Projections

Projections
Ed. by Rebecca Romney

In her introduction to this neat anthology of classic SF tales Rebecca Romney informs us that “it isn’t a science-fiction writer’s job to predict the future.” What they’re more inclined toward is projecting contemporary anxieties. If some present trends were to continue, what would the world look like? And what does that tell us about the way we live now?

That said, if we were giving out prize crystal balls the winners here would probably be Murray Leinster’s 1946 story about what happens when an AI loses its guardrails and James Blish’s early take on global warming. But stories less about technology and more into exploring the changing ways we relate to one another, like Doris Pitkin Buck’s “Birth of a Gardener” and J. G. Ballard’s “The Intensive Care Unit” also hit us with a shock of recognition.

The neatest thing about Projections, though, is its design, by the Albertan publishing team of Hingston & Olsen. The twelve stories, plus Romney’s introduction, are in separate booklets attractively packed into a custom-made box that make it a terrific keepsake and gift idea as well as full of lots of great reading.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020
Ed. by Diana Gabaldon; Series Editor John Joseph Adams

Anthologies necessarily take on the character of their editors, and live or die at their hands. This latest edition of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy series, one of the best in recent years, is in the especially capable hands of Outlander author Diana Gabaldon, whose selections are complex, varied, and thoroughly accessible and enjoyable, even to non-genre fans.

They are also less overtly political than the previous two volumes in the series (especially 2018, but see my thoughts on the 2019 collection here). For Gabaldon it’s OK to have explicit political and social commentary – indeed, this is the bread and butter of most speculative fiction – but it should be “used as the springboard of the story, not the ultimate point. The stories are about real people, not animate megaphones.” This is advice that is followed in the best of the stories collected here, which although speculative still dramatically address issues, from race to crime to the writing of history, that are all in the news today.

A New History of the Future in 100 Objects

A New History of the Future in 100 Objects
By Adrian Hon

Coffee-table books looking to present the history of pretty much anything in 100 objects have become so common it seems an obvious next step to project the genre into the future and the stuff of science fiction.

A big reason why we read SF is to imagine the way science and technology might change the world, and change us in the process. Adrian Hon, in the guise of a curator of a collector of these future artefacts writing in the year 2082, understands that while he’s talking about material (and even immaterial) “objects” (apps are included) he’s also telling “the stories of our collective humanity.”

The list proceeds chronologically, from tech that’s very close to what’s available now to the more distantly speculative. Some of the devices are merely fun toys and games while others are sinister and creepy. Some are both. But they all shape our experience of reality, virtual reality, and the shape of reality itself.

Canadian content? The Owen’s Original Cloned Burger developed in Hamilton, Ontario in 2033. No more eating animals after that.

Worlds Seen In Passing

Worlds Seen in Passing: 10 Years of Tor.com Short Fiction
Ed. by Irene Gallo

Perhaps the world’s leading publisher of science fiction, Tor is also one of the few companies to have gotten online publishing right. Their Tor.com webpage regularly updates with great new fiction and has become an essential site for fans of the genre.

Now, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the website’s launch, we have this anthology of some of the best stories they have published online.

While online content still bears some stigma as being second rate, the stories here, which range from hard SF to fantasy, put the lie to that. Because Tor is able to draw on such a wide and deep pool of writers, not to mention what editor Irene Gallo rightly describes as “a dream team of editorial talent,” this is a collection of some of the best writing from the past decade, including a number of award winners and nominees. High quality and rich variety make this a book for every collector, and continue to make the website a prime destination.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019
Ed. by Carmen Maria Machado; Series Editor John Joseph Adams

With the recent demise of two of the biggest “year’s best SF” anthology series, The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, under series editor John Joseph Adams, is going to have to pick up some slack. Putting SF and Fantasy together though can sometimes be an awkward fit.

2019’s editor, Carmen Maria Machado, is dismissive of genre labels, but they do provide some idea of what readers can expect. The first story here, “Pitcher Plant,” sets the table well, with someone invading a haunted house full of booby traps that may be “more sorcery than engineering.” It’s a story set in the weird world of dark fantasy, and it’s typical of a line-up that skews toward horror. There’s also a political edge to much of the selection, though not as pronounced as in last year’s volume. Of course, horror and politics are a big part of what 2019 felt like, in SF, fantasy, and real life.

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?
By N. K. Jemisin

With a title like How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? you may be expecting a collection of stories with a political bent, and if so N. K. Jemisin does not disappoint. In her introduction Jemisin, whose byline will likely always be headed by the fact that she won the Hugo Award for best novel three years in a row for the three parts of her Broken Earth series, talks about how much of an outsider she felt as a black woman author entering the field of SF and Fantasy in the early 2000s.

Despite the fact that “things are better these days,” it is obviously an experience that still rankles. One can feel some of its impact in these stories, which revisit more traditional SF and Fantasy motifs and classic authors like Le Guin and Heinlein from a different, at times revolutionary perspective. Also in 2018 Jemisin edited The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, where she directly called for speculative fiction to present readers with ideas that will change the world. In the stories collected here she looks to show the way.

Wastelands: The New Apocalypse

Wastelands: The New Apocalypse
Ed. by John Joseph Adams

This book is the third Wastelands anthology to be brought out by editor John Joseph Adams, giving some indication of the public demand for this sort of fiction.

Such stories aren’t just dystopic: they present worst-case scenarios where a reset button has been hit on civilization due to plague, environmental collapse, alien invasion, or some other calamity.

That notion of reset or starting over actually makes the wasteland a somewhat optimistic place. Few of the stories collected here (20 reprints and 14 new, by some of the biggest names in the field) bother with explanations of how things went to hell, instead focusing on coping strategies. How will people adapt to survive in the wastelands? What new kinds of community will evolve? Given how close the end times feel, these are subjects we may want to start thinking about.

Exhalation

Exhalation
By Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang is not a prolific author – Exhalation is only his second story collection – but he has a big reputation, recently bolstered by having written the story that the Denis Villeneuve movie Arrival was based on.

Chiang’s stories operate a bit like speculative essays, though they’re a lot more fun than that sounds. Few authors working today are as good at exploring our intimate connection to technology. In “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” he gives us what may be the best look yet at what it means to fall in love with an artificial intelligence, with all of the feelings of responsibility and dependency that love entails. In “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” two watershed moments are juxtaposed in order to show how the tools we use for recording daily experience change us. This is how technology works: we shape it and then it shapes us in turn. We get inside each other.

It’s a short step in a Chiang story from the everyday to the bizarre: a time-travel portal or a fidget-like toy may equally teach us profound truths about ourselves. Truths we may conclude we’re better off not knowing.

A People’s Future of the United States

A People’s Future of the United States
Ed. by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams

For several years now SF has had a good claim to being the most socially aware or “woke” genre of fiction. This is most likely because SF is by its nature more political and speculative in its imaginings, with its various utopias and dystopias representing critiques of our current ways of doing things. In the 2018 volume of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy there was even a call by editor N. K. Jemisin for resistance to the “fascist” Trump regime by using SF stories to speak truth to power.

A People’s Future of the United States, which borrows its title from Howard Zinn’s lefty landmark People’s History of the United States, is an anthology very much in the same mode. The editors called for stories that would imagine a more hopeful, liberal, just future America. As you might expect, the results can sometimes get preachy with their calls for greater tolerance and diversity, and appeals for an end to oppression. It is not all virtue signalling, however, and there a lot of really good stories here that go in unexpected directions and achieve their ends with subtlety.