Twelve Tomorrows. (MIT Technology Review, 2013)

twelvetomorrowsIn 2011 MIT published the gorgeous ‘trsf: the best new science fiction‘ which I liked both in terms of content and as a ‘thing’ in itself. And this beauty shows just what the move to e-books might potentially consign to the dustbin of history. With a gorgeously retro cover, and a splendid full-colour insert for the artwork of Richard Powers, just look at the authors whose fiction this anthology covers : Brin, Aldiss, McAuley, Kress, Steele, McDonald, Fulda, Goonan, Egan, Watts, Robson, Rydbom. There’s only one of the twelve whose name regular readers of SF may struggle to identify.

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David Brin. Insistence of Vision.

Brin gets the ‘Twelve Tomorrows’ anthology off to a good start. It’s only a few pages long, but got a fair bit of inventiveness in, and a couple of twists and turns as the reader has to make sense of the setting Brin has described, one where augmented reality glasses are the norm, with some people opting out of being ‘seen’, and others, such as the protagonist with other issues.

Brian W. Aldiss. The Mighty Mi Tok of Beijing.

Grandmaster Aldiss gives an elegant oriental take (albeit a very rude one!) of the inspiration that let to the biological tweak that became known as The Mighty Mi Tok of Beijing. Aldiss gets to tone right, even making being sprayed by a partner’s seafood-induced diarrhea seemingly an honourable thing to have happen. Mind you, the story ends up with a strong sense of being a play on words or shaggy dog story, and I haven’t quite sussed that out yet!

Cheryl Rydbom. In Sight.

A very hi-tech heist. The target : a businessman whose unethical practices have brought him to the attention of a couple of cyber Robin Hoods, who have to use a lot of tech trickery to get into a position to make a small window of opportunity to get into his personal systems and get his money out and distribute it elsewhere.

The heist and indeed the story itself is over very quickly!

Paul McAuley. Transitional Forms.

One of the slight drawbacks of the Twelve Tomorrow’s anthology is that with the focus being on near-future extrapolations of technology developments, and stories being mostly on the shorter side, it can be a case of set up the scenario – explore some extrapolations – exit.

Here McAuley looks at biotech and ‘a-life’ – artificially created organisms. Here the plants created to mine minerals, drawing up trace metals into their roots, which are then harvested, have mutated, and the protagonist is part of a team protecting an area that has been zoned off, as a clean-up operation is in place.

He explores some of the issues with a scientist he finds in the territory, who he subsequently bumps into later – but not by chance. It’s nicely down in its ten pages, but you know that McAuley could do a whole lot more with a bit more space.

Nancy Kress. Pathways.

A more substantial story than others in the anthology so far, and the better for it. And it’s vintage Nancy Kress, with a very human/e story built on the technological development of using deep-brain stimulation with special algae to treat Fatal Familial Insomnia.

There’s a bit of info-dumping in the story, and the young girl undertaking the treatment gets a helpful information sheet, which is shared with the reader.

But that minor quibble aside, Kress does what she does best – creating some believable, flawed characters, and puts them in a believable, flawed setting (libertarian government and medical research funding), families, relatives, lack of knowledge, and lots more, as we follow a young woman from a small rural community having to make sense of a lot of things on her journey to deal with with her FFA. So, of the stories so far, this would be my first pick for a story to be in a Year’s Best.

Allen M. Steele. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.

Touching, albeit downbeat story, in which a brilliant (too-brilliant) student drops out and joins a cult. The story title and the opening sentence make it clear what the denouement is, but the story holds your attention.

Ian McDonald. The Revolution Will Not Be Refrigerated

Nice riff on a classic song, in which McDonald explains how running a totalitarian state is not a long-term option in this wired world, with the fallen leader’s statue replaced by one of a satellite dish, a game console, and a refrigerator. Clever stuff.

Nancy Fulda. The Cyborg and the Cemetery.

Touching, human(e) story in which a very elderly, very rich man reflects on life, and death, and whether it is truly such a binary state. It’s not a solitary reflection, as he’s in conversation with his AI, which is very close to him.

Kathleen Ann Goonan. Bootstrap.

A clever piece of clothing gives an insight into neuroplasticity, and how those whose ‘wiring’ is slightly different to the norm, can benefit.

Greg Egan. Zero for Conduct.

Being the inventor of room-temperature would be a route to instant fame and riches. Unless you’re a young woman, in college, in Iran. Then things are not quite so simple. Fortunately, not only is Latifa gifted academically, she has the nous to overcome several obstacles to make the most of her invention…

Nice to have a story from Egan, on good form, although (whisper)it could have been a little shorter, without losing anything…

Justina Robson. Pwnage.

Well-handled story set in the mind of young woman when such minds are more permanently connected to the interwebs. Or, considering the yoof of today are generally online courtesy of a finger tapping at a screen all day long, when minds are biologically connected to the interwebs.

Whilst monitoring the incessant chatter, and seeding misinformation, the better to catch terrorists, the protagonist witnesses a very quick, very very clever financial heist, except no laws are broken, and it’s more of a Robin Hood scenario, with financial institutions well and truly pwned – sadly putting this story into the fantasy genre, as not likely to happen :-(

Peter Watts. Firebrand.

Watts closes the anthology with a wryly blackly comic look at some of the risks of genetic modification. So what if a small(ish) number of people spontaneously combust, if it’s for the greater good?

Conclusion

Another strong collection, in a

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