While poking around on Amazon for new releases by Weir, Scalzi, and Doctorow, I encountered the Forward collection, a series of short stories by various authors (most new to me) on near-future SF. They are very short stories, the two longest being 70 and 60 pages, and several are short enough to knock off in a single sitting. The strength of the collection may see me looking for more of some of the authors! All of them are near-future stories, with varied themes: quantum computing, genetic modification, and artificial intelligence marked three of my favorite tales. While they’re so short I don’t want to say too much for spoiling them, I will leave little summaries below.
Randomized, Andy Weir, sees a quantum physicist and her techie husband attempt a casino heist by taking advantage of quantum computing. A very quick future-crime read.
Ark, Veronica Roth. More thoughtful, this takes us to an Earth about to be devoid of all organized life: over the last few decades, humans have fled the planet in the advance of an asteroid impact, and the last ship (loaded with native Earth plants) is preparing to launch. In these last hours, a scientist makes a bittersweet discovery.
Summer Frost, Blake Crouch. Easily my favorite among the lot, it’s also the longest. A video game programmer unwittingly becomes the creator of the world’s first emergent artificial intelligence. It reminded me strongly of both Her and Ex Machina — I hope that doesn’t spoil things too much.
Emergency Skin, N.K. Jemison. And easily my least favorite, Emergency Skin starts off with a very interesting premise: a scout from a colony of human refugees has returned to Earth, to investigate the ruins of the old home planet of the Founders. Not only are there survivors of Earth’s environmental and civilization ‘collapse’, but there’s a twist waiting for the scout — several, in fact. Unfortunately, the interesting concept and worldbuilding is ruined by sanctimonious lecturing; I’ve heard sermons that were less preachy.
The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay opens with a man waking alone in a recovery room, sans memories and sight and dependent on a comfortingly familiar female voice to guide him back to life. We learn of a pandemic that has swept their community, and which may yet kill him — but there’s a “Ooooooooooooh” twist at the end. My second favorite.
You Have Arrived At Your Destination, Amor Towles. Towles’ is the most thoughtful of the lot, following a dissatisfied man in his middle age as he visits a fertility clinic to finish up his and his wife’s pregnancy planning. The clinic alleges to be able to not only manipulate the expressed genes of their future child, but to predict their future along broad lines. This piece touches on the perennial argument over free will and determination, but it raised the question of man’s agency in a technologically-dominated world to prominence as well.
“Why, she had once asked her mother, do you bother to keep anything alive when it’ll all be wiped out by Finis? Her mother had shrugged. Why take a shower when you’re just going to get dirty? Why eat when you’re just going to get hungry? Every flower dies eventually, Sam. But not yet.” – Ark
“She wished she could have told him that life was already full of dread, no matter who you were. That there was nothing you could have that you couldn’t one day lose. That autumn always gave way to winter, but it was her favorite time of year—those fleeting bursts of beauty before the branches went bare.” – Ark
“Well, you can’t love everything equally,” she said. “You just can’t—and if you did, then it’s the same as loving nothing at all. So you have to hold just a few things dear, because that’s what love is. Particular. Specific.” – Ark
“There’s no point in pushing our personalities uphill.” – You Have Arrived at Your Destination
“Okay, we should be ready to power it on,” said Prashant. He looked up at the ceiling. “Kind of a strange room. Were these blue lights always here?” Chen didn’t take his eyes off the computer. “I installed them yesterday. Cool stuff needs cool lighting.” – Randomize