Varied and imaginative, these short stories each examines a very different future for humanity. The collection is accurately titled. In the grand tradition of inventive extrapolation, they’re more sci-fi than fantasy; more science-led than space opera; the exploration of ideas.The seven authors each approach a possible future from alternative angles and I enjoyed them all. The majority were original, accessible, well written and inventive. Just one didn’t ring my bell – a tale in which personal protest against a global pandemic (inevitably unleashed by the bad men in white coats and their evil experiments) empowered a revolution… all very social media and not so sci-fi. I’d prefer to think that in the face of the collapse of civilisation, righteous people would offer help to the suffering rather than start a protest movement… but then I’m much more Médecins Sans Frontières than Occupy NY, me.
The stories which reach for the stars are much more my kinda thing. One tale experiments with a credible concept for faster-than-light drive, rift-jumping, which surely deserves to be developed in a full-length novel. In another dystopian offering, the human race is under the thumb of a super-computer, a machine that oppresses the people on behalf of its alien masters. One man has to outwit the machine to stand a chance of liberating humanity and maybe starting afresh.
My outright favourite was Maid Of Ink, in which a lonely young man forms the ultimate bond with his body-art, a very special type of alien tattoo which fulfils all of his longings. Imaginative, intriguing and carefully crafted, this was an ideal short story: long enough to tell a poignant tale without overstaying its welcome. Peace Talks, too, was short and sweet and smartly vicious in its commentary on how humans behave when their aggressive instincts are inflamed.
None of the stories is particularly long, so if any don’t suit your view of the future then it’s easy to move right along to the next. They are, in the main, vignettes of possible futures, a glimpse of what might be, capturing an instant and suggesting what might lie behind it. Some feel like excerpts from more extensive stories but others give the impression of being a simple 2D slice – no need to go looking any deeper than what’s presented on the surface.
My biggest criticism of the whole collection is that I’d barely gotten into it before the final credits rolled. Ten or maybe a dozen stories of this length and quality would have been more satisfying. Even so, it was more than good enough for me to look out for other anthologies from the same publisher (they have others covering supernatural, steampunk and similar)