I Remember the Future

Since winning the John W. Campbell for Best New Writer in 1997, Michael A. Burstein has received multiple nominations for some of SF’s most prestigious awards, but has yet to take home either a Hugo or Nebula. Sure, on the surface this may seem like an “always the bridesmaid never the bride” situation but, truth be told, the fact that he has amassed so many nominations is an achievement in itself. And, while it’s unlikely that bridesmaid will show up at her friend’s wedding and end up getting married herself, it’s more than likely that, given Michael’s track record, he will, in time, score those elusive Hugos and Nebulas. He’s a “big idea” guy with a solid Physics background to draw from and a writing style reminiscent of SF’s Golden Age (specifically, Asimov comes to mind). I Remember the Future collects his award-nominated stories in one handy volume.

When it comes to anthologies, you always want to start strong, and we do just that with “Kaddish for the Last Survivor”. As the last Holocaust survivor faces his final hours, media outlets and Holocaust deniers descend on his home to mark the event. The dying man’s grand-daughter, Sarah, visits him for the last time and, following a heart-rending farewell, takes it upon herself to keep the memories of her people’s struggles alive. A wonderful story made all the more intriguing by the afterword in which the author offers up his original ending. In this early version, rather than choose to have the 110290 tattooed on her forearm, the number “slowly appeared on her arm, in the exact same position as it had been on her grandfather’s”. The decision was made to go with the alternate ending because it was argued that the original made the protagonist too passive. Initially, I agreed, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked that original ending for just that – the suggestion that Sarah innately bears the memories and history of her predecessors. Above all else, she is a part of her people and her people are a part of her.

In the second story, TeleAbsence, a boy from the inner city discovers hope and happiness in a virtual school environment after stealing the identity of one of the students. Although, stylistically, it reads like YA, it posits some very tough questions about our educational system, the ever-present line between the haves and the have-nots, and whether advancements in the field of education may only further the divide. Memorable characters in our eager protagonist Tony and his well-intentioned teacher Miss Ellis in a well-told and touching tale.

The third story, TelePresence, picks up many years later when Tony, now an adult, must solve a murder that has taken place in the virtual reality school setting. Again, some difficult questions are posited about the role of education in our society but, after the emotional strengths of the story preceding it, this one actually felt comparatively lightweight despite the murder mystery elements.

The next four stories – “Broken Symmetry”, “Absent Friends”, “Reality Check”, and “Empty Spaces” – form a series about the creation of a breach between parallel worlds and the effects it has on several individuals. This is a great example of the “big ideas” I referred to earlier as the author roots the story’s strange happenings firmly in the world of theoretical physics. Fascinating stuff although, like TelePresence, this series lacks the emotional resonance that typified the first two stories. Even though we’re told that Jack has been impacted by the loss of his friend and takes steps to recapture echoes of that friendship by risking all to travel to the alternate Earth, I was never wholly convinced. I think the big bump for me came in the second story, “Absent Friends”, when Jack (visitor to this alternate reality) meets Paula, almost passes out, quickly glosses over the incident, and then is asked out for dinner. The two meat at a restaurant and only then do we learn that she is suspicious of him. My initial reaction was: If you’re suspicious of this guy (and I certainly would be), why go to dinner with him? I had a tough time accepting her motivation and, as a result, never really got onboard.

Next up was “Spaceships” and this was one of my favorites. In a future where humanity has evolved past physical form, an entity known as Kel lives an isolated existence among his collection of spaceships – until he’s paid a visit by Ria, a mysterious being with a hidden agenda. More than any other, this entry had the feel of those SF classics I used to read. Great stuff.

“Decisions” was another solid entry, focusing on the cautious response of an advanced alien civilization to humanity’s burgeoning galactic presence. Another story pleasantly reminiscent of the grandmasters.

Clearly, Michael Burstein is a big fan of time-travel as evidenced by the next story, “Times Ablaze”, which focuses on one man’s journey back to turn of the century New York to make a record of a tragedy in which 1 021 victims perished aboard the steamship General Slocum. Of course, as is often the case when you dabble in time travel, the rules of non-interference become mere suggestions – especially when love comes into play. A solemn tale made all the more sobering by the fact that our protagonist journeys back in time to keep alive the memories of the victims of a tragedy all but forgotten today.

In “Seventy-five Year”, census information holds a surprising secret about one man’s past. Really. It turns out to be a subtle but effective critique of corporate copyright.

“Sanctuary” is a heavy-hitter, a story that tackles some huge contemporary hot-button issues by transplanting them to a near-future setting. In the story, an alien seeks sanctuary at a church to avoid giving up her unborn child. The priest caught in the center of a cultural dispute soon realizes that all is not as it seems and that he may well be a pawn in a much greater moral conflict.

In “I Remember the Future”, a dying writer discovers that there is an afterlife, one engendered by his own imagination, when characters from his fictions breach the wall between alternate realities to rescue him. Love the idea of creations brought to life, especially because, in the back of my mind, I’ve often imagined a similar scenario playing out (except instead of death it’s an extra-long notes session that Baron Destructo and the League of Aliens and Mutants for Evil are rescuing me from). Great story.

A return to theme of time travel in “Cosmic Corkscrew”, a tale in which our protagonist travels back to 1938 to meet his boyhood idol Isaac Asimov. Again, a wonderful premise, but the story hit a major bump for me halfway through and never really righted itself. Given everything our protagonist knows about the inherent dangers of time travel, he is incredibly sloppy in his conversation with the young Asimov, blundering into a critique of the Golden Age author’s theory of time travel that forces him to come clean about who he really is. This linchpin moment felt a little too narratively convenient and, thus, tough to dismiss.

Finally, the collection concludes with one of its strongest stories “Paying It Forward” in which a dying writer happens across the webpage of a deceased author and, on a lark, clicks on the email link and leaves a message. The next morning, he receives a response – seemingly from beyond the grave. Like “I Remember the Future”, this one resonated with me on a personal level, reminding me of the day I came across the webpage of Thomas M. Disch only days after his passing.

Overall, a solid collection with Michael A. Burstein’s story-telling skills and creativity on full display. That Nebula and/or Hugo is just around the corner.

So what did everyone else think? If you have questions or comments, I know that author Michael A. Burstein – who not only happens to be a big Stargate fan but a frequent visitor to this blog – would love to see them.  So start posting!

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dovil
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dovil

And, while it’s unlikely that bridesmaid will show up at her friend’s wedding and end up getting married herself,

If she shows up waving a gun with dynamite strapped on she might. It’s a dog eat walrus world out there and there’s no time for the weak-willed.

My initial reaction was: If you’re suspicious of this guy (and I certainly would be), why go to dinner with him?

Maybe she heard that the dinner was being held at Rob Cooper’s place and couldn’t pass on the invitation, what with the stack of novelty bathroom soaps and all.

Considering Assimov wrote five trillion books (plus or minus 35 billion) I wouldn’t be suprised if time travel was involved. If I had the chance I’d go back with a lorry full, tell him to get them reprinted with no writing on his part required, and ask for a cut of the proceeds. In fact this is my retirement plan. My accountant cries a lot.

Except for the fact that I failed to get around to reading this, I was bitterly disappointed yet again by the lack of glitter ponies – when will their under representation in mainstream media end? sad

Michael A. Burstein
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Michael A. Burstein

Is it OK if I’m replying? smile

“the more I liked that original ending for just that”

I liked the original ending too.

“except instead of death it’s an extra-long notes session that Baron Destructo and the League of Aliens and Mutants for Evil are rescuing me from”

OK, this had me laughing out loud.

“Like “I Remember the Future”, this one resonated with me on a personal level, reminding me of the day I came across the webpage of Thomas M. Disch only days after his passing.”

Wow. You probably had the same thoughts I had when I came across Charles Sheffield’s webpage after he died (which, as I noted in the afterword, was the genesis of the story).

amac251
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amac251

I just finished watching Paul McGillion on 24. Paul’s performance (as always) was wonderful. His role was totally Beckett-gone-bad!

Trish (aka whovian)
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Trish (aka whovian)

Michael A. Burstein: If Susan Lucci can win an award, so can you! grin

And I must fit in time to read *I Remember the Future* at some point in, um, the future. It sounds interesting.

crazymom1
Guest
crazymom1

So, apparently the dogs have been banned from the computer. Poor things! You haven’t locked them in the basement, have you? All you have to do is keep the camera out of their reach, and don’t leave those scripts lying around, for heaven’s sake!

sylvia
Guest
sylvia

I remember the future – Another solid BOTM selection. Overall I enjoyed the selections; had favorites – Kaddish, Sanctuary, I Remember the Future, and Paying it Forward. Spaceships was intriguing! Kaddish For the Last Survivor The first story grabbed me; both the sadness and the truth of it. Re the old ending and the new ending. I loved the new ending as it gave Sarah the choice and the rite of decision – to take action – to get the tattoo. She did not have to prove her love and devotion. She chose to take a stand to make progress in the struggle that we learn from the lessons of the past. I rather liked that posture of doing the right thing and because one wanted to do the right thing. Mr. M’s statement is compelling in that Sarah innately bears the memories and history of her predecessors and she is a part of her people and her people are a part of her. Yes, that did grab me as well – but I think I lean the other way because of human nature that perhaps one could end up resenting that this was forced upon her. Unless of course, the tattoo would not appear if she was not accepting of her history. TeleAbsence This was kinda cool in concept then as it played out, one could see how people can benefit from the capability. A tale of the “haves” and “have nots.” Then the reality of how these kinds of concepts are put into place and of course the political BS gets in the way. Very nicely dramatizes the lengths some may legitimately go to try to learn/use the technology. He wanted to learn and the temptation of the equipment laying about, was too much to ignore. Basically – a “good crime” if there is such a thing. But it also shows that this in the right hands, like the teacher Miss Ellis, it can do good. Was a bit surprised but gladdened to discover that Miss Ellis also resorted to changing appearance. TelePresence This is the “reality” part of the tele learning, where there has to be hackers, bad guys. Good things always seem to get ruined because someone has too much time on their hands but refuses to be a part of the system and wants “their way.” It was nice following the development of Tony after he had been helped by Miss Ellis. Broken Symmetry – Absent Friends There were aspects in these stories that were a bit of a “stretch” to accept, but then, there is no real frame of reference except for Mr. Burstein’s imagination and we reach deep within ourselves to decide if we may have this strong bond that drove Jack to risk the jump. In the Absent Friends, I could only imagine how lonely the girl may have been to risk going out, alone, with a total stranger who ultimately acted strange and had a strange story. This story also had… Read more »

TimC
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TimC

I thought this was a very interesting anthology. And, yes, Burstein’s style reminds a lot of Asimov. The writing is very earnest at times – something that characterized Asimov’s work – which can feel akward or dated set against contemporary SF standards. I think that Burstein is at his best when he reins himself in and is more subtle (Decision, Spaceships, I Remember the Future). In stories like Times Ablaze, TelePresence, and even parts of TeleAbsence, there are instances where it feels like the author is trying to hard to push those emotional buttons, make a political statement, or otherwise hit the reader over the head with the point he is trying to make.

That said, I did enjoy the book. I just found certain stories kind of clunky.

Candace
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Candace

I love that title…makes me try to come up with what the story is about…Extinction…a ton of things…aww well. Guess Ill have to wait for Comic Con to get your None Spoilers list…LOL.

Speaking of…I won my costume of eBay yesterday. But not a Stargate one…the Uhura uniform from the original series…but I wanted the uniforms from the new movie, but of course, they are all sold out. Looks like I’ll have to settle. I can’t wait to wear it though.

And, I just squealed in laughter because I’m watching Paul McGillion in the 24 finale right now…

Candace
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Candace

Oh dang….he just died….LOL.

Stellargate
Guest
Stellargate

Thanks for a great recommendation. I have some questions for the author –

1. You’ve been compared to some might celebrated scifi authors. Which of these authors influenced you as a writer? Judging from the afterword to Cosmic Corkscrew, I’m guessing Asimov was one?

2. What made you decide to pursue writing? How long did it take you to make your first sale and was there any point a which you thought of giving up or were you determined to make that sale?

3. So far, you have a good amount of short stories under your belt. Have you given any thought to maybe some day writing a novel.

4. Finally, what part does your wife play in the writing process? Throughout the book, you mention the fact that your wife reads your stuff and offers her opinions. Does she function as your editor or is she more an unbiased sounding board more representative of the general reading public?

Thanks for taking my questions.

wolfenm
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wolfenm

Sorry for the distraction, but I just want to inform/remind everyone that Cory Monteith, aka Young Cameron Mitchell from “200” (and a Genii Soldier), stars in Glee tomorrow night on FOX, right after American Idol. I’m diggin the MP3 they’ve released of “Don’t Stop Believin'”, from the pilot episode! *G* http://www.gleeforum.com/Donand39t-Stop-Believing-by-Journey-t42.html

BTW Joe, the “mug shots” of the dogs the other day were too, too adorable! ^^

wolfenm
Guest
wolfenm

Er, I guess that’s technically *tonight* (Tuesday) that Glee airs. Gods, I didn’t realise how late it was! XD

anneteldy
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anneteldy

I very much enjoyed I Remember the Future. It was the first time I read an author who had been compared to Asimov and, in many ways, actually deserved to be.

Anne Teldy

Tim Gaffney
Guest
Tim Gaffney

Poor Paul…you just don’t mess with Jack Bauer!

Thornyrose
Guest
Thornyrose

Looks like the internet ate my first post. So, try try again. (please delete this post if my first attempt at a review shows back up). I have to admit that the title of this selection worried me somewhat. No rational reason for that, only that it was a “too cute” title and I feared what sort of fluff we might be getting. Fortunately my gut feeling was as unreliable as usual, and I enjoyed the BotM club offering. At the top of my list were Teleabsence, Spaceships, and Sanctuary. Teleasence was the best of the stories in combining emotion and sci fi elements. The author does a supurb job of portraying the characters sympathetically, while making some strong social statements within this near-future sci fi setting. It’s all too easy to look at technology as the solution to all social ills, but Mr. Burnstein rightly points out that economics and human nature will prevent an even distribution of such technologies. Of all the characters in the stories, Tony, and Ms. Ellis were the most real to me. With Spaceships, we’re given a slightly melencholy view of immortality. ( Can one say Ascension?). It seems even in the far future, eccentricity is frowned upon, and Kel is victimized by those who are not actually harmed by his peculiar obsession. I did have a minor quibble here; how did Kel get possession of the actual originals? Surely most had long since been destroyed before he reached his near-omnipotent level of development. But like Teleabsence, this story ends on the slightest of upbeat notes, as the protagonist will not settle for things as they are, and sets out to rebuild his collection. Sanctuary finishes out my top three, with a classic sci fi setting but dealing with issues of morality, duty, and practicality. Father Wickham is a sympathetic character, as others try to manipulate or influence him, while he wrestles with exactly what his duty is. While I found it a bit suprising that the Church would rule aliens as soulless, and thus ineligable to become members, the device works well enough here. As with the other two stories I’ve earmarked as favorites, we have a hero who accepts the situation, and who elects to get back to doing what he must. Kaddish for the last Survivor, Broken Symmetry, Decisions, and I Remember the Future rank in the second tier of my rankings. Kaddish was an even stronger offering emotioinally than Teleabsence, bringing up one of mankind’s worst moments. What keeps the story from ranking in the first tier was the negligable sci fi elements to the story. I also agree that the original ending would have made for a stronger ending, providing a touch more of that sci fi feel. I really enjoyed Broken Symmetry, though it took me longer than it should have to figure out the spin up/spin down alternate universes. This is one of those stories I wish were more than sci fi; I hate to see us… Read more »

Hayloh
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Hayloh

So I was just catching up with your last few entries when I caught the photo of the SGA movie title page and it sounds freaking awesome. It actually gave me chills.
I mean, it sounds so…so final, thrilling, dangerous…definitely frightening. You just amped up my anticipation for this movie which is kinda scary cause now I may just spontaneously combust from excitement. Really, it could happen at anytime. On the bus…at home…riding my bike on a subway platform. You just never know.
My lord, I just know I will be spending the rest of the day dreaming up story lines to go with this title.

Good doggies! lol

Anais33
Guest
Anais33

Coucou Joseph! ça va ? Moi oui, un peu fatiguer avec le stage. Courage, il faut que je tienne!

Bisou, a bientôt

RecycledFunk
Guest
RecycledFunk

Hi Joe! I read your blog everyday but very rarely participate (I just don’t have a lot to add, I guess!).

I found this very enlightening blog post by Neil Gaiman, writer of the brilliant Sandman comics, where he discusses the relationship of blogging writers and their fans and the entitlement issues that sometimes develop (http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html). I’m not sure if you had come across it as well but I was wondering what your thoughts were on the subject. Since you are so visible on the web, do you think that sometimes fans can feel a little too entitled to your time and the next project, especially when it’s Stargate related? I hope I phrased that right, I’m not trying to stir-up any trouble. smile I’m just very curious to your personal view.

Lt.Dominick
Guest
Lt.Dominick

Another reason to draw comparisons between this book and the novels of greats like Clarke and Asimov is the thought-provoking nature of all these works. A lot of contemporary science fiction shows off intellect but lacks heart, and I think that’s what Burstein has in spades. His stories challenge the reader on a moral AND intellectual level, something many modern science fiction readers fail to do, but which authors like Clarke and Asimov did on a regular basis. Which brings me to my questions for Mr. Burstein: You obviously have great admiration for classic science fiction, but which contemporary genre writers do you enjoy reading?

Rachael
Guest
Rachael

Hi Joe,

This has nothing to do with the book I’m afraid – no time for reading anything I actually want to read until the end of semester… but I have a question about the SGA movie. With the changes in the writer’s room in the past few months, I was wondering a) which writers were in the room for spinning the story for the movie, and b) if there were writers there at the time who are no longer on the SG writing team, would their departure affect the storyline at all (eg can’t use their ideas any more)?

Major D. Davis
Guest
Major D. Davis

Ok, I think I will actually make an effort to get a read this book, cause I never really read any of the books that I was supposed to. I promise I will!!!

Questions for the next mailbag

1. Would you like to edit my 5 page script (a script for the FBI files part 2?

2. Can I please send you a link to my best video I made(the script I was telling you about is part two of the FBI files. The link I want to send you is part for part 1)?

3. So there are a few stargate suprises for MGM’s 85th b-day. So what day is MGM’s 85th?

4. Brian said on his twitter the episode you guys are about to film is the most technically challenging episode for Universe to date. Is he talking about Time?

5. Do you guys have a email address I can email(Instead of physically mailing something)?

6. How is the music and visual effects coming for Air?

7. Is it at all possible if we could come to Vancover and finally meat you in person? If so, could you give me your email address so we can discuss this idea further?

Sorry for all the questions, hope you don’t mind. 436 followers for Jellmaxbublu. Yeah!!!!!!

Thanks so much,
Major D. Davis

Shiningwit
Guest
Shiningwit

Bugger! another one I missed.
@Dovil…dude(ette)you crack me up.

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

Major Davis — Joe has published his email here a bunch of times. It’s moorsyum@yahoo.com .

To Joe — should your friends be too intimidated to invite you for dinner? Not Rob of course; he’s clearly got it goin’ on. But I imagine a more ‘average’ cook would reasonably invite you out instead!

Sparrow_hawk
Guest
Sparrow_hawk

My review: I enjoyed “Kaddish for the Last Survivor “, and I would cast my vote for the ending used in this publication – I like it that Sarah made a conscious decision to bear witness and maintain continuity with her grandfather’s life and story. It is much more meaningful than if the number had be forced upon her (which is the feeling that might have been conveyed if it simply appeared on her arm after her grandfather’s death. “Telepresence” and “Teleabsence” were pretty good and I Michael Burstein’s teaching experience was evident in them. I liked the premise and the fact that, in spite of the best intentions of those who created the system, the technology was never made available to the children that could most benefit from it. The next set of stories started out strong with “Broken Symmetry”, which is definitely my favorite of the four. I loved the particles making their own doorway to the parallel universe and the scientists there taking advantage of the situation! “Absent Friends” was a bit of a stretch, but I liked the way it showcased the similarities and differences between 1 and 2, or Alpha and Beta, depending on where you were from. “Reality Check” was good – I liked the characters and the way they dealt with the problem of the bridge breaking down and the probable solution that might let them re-establish it. I would have preferred that the story end there with all those possibilities unfolding before the people of both universes. It left me with a feeling of hope and enthusiasm. Then came “Empty Spaces” which presented a lot of hypothetical physics stuff that left me pretty cold. It just didn’t add much to what had come before, in my opinion. Maybe you have to be a physicist to enjoy that one. To be honest, I was so disappointed by “Empty Spaces” that I stopped reading. Then Joe and the other bloggers mentioned some stories they had really liked and I picked up the book again last night and read a few more. I’m glad I went back and read “Spaceships”. It is probably my favorite story. I love the whole idea of the spaceship collector. It is wonderfully original and the characters, strange as they are, are very engaging. I agree with Thornyrose about “Decisions” – it was classic Twilight Zone and that’s a good thing. “I Remember the Future” was very sweet and I liked the ending. I’m a great fan of Isaac Asimov, but I just didn’t enjoy “Cosmic Corkscrew”. “Paying it Forward” was okay, but it just didn’t grab me. Were I the editor, I think I would have switched around the three stories at the end and finished up with “I Remember the Future”. I Remember the Future is not going down on my list of favorite sci-fi books. Many of the stories just felt flat to me. When I tried to analyze what was missing (for me) in the stories… Read more »

Narelle from Aus
Guest
Narelle from Aus

Sounds like another great book to add to the list.