Science Fiction anthologies are a cherished tradition, but always seem to be a dying breed. All of the greats, from Asimov to Heinlein, built their chops and reputations around vintage pulps that paid cents to the word count. Even today, if you want the cutting edge stuff, seek out the anthology. No format seems to spawn creativity in Scifi like the short story. Where TV and summer blockbusters go today, the anthologies have been-there-done-that twenty plus years ago. Still, putting one together is very much a labor of love and won’t net you the kind of cash that an Independence Day might. But even those flicks owe the trailblazing to those unsung writers in the trenches!
Which brings us to the latest icon, Fast Forward 2 published by Pyr Books, and edited by Lou Anders. Within are fourteen cutting edge Scifi tales by writers such as Mike Resnick (of Stalking the… fame), Ian McDonald (think India: 2049 fame), Jeff Carlson, Paul Cornell, and Key Kenyon, to name a few. All of the stories carve a niche for other hopeful anthologies to follow. Ok, I don’t get the flying armored gorilla that everybody’s worshiping on the cover either, but the stories were top notch!
Here are a run down of our top picks;
The Kindness of Strangers by Nancy Kress; omnipotent aliens decide to wipe us out, using a pretty prime number pattern. But what is their true motivation? This story is spare and to the point, as all good Scifi should be. I also like to see a fresh spin on the War of the Worlds theme, as Hollywood has bludgeoned this oldest of plot devices to well, death!
The Gambler by Paolo Bacigalupi; No Kenny Rogers here; (bad pun intended!) the last story of the book is also one of the best; wonder how mass media might look in ten (or is it five?) years form now? Read this one. I can’t wait to plug into to my fix of the “news-feed-drip” as I dose off at night. But seriously, this story shows how daily paparazzi turned blog storm would look at terabyte speeds. Scifi writers may have missed out on predicting the advent of the World Wide Web, (although Clarke did envision email!) but Post-cyber punk authors are now trying to stay ahead of the curve in force.
Molly’s Kids by Jack McDevitt; a super intelligent spaceship is designed to explore the stars at sub-light speeds. The problem is, the ship is so intelligent, it fears to go! Ok, the one-way ticket would be a sure tip off… you may think this has overtones of HAL 9000, but trust me, the outcome is way different! could cyborg psychology be a growth industry in the future?
True Names by Benjamin Rosenbaum and Cory Doctorow; this one is the strangest story of the lot, but well worth the read. I especially liked the intrigue, double crosses (how would a battle between virtual hyper malevolent galactic entities look?) and descriptive imagery. The account of the Beebe-in-Sagittarius construct of Byzantium (read; the core of our Milky Way galaxy,) is truly mind twisting. Read this one (one of the longest in the book) verrrry slooooowly! (Cool note alert: this story is also available via podcast!)
Mitigation by Karl Schroeder and Tobias S. Bucknell. A low rent gun for hire is enlisted to protect the seed bank (this really exists!) deep in the Arctic Circle. The entire world seems to be embroiled in an enviro-world war, with all the twists that entails! The baddies are some Russian goons and the booty is prehistoric, fossilized seeds.
Seniorsource by Kristine Kathryn Rusch a classic whodunit, Scifi style. Senior citizens are sourced to investigate a murder on Earth’s moon. Matlock: 1999 anyone?
Other stories may not have made honorable mention, but even the bad are pretty good. We have yet to seek out Fast Forward 1, but eagerly await Fast Forward 3! Next week; tales of optics and times as a telescope operator at the Flandreau observatory in Tucson, and later still; a peak at India in 2049 with Ian McDonald in his new story compilation; Cyberabad Days! And speaking of cutting edge stuff, now is a good time to point that shinny, just got it for Xmas Ipod-catcher at the EscapePod series and catch up! Scifi podcasting never sounded cooler! Look for a more in depth review in the months to come!