Science Fiction Though the Decades

Thursday, August 20, 2015

2015 (Aug): Dispatches from the Future (Popular Science)

A modern curiosity of futuristic flash fiction (4/5)

After reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel Aurora (2015) this month, I was interested in what else I hadn’t read from the author. I had read his Mars trilogy+one (1992-1999), two-thirds of his Orange Country trilogy (1984-1990), and three of his other novels, but his collection Remaking History (1991) has always stood out to me, though I’ve never been able to procure it. While reading his bibliography on ISFDB, I saw that he had published a short story in Popular Science in the same month. Intrigued, I tracked down a copy and had a pleasant surprise.

The August 2015 edition of Popular Science highlights ten “dispatches from the future” that “imagine how we live—on Earth and beyond—in the decades and centuries to come”. Flipping to the pages where the stories were located, I was again pleasantly surprised to see flash fiction (stories with less than 1,000 words)! It’s very, very rare to come across quality stories of very short nature (Asimov and Conklin’s 50 Short Science Fiction Tales [1963] comes to mind), so I knew that I must put some effort into reviewing the stories within.

It’s unusual for me to review stories from a magazine, but my track record shows that I’m a fan of reviewing short fiction. I’m no newbie to the science fiction scene either; I’ve been reading SF for eight solid years (about 75 books per year on average) yet I have only ever read Kim Stanley Robinson from this 10-story collection. My initial curiosity was piqued… but having seen the bibliographies of many of the other writers, I’m not so much interested anymore.

Interesting to note: This 10-story collection is comprised of six female authors and four male authors; this reflects the recent trend to highlight female authors in a genre where males typically over-represent.


Transplant (shortstory, 2015) – Will McIntosh (4/5)
The victim of some bodily degradation, a man is given a choice: receive a transplant or receive death. Wisely, the man accepts the transplant and the rehab that ensues as she has to relearn simple tasks again. The medical success is widely heralded, yet society doesn’t fully accept the medical feat that has allowed the man to walk again, to live again. As he exits the clinic, he’s met with mob disapproval, but also a woman—someone who sees him for who he isn’t.

Sunshine Ninety-Nine (shortstory, 2015) – N. K. Jemisin (4/5)
Homes of the future are just as “affordable” as they are now with convenient payment plans. At the Casbah Village, homes can be financed for just $500 per month yet a list of stipulations may deter some buys, or may simply be common fine-print for homes with such features as cloud-backed security, free suspended animation, and charging foe electric cars. The 99-year contract can’t undo melting icecaps or memory-directed adware, though.

The Wanderer (shortstory, 2015) – Karen Lord (3/5)
Nowadays, we disrobe and shower before bed, but in the future, an additional measure of mental comfort may need to be taken. One woman strips herself of any electronic tags or devices so that she can be free to roam in her sleep as a nightwalker. A jogger discovers her body and, because of the absence electronic tags, believes her to be dead… until she opens her eyes with a smile and a wish.

The Improbable War (shortstory, 2015) – Kameron Hurley (4/5)
A single tank approaches a battlefield against an opposing army of 40 million, yet the tank—a massive mobile wall—doesn’t feign from the fight with its 4 million soldiers atop. The wall is driven by the countless souls of fallen soldiers who not only drive the wall, but also the society toward higher, nobler goals; regardless, it heads to war knowing, as a result, that the destined outcome is better for all, deaths and all.

Hearts That Beat, Mechanical and Cold (shortstory, 2015) – Seanan McGuire (4/5)
Unluckiness strikes a newborn baby as she’s born with a genetic flaw that seemingly melts her own proteins from within her body. Fortunately for her until she’s 18, her family’s insurance can assure continual organ renewal while in her incubated, isolated world where she has limited exposure to the world. Though she analyzes spreadsheets, her main contact is with the computer that monitors her and keeps her alive, which has also just proposed to her.

The Drones (shortstory, 2015) – James S. A. Corey (3/5)
The ingenuity of mankind has taken their science to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, where squid-like and beetle-like robots harvest solar energy for their respective geological missions. Nevertheless, Mars was also colonized by the micro-sized workers of transformation in order to make way for human explorers. After their work was complete, Samuel Ko stepped foot on Martian soil to claim it for humanity.

Superluminal (shortstory, 2015) – Andy Weir (3/5)
Initial tests of the superluminal speed drive proved unsuccessful in the first 216 settings. Far away in the year 2438, the 217th setting proves a great success with the crewed craft having traveled over 260 miles in less than a second. The jubilant crew contact Earth yet are a bit perplexed by the errors in their navigation, where it misaligns the planets and renders them a tad lost; regardless, they head for home. Little do they realize that their radioed message had been misdirected.

<3/</3 (shortstory, 2015) – Genevieve Valentine (3/5)
Celebrities’ lives are beyond the reach and understanding of the lowly commoners. Regardless of the lifestyle gap between superhuman and all-too-human, there are legions of “truefans” who defend their “fave” to all extremes, yet there are also haters against each and every celebrity. Remote and enthralled with their fave, they prefer their faceless dedication and wholehearted reverence… until their fave shows a vulnerable, human side.

Grinding Time (shortstory, 2015) – Mary Robinette Kowal (4/5)
As our society becomes more and more advanced in regard to technology, there is a growing backlash toward the complexity of daily life, daily routines, and daily habits. As shoes became fancier, running became a minimalist barefoot affair; as sources of food became blurred, homegrown cuisine became the fad. However, the human train of obsession is still healthy, even as the two merge in the future: mortar grinding for health—for cuisine and exercise.

Exploring Location X (shortstory, 2015) – Kim Stanley Robinson (4/5)
Familiarity breeds contempt when of proximity and loathing is a fellow human, but our everyday surroundings can cause us to experience the pang of routine, the bitter taste of commonplace. In a backlash to the mundane and the predictable, a group of people are taken back to nature in order to experience their own nature—dropped off in the mountains with a week’s supply of food, they’re exposed to mother nature’s elements.

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