The subtitle above confused me at first; it sounded as if one should fight against the worthwhile future. But the editors clarify the collection’s rough theme in their Introduction: the authors “sing about a future that may be dire, but that we are collectively amazing enough to avoid.” This sounds like a promising thread to follow through the stories (and 1 poem). But this thread quickly frays as the stories unfold.
The stories are all set in the future, but the tales of uplifting rebellion and reformation are not plentiful. While a few present successful resistance, and others mock the dire futures they present, there seems to be a stronger current of absurdity and anxiety running through the anthology. The future is worrisome, repetitive, ridiculous. Concerns about artificial intelligence, tyranny, and the (re)cycling of history emerge more powerfully than the amazing capacity of humans to fight the future. In most cases the fight falters or is thwarted; victory is fleeting. This is unfortunately accentuated by rote plots, cliches, and creaky conventions from SF.
Some are quirky and witty. Kieron Gillen’s “The Arc Bends” a cryogenically-frozen head takes a Wellsian journey to the end of time, commenting on the state of humanity along the way. Charlie Jane Anders’ “Horatius and Clodia” is the best of the AI stories, where programming wars with love and hyper-capitalism. Elizabeth Bear’s “What Someone Else Does Not Want Printed” examines integrity and resistance as a journalist wrestles with complicity and morality. Each of these stories look at notions of right and wrong and demonstrate how simultaneously situational and essential they are for principled or compassionate behavior.
But most of these stories are more well-intentioned than well-rendered. Several posit scenarios of resistance (Hugh Howey’s “The Blast” and Deserina Bokovitch’s “The Defense of Free Mind” are two) but they are too predictable to be heartening. Many of the stories in this collection create tension unevenly or weakly, while others conjure odd feel-good moments or upbraidings. Tyrants and the rich suffer while vulnerable people gain (often fantastical) power to defend themselves. Neither the futures nor the resistance are complex or unexpected; smart ships make peace deals and robots struggle with self-awareness and Asimov’s Three Laws. There is little new ground covered and only glimmers of inspiration arise from the stories.
The idea of resisting terrible futures is a potent one. It is still difficult, perhaps, to imagine remedies for the futures we seem to be creating in the present, because we all have some hand in creating them (an effect that several of these stories attempt to tackle). How do you the fight the grim potentialities on the horizon? Given many of the responses in this volume, the answer may be that we must fight, now, against the futures we are shaping.
You can see for yourself here.