I’m a tapas kind of guy. There’s nothing I enjoy more than going to a restaurant and ordering an entire meal from the appetizer section. Some may argue that doing so robs one of the deeper dining experience only a main course can provide, and in some ways they’re right. Is a foie torchon, a spinach salad with goat cheese, and a lobster bisque really a suitable alternative to a 14 ounce prime rib with garlic-fried enoki mushrooms and sunchoke gnocchi? Usually, no – but sometimes, yeah. And, every so often, you come across an appetizer that will so impress, you may be inclined to enjoy it as a double or triple portioned main on your next visit. In short, variety is nice and it’s a terrific way to introduce yourself to creations you may never have otherwise considered, providing for revelatory experiences like squash-stuffed agnolotti with truffle butter, lamb dumplings, or the works of Kage Baker.
Yes, the same applies to literature as far as I’m concerned. After months of discussing a wide range of novels for this book club, it was great to sit down to an anthology for a pleasant change of pace. I’m looking forward to hearing your opinions on Future Fiction 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge. What stories stood out for you? Which ones left you cold? And why?
The book kicks off with a great introduction by editor Lou Anders who challenges the reader’s established notions of science fiction and, more pointedly, asks them to consider the genre’s purpose beyond its sheer entertainment value. Lou argues that scifi is not only “a tool for making sense of a changing world” but a source of inspiration for today’s future-thinkers, offering up this terrific passage:
“We walk around with Bluetooth-enabled earclips that look like nothing less than the Borg impalaants of Star Trek, talking on communication devices deliberately modeled on Kirk’s communicator, and while our music is increasingly digital, the compact discs that have yet to give up the ghost were actually modeled on the big silver discs that Mr. Atoz and his clones used in the library from the episode “All Our Yesterdays”.” (Lou Anders – Introduction to Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge).
Lou suggests it’s no coincidence that a visit to any NASA facility will turn up models of the Enterprise and Starfury. While I would humbly consider our modest production decidedly more entertaining than visionary, I’m nevertheless surprised by the number of Stargate fans currently working at both NASA and the European Space Agency. I recall our amazement a couple of years back when we received a video message from two residents of the International Space Station, an American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut, who declared themselves fans of Stargate as they floated in Zero g!
So rather than resenting the critics who dismiss science fiction as little more than escapist fun, we should instead pity them for their shallow perspectives born, not of a sense of superiority or a better grasp of the meaningful and worthy, but a dismal inability to consider the future’s boundless possibilities.
Anyway, I’m sure Lou will have plenty to say on the subject (and whatever else is on his mind) when I turn this blog over to him later this week. For now, let’s talk about Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge. So, what did you all think?
One of the great things about collections such as this one is the wide range of stories it offers up. If I may bring it back to food just one more time: “Anthologies are like a box of chocolate. You never know what you’re going to get. Your first sample may be a delightful dark chocolate-almond truffle, or it could, God forbid, be one of those milk chocolate crisps with the mint filling. But regardless of what that it is, love it or hate it or be wholly indifferent to it, there’s always the next one.” And so it was with Fast Forward. There were some stories I liked a lot, some that failed to impress, one I loved so much that it led me to place an immediate order for a couple of the author’s other titles, and one that I simply didn’t get and gave up on (although, in all fairness, it is a short story and so deserves another shot).
I really enjoyed Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin when I read it last year, and I look forward to checking out Axis which made SF’s Best of 2007 Reader’s Choice Top Ten. His entry in Fast Forward 1, “YFL-500” may lack the elements that made Spin such an engaging read – the well-rounded characters and the intricacies of their respective relationships which are, admittedly, much easier to explore and develop in a novel-length format – but it makes up for it by presenting an interesting future take on intellectual property and the artist‘s muse. I pitied poor Gordo who, creatively spent, looked not to his dreams for inspiration but someone else’s.
I found Justina Robson‘s “The Girl’s Hero Mirror Says He’s Not the One” a bit of a tough read and I wondered whether some familiarity with her preceding work might have helped me get a better grasp on the story. I felt as though I had walked into a movie an hour into its run time.
Paolo Bacigalupi’s “Small Offerings” was, without a doubt, the most unsettling entry in the collection and, while interesting, resonated more for its disturbing imagery than its actual story. For what it’s worth, although this story didn’t do it for me, Bacigalupi’s novelette “Yellow Card Man”, a 2007 Hugo nominee, would have gotten my vote that year. Brilliant.
A couple of poems by Robyn Hitchcock. To be honest, I don’t read much poetry so they were lost on me.
Of all the stories in this collection, Kage Baker’s “Plotters and Shooters” was by far my favorite. I know, some of you will argue that the story is slight in comparison to the many deeper tales in this collection, but I would argue that Baker pulls off something that few modern science fiction authors (Banks and Scalzi being notable exceptions) are able to achieve – getting the reader to laugh WITH them. A little taste of a tale I’d liken to a hopped up Ender’s Game:
“Lord Deathlock called him a lot of names, but the end of it was that he agreed to the terms, and we made Painmaster (who was crying and complaining that his heartbeat was irregular) witness. When they could walk they went stumbling back to the Pit of Hell, leaning on each other.” (Plotters and Shooters, by Kage Baker, from Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge).
This one was such a pleasure to read that I immediately headed over to Amazon.com and ordered up a couple of Baker’s other books.
“Aristotle O.S.” was also an enjoyable read, speaking as both a frustrated former student of philosophy and equally frustrated owner of numerous underperforming operation systems.
While “Small Offerings” was the most unsettling story in this collection, Elizabeth Bear’s “The Something-Dreaming Game” was not too far behind. Still, I liked this story well enough even though I found the girl’s connection to the other-worldly presence (via auto-erotic asphyxiation) rang more fantastical than scifi.
“I once dreamed I was a butterfly, and now I no longer know whether I am Chuang Tzu, who dreamed I was a butterfly, or whether I am a butterfly dreaming that I am Chuang Tzu.” Steven Baxter’s “No More Stories” is a haunting piece that toys with the oft-explored scifi concept of (perhaps not so subjective) reality. The last line is perfection.
A.M. Dellamonica’s “Time of the Snake” was a fun run ‘ gun entry but didn’t really stand out amongst the many weightier tales.
Despite two game efforts, I couldn’t make it through Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper’s “The Terror Bard”. I had no idea what was going on. The fact that this was a sequel to an earlier work may have had something to do with it. And, then again, maybe not.
While I liked the premise of Louise Marley‘s “p dolce” (loved the Brahms angle), it felt like it was covering well-trodden ground.
Of all the stories in this collection, Ken MacLeod’s “Jesus Chris Reanimator” is the one that seems to have received the most buzz. And, given the subject matter, no wonder. Yet, in my mind, it’s the basic premise that works against it. I’d argue that any story dealing with Christ’s second coming is doomed to read like the author is gilding the lily after the point is made about a half page in. Well written but a little too on the nose for me.
In “Solomon’s Choice”,Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress do a bang-up jobbing of creating a truly alien civilization, with a culture so imaginative and engaging that I would place it right up there alongside some of Ursula K. LeGuin’s wonderful worlds. Although I felt the ending tied up a little too neatly, it’s a minor quibble on an otherwise terrific story. One of my favorites.
As an avid fan of anime, I’ve been exposed to my fair share of mecha-centered narratives, so while I can see how “Sanjeev and Robotwallah” by Ian McDonald may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it spoke to me in much the same way that YFL-500 did – through the uniqueness yet delightful familiarity of its subject matter.
Pamela Sargent’s “A Smaller Government” seemed out of place in this anthology of Future Fiction. I thought it read like the scifi offering of a bygone era.
I found Mary A. Turzillo’s “Pride” was pretty straightforward. Neither here nor there.
George Zebrowski’s “Settlements” was a bit of a tough read.
Gene Wolfe’s work has been described as cryptic and complex, but also clever and immensely rewarding. His Book of the New Sun tetralogy is not for the casual reader, the easily frustrated, or those unwilling to fully invest themselves in a sophisticated multi-layered narrative in which nothing is quite what it seems and the last person you can trust is the narrator himself. Wolfe’s entry in this collection, “The Hour of the Sheep“, may not be as dense or subtly elusive as his lengthier works but there’s still a tale within a tale here as Tiero, a master swordsman, struggles to complete the book he has been commissioned to write. Wolfe’s deceptively straightforward prose style belies a narrative richness that puts him in a class all by himself. One of my favorite authors.
An solid entry from John Meaney, “Sideways from Now” that, despite losing me every so often (loved the notion of the telepathic link perhaps not severed by death, but wasn‘t quite so enamored of the courtly elements), told an interesting tale of one man’s attempts to deal with his grief.
Paul di Filippo’s “Wiki World” possessed many Doctorow-esque elements that made it a both fun and funny read. A nice way to cap the collection.
Overall, I really enjoyed Future Fiction 1. It was a fairly solid and varied selection showcasing some top-notch talent. If pressed to pick my top 3 favorites, I’d go with: Kage Baker’s “Plotters and Shooters”, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress’s “Solomon’s Choice”, and Gene Wolfe’s “Hour of the Sheep”.
So there you have it – my preliminary/general thoughts on the collection. Let’s start the discussion.
Yes, production started today. Marty G. and I swung by Norco for a couple of hours and took in the sights and sounds. The sets were positively smoking. Literally! I snapped a bunch of pics and will no doubt be swinging by to snap plenty more in the days to come. I also got a couple of shots of a re-dreaded and miserable Jason Momoa who dropped by the production offices this morning. Guess that decides that.
Lots to take in, but I’ll pace myself. After all, I wouldn’t to overwhelm you.