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Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge - Lou Anders

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge - Lou Anders

I don't read a lot of anthologies.  No particular reason really other than I tend to read them a story at a time in between novels.  Thus they take forever for me to finish, and oftentimes I've forgotten the less memorable stories by the time I actually finish the whole collection.  If I were smart, I'd do a quick paragraph on each story as I finish them.  In case you're curious, I'm not and I didn't.  So instead I'm going to do more of a short review about the overall tone of Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge edited by Lou Anders and give a few of my favorites.

Anders, in his introduction to the anthology, reminds us that, "To a very real extent, we live today in the science fiction of the past."  He's so right - just look at William Gibson's notion of cyberspace in Neuromancer (1984).  Fast Forward 1 is all about looking at the implications of technology on society, but not today's technology.  Anders and his all-star cast of authors are instead looking at the future of tomorrow and millenium from now to push the envelope not only about what technology we can expect to see, but how it will impact our lives.  Anders goes on to say that, "it is the future of science fiction itself (and that of science fiction publishing) that some have called into question, and lately it seems as if the very idea of the future has been under threat."  In his essay "The Omega Glory," Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon summarizes Anders' thoughts:
"I don't know what happened to the Future. It's as if we lost our ability, or our will, to envision anything beyond the next hundred years or so, as if we lacked the fundamental faith that there will in fact be any future at all beyond that not-too-distant date."
Interestingly, one of Anders' contributors, Paolo Bacigalupi said in an interview with Locus Magazine:
"Maybe science fiction lost its track a little bit, and got off on some lines of speculation which are pretty interesting but not necessarily connected to today’s questions, as previously it had been core to our conception of ourselves and where we were headed."
I think Bacigalupi's view and Chabon's desire to continue pushing the envelop are well blended by Anders.  Fast Forward 1 shows how the world will change just over the next hill in stories like Elizabeth Bear's The Something-Dreaming Game or Mary Turzillo's Pride.  It looks beyond and into the distant future with stories like The Terror Bard by Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper or No More Stories by Stephen Baxter.

For me the anthology works best in the stories that fell in between.  Not so esoteric as to be difficult to identify with, and not so near term as to be uninspiring.  These stories shined because they not only pushed the science fiction envelope, but found a way to use that technology to pull back the shades on the cultural and ethical dilemmas of today.  To me, and Anders who I quote, "science fiction is a tool for making sense of a changing world. It is the genre that looks at the implications of technology on society, which in this age of exponential technological growth makes it the most relevant branch of literature going."

Haunting stories like Bacigalupi's Small Offerings and George Zebrowski's Settlements confront our ability to sustain humanity.  A Smaller Government by Pamela Sargent parodies the U.S. government, while Jesus Christ, Reanimator by Ken MacLeod takes on faith.  Vanity is a popular subject reflected in p dolce by Louise Marley and The Hour of the Sheep by Gene Wolfe.  There are very few failures in the anthology.  Some are not terribly memorable like The Girl's Hero Mirror Says He's Not the One by Jennifer Robson or Kage Baker's Plotters and Shooters, but in the moment they are compelling and well worth the read.

Perhaps the most thought provoking work in the book is Anders' introduction which I have quoted from liberally.  He provides a thought provoking discussion about where the genre has been, is going, and will find itself in the years ahead.  It's well worth a read all on its own and can be read on-line in its entirety (here).  Anders was recently awarded a Hugo for his editing prowess and as far as I can tell from Fast Forward 1 and the dozens of other Pyr titles I've read, it is well deserved.

As I stated in the early parts of this review, I don't read many anthologies so rating this is one tough.  I can say that there was no story I rolled my eyes at or felt like skipping and there are certainly several stories I would hold up against any I've read.

In the mood for a science fiction anthology? Definitely pick this one up.

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