Chasing Shadows

Chasing Shadows: Visions of Our Coming Transparent World
Ed. by David Brin and Stephen W. Potts

Surveillance has been an important theme in science fiction at least since the middle of the twentieth century, when Big Brother started watching us through our telescreens. Today, of course, the telescreen is a part of everyday life and privacy is coming to seem like a quaint historical notion.

Chasing Shadows collects a variety of responses by SF writers to living in the digital panopticon, most of them less pessimistic than Orwell but still expressing some misgivings. No matter their particular angle though, all are entertaining and provocative, and piercingly relevant for our own time.

While not trying to predict what’s to come, the general impression given is that we should expect technology to become even more pervasive and intrusive, in part because that’s what we want it to be: valuing convenience and connection over intimacy and the individual.

We should be careful what we wish for.


Dead Americans

Dead Americans
By Ben Peek

The strange stories of Australian author Ben Peek resist categorization, freely sampling from elements of horror, postmodern metafiction, SF, alternative history, surrealism and fantasy. But then hybridization is one of his main themes, with different selves often occupying the same body, or, confusing matters even more, the same self in different bodies. Making things all the more difficult, and interesting, is the fact that in Peek’s world none of these mixed parts get along.

The Time Traveler’s Almanac

The Time Traveler’s Almanac
Ed. by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Fresh off their impressive monster-anthology of fantastic fiction, The Weird, editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer turn their attention to time travel in this collection dedicated to that most philosophical, paradoxical, and poetic of SF themes.

As with The Weird, the selection is more than generous, clocking in at well over 900 pages. This is a book you’re going to want to spend a lot of time with. Providing a well-curated time capsule of the genre, the VanderMeers take us on a magical tour of time travel’s greatest hits, from the golden age to contemporary bestsellers. Included are stories by names like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, H. G. Wells, Connie Willis, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Michael Moorcock.


Irregular Verbs

Irregular Verbs and Other Stories
By Matthew Johnson

Debut collections of short stories sometimes hit like a band’s breakout first album, the material gathered from a writer’s early and often most creative years. Such, anyway, is the feeling you get reading Irregular Verbs and Other Stories, Ottawa author Matthew Johnson’s meaty collection of speculative short fiction.

The Johnsonesque fidgets with a reality that has all sorts of bends and gaps in it. Just to stick with the category of time, in “Another Country” a fissure in the time-space continuum sends “prefugees” from falling empires to present day safe havens where they join semi-assimilated communities of Mongols, Goths, or Aztecs, while in stories like “Written by the Winners,” “When We Have Time,” and “Outside Chance,” characters manipulate history or surf alternative chronologies as though they were so many different data streams.

And reality isn’t the only mode in play. Johnson also bends and twists genre conventions, with highly original riffs on everything from superhero to zombie fiction. But no matter how bizarre the setting, his stories always keep focus on how individuals cope with the stress of these disruptions and intrusions into strange new worlds. Luckily his characters are sensitive but adaptable types, and given the plastic nature of Johnson’s universe another jump in time or space, or genre, is often the solution closest to hand.


Robot Uprisings

Robot Uprisings
Ed. By Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams

As is not the case with a lot of SF topoi – interplanetary travel, time machines, encounters with aliens – we actually know what it’s like to live with robots. Whether it’s a machine that vacuums your pool, a computer that navigates (or even drives) your car, some of the equipment you use at work, or the drone that’s spying on you overhead, robots have become fixtures of twenty-first century life.

Familiarity has given rise to paranoia. Have we become too dependent on our tools and toys? What would happen if this technology were to rise up and rage against its human creators?

Such is the premise behind this terrific anthology of robot fiction. It’s not a new concept – robots have been turning against us ever since the first one rolled off the assembly line – but here it’s imagined in ways that illustrate the latest trends. In particular, nanotechnology (robots the size of particles of dust!) and Artificial Intelligence get a lot of play.

Of course robots come in all shapes and sizes, and have many different agendas. The stories in Robot Uprisings reflect this variety, ranging from techno-horror to domestic comedy. One thing they have in common though is the high quality of the writing, making this one of the year’s best new anthologies.


Old Venus

Old Venus
Ed. By George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Old Venus is the quick follow-up to Old Mars, a terrific collection full of stories set on the Red Planet. This time we’re off to visit our other next-door neighbour, with results that are just as thrilling and surprising.

What Martin and Dozois mean by “old” Venus is a mythic version of the second rock from the Sun that was current in the early part of the twentieth century, and which inspired a lot of Golden Age SF of the type dubbed “Planetary Romance.”

The stories here are very much in that same vein, set on a fantasy Venus that turns out to be a hot, humid environment where the rain never lets up and whose surface is all sea and swamp. Among the other exotic flora and fauna, the native Venusians tend to be froggy creatures who find themselves in ambiguous relations with the human colonists.

It’s hard to generalize though, as this is a wonderfully varied collection that goes from horror to comedy, and political neo-noir to classic adventure tale. At this rate, one hopes the editors will continue to explore our old solar system.


Cyber World

Cyber World: Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow
Ed. by Jason Heller and Joshua Viola

At one point in time, some twenty or thirty years ago, “cyberpunk” seemed the future of SF. Today it’s a term that isn’t used as much, but only because, as editor Joshua Viola puts it in his intro to this great new anthology, “we live in a cyberpunk world.”

Our interaction and codependent relationship with intelligent technology, the directed evolution of humanity by drugs or other forms of augmentation, an inescapable global digital culture: these have all become part of our everyday reality.

The lively and imaginative stories collected here take us even further into this cyber world, envisioning a diverse future that seems more likely, or more familiar, every day.