty – indeed, with female elves.
Fortunately technology has moved on, so the beer goggles of my youth (I’m guessing that maybe not as many people are as familiar with beer goggles as might be the case) have been replaced with augmented reality tech that enables beauty to be very much in the eye of the beholder, in his case turning all girls into pointy-eared elves.
Of course, nothing is quite as simple as it could be in terms of his getting the girl.
Tobias Buckell. Lonely Island.
A short-short from Buckell, looking at two sides of the environmental challenge through a brief meeting in a cafe. Clearly no opportunity for depth in the story, but Buckell crafts the words he has used with loving care.
Gwyneth Jones. The Flame is Roses, The Smoke Is Briars.
A story that really needs more space to do it justice – as it takes a very quick peek at issues around the use of advanced telecomms to enable thought (or more specifcially, image) transfer, at the same time at the ‘many-worlds superposition’, through Em who has a talent/empathy for connecting in this way.
Geoffrey A. Landis. Private Space.
Landis looks as little into the future as is probably possible, with a take on privately-funded spaceflight. A trio get together a few years after their university days, keen to continue to experiment. They have the enthusiasm and a willingness to take risk, but the odds are stacked against them, and we get an insight into the frustrations that get in the way of reaching for the skies.
Elizabeth Bear. Gods of The Forge.
Not to be confused with Greg Bear’s ‘The Forge of God’ although the two will doubtless be conflated and conflabulated in my ageing grey matter. Here Elizabeth Bear looks at bio-medicine, and posits whether medicating against certain human frailties may not be a good thing. The protagonist has issues arising from a childhood accident, and her fear of risk is something that she has to overcome. She works for one of the companies in this market-space (the story is littered with transcripts of advertisements for their products) and comes across evidence of just how far this might go. I’m not a big fan of slipping in the transcripts of adverts, and haven’t been since about 1976 when I gave up my attempts at my own writing career as a 16-year old, with a story featuring just that.
But outside of that, Bear gets some insightful touches in about societal changes (some brought on by climate change), and created a multi-dimensional and believable main character.
An attractive volume that would look nice on a coffee-table. There are a couple of weaker stories in, and many of the stories are quite short and aren’t really able to give full justice to the authorial talents, but there are a couple of really good ones in there – Doctorow, Cadigan, MacLeod and Di Filippo being my picks.