Friday, 6 May 2016

Review: Futuristica: Volume 1

Futuristica: Volume 1 Futuristica: Volume 1 by Metasagas Press
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclosure: I received an advance review copy from the publisher because I have a story in Volume 2.

These are some fine stories, and I'm honestly flattered to be in such good company. Although the authors are not yet well known, I have a feeling that many of them eventually will be.

This is just the kind of science fiction I like: fresh ideas interestingly and competently explored, in a way that leaves you both thought-provoked and emotionally moved (sometimes disturbed). A few are funny; a few are horrific; most of them are just straight-out engaging. When they use tropes, and sometimes they do, they often twist them or mash them up in unexpected ways, and a good many of them combine more than one near-future or current technology trend.

A couple did break my suspension of disbelief. Daryna Yakusha, in "Felis Helianthus", shows us an Internet without cat photos, for example. I'm actually kidding about that one, but Robert Lowell Russell's closing mecha-mercenaries story, "Love That Easy Money", gave me a few fridge moments, and the more I thought about it the more plot holes it seemed to have. That's not to say it wasn't moving, in its own way.

A lot of the stories show us futures where people are struggling, often because of climate change. Megan Chaudhuri's "Sterile Technique", for example, takes themes of vat-grown meat and infectious prions and places it within a story of human struggle, love, family, conflict and working for difficult employers. James Beamon's "Whole Lives in Hammered Fragments" takes tropes that have seen more use than most of those in the other stories - poor asteroid miners exploited by corporations, rebellion of the space colonies against Earth - and does something fresh with them, again bringing family in as a strong theme. Then we get the humorous "End of My Rope" by Holly Schofield, which is literally about herding cats (and space trade with difficult aliens, and intelligence enhancement).

Patrice Sarath's "Murder on the Hohmann" is in the mould of classic murder-on-the-isolated-transport stories, whether that transport is an oceangoing ship or the Orient Express. But it has a clever twist, which takes the mystery trope of "everyone has something to hide that makes them a suspect" in a fresh direction.

L. Chan's "Coin Toss" plays with AI, cryptocurrency and another family connection. Wole Talabi's "If They Can Learn" does something clever with AI training and systemic racism. Both give us nonwestern locales and protagonists, something it's good to see more of in SF.

L. H. Davis's "Shoot Him Daddy" mashes up alien invasion and redneck zombie apocalypse survival, but with a romance element, and does a fine job with tension. Marina Berlin's "Life and Death in the Frozen City" features a courtesan who must make a difficult choice in an occupied country. Anne E. Johnson's "Dreamwire", by contrast, shows us a trust fund princess obsessed with body modification, and what happens when she takes it too far.

Nancy S.M. Waldman's " and Best" is set after the end of a robot uprising, and once again brings in themes of family and caring for the young. Ciro Faienza's "The Soma Earth" is a cli-fi story featuring scientific agriculture which touches on racism and the culture of criminal gangs, while Mary Mascari's "Debugging Bebe" does something completely different with scientific agriculture, cultural tradition from a very different place, and social class and privilege.

Mike Morgan's "Something to Watch Over Us" involves half-Japanese people in Japan; AI; and what happens when a corporate wellbeing program works a little too well. It's amusing. So, in a darker way, is Stephanie Burgis's "Mums' Group", with very different protagonists: young mothers in a British city of the fairly near future, also interacting with AIs that are supposed to give guidance for social good, but with an entirely different outcome.

Bo Balder's "Even Paradise Needs Maintenance" crosses the world again to Australia, with downloadable skills, universal income, ocean cleanup, alien trade, remote avatars, and libertarianesque religious states which produce inept terrorists. She runs all those elements through a blender and produces a good adventure story.

E. E. King's "Light-Years from Now" is a lovely first-contact story, set in the present day, with an underlying theme of accepting difference. And Gary Kloster's "Llamacide" is a hilarious tale of brain hacking, which makes the most of the parallel between debugging a program and solving a mystery.

All in all, I'm greatly encouraged that there are so many good stories being written in SF by so many diverse, widely scattered writers. There's plenty of life left in the old field, is the message I take from this collection, and will be for many years to come.

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