File Size: 2276 KB
Print Length: 482 pages
Publisher: NewCon Press (July 10, 2017)
Publication Date: July 10, 2017
In other visions, plants are synthetically evolved to synthesise information the same way they do light (the sublime ‘How growing Silence Coming from Seed’) and aliens release a weapon that removes the number ten from consciousness (‘Between Nine & Eleven’). Stories like these previous use artificial psychological says as weapons; within, the titular ‘Dream-Hunter’ finds the tables turned on your pet by a repentant killer.
Unreality, then, is as lethal because the physical physical violence of the harder SF or dystopian environments depicted in the collection (‘Arrested Development’); in ‘Montpelier’ data is utilized as an actual drug that turns away to be devastatingly addicting. Dreaming is even used to travel in time; in ‘Ten Love Songs to Change the World’ a teenager frustrated by the inability of her timedreamer surprise to improve the world makes an extraordinary decision, using the consequence wave to its devastating end.
Right now there are artificial dreams: who is the mysterious ‘Seventh Gamer’ in an impressive game world? Is he or she fake news, a fake AI or a genuine alien ghost in the machine, like the catastrophic but relatable extra-terrestrial existence in ‘The 10 Next War’. Not all the wars are that short; in ‘The Lightship’, humans and aliens have already been slugging it out for two centuries for what turns out to be a vanity project for, you guessed it, an idiot alien president.
Along with dread inevitability, the ever-popular Nazis make an appearance in ‘Heinrich Himmler in the Barcelona Hallucination Cell’ (my favourite story subject, against stiff competition); in which ‘decadent’ art is utilized to disorient prisoners of the Franco regime, a facility Himmler insists on inspecting – or really does he? Meanwhile, ‘The Apologists’ are aliens who do not fight a war with Earth a great deal as clean it out by mistake, an absurdity that feels less fantastical by the day.
The way these stories resonate shows the skill with which the gathering has already been compiled. For instance , in ‘The Apologists’, the aliens are trying to recreate World for its now homeless inhabitants, while in ‘Foreign Bodies’ benign aliens have rehoused humanity in an evolving artificial environment while they repair our home planet. ‘People, Places and Things’ does the opposing; the world, for reasons unknown that feel in some way karmic, is being unmade: everything is disappearing as if it never was.
Offsetting this bleakness is terrific emotional power; ‘People, Places and Things’ is a father/son story with the twist that it may be the younger man who is the alcoholic. The collection is topped and tailed by mother/daughter stories with the characters under extreme duress. The climactic adventure, ‘Front Row Seat to the End of the World’ has an ending that can feel absolutely right as you realise where the real tale lies.
Families are the core of many of the stories, with a unique through-line of regret. ‘Possible Side Effects’ sends a father on a faster-than-light trip so that when he returns there will be a cure for his cancer. The trip will only take 132 days for him, but forty years will spread Earth…
Many of the stories deal with the ambiguity of loss; whether it’s a wife who thanks to a nano-enabled intimacy is still a existence despite being deceased (‘Joined’) or a course of faith and, eventually our understanding of the universe and our put in it (‘Beyond the Heliosphere’).
2016 was a year of losses after all, from loved entertainers to the post-war Western political general opinion. For all that, the collection is full of irreverent humour, with great amusing twists in ‘To Capture a Comet’, ‘Shooting the Messenger’ and ‘Ana’. Each of the stories feel like they are about our world, now, regardless of whether their actual setting is somewhere on the Last Frontier.
Two of these tales, ‘The Apologists’ and ‘Liberty Bell’ were subsequently selected for British Science Fictional Association Awards with ‘Liberty Bell’, a literally star-crossed coming-out story, going on to win. It’s a measure of the exceptional storytelling in this fantastic collection.
It’s worth reading the stories in the order these are arranged. That way, the sense of a greater whole commences to emerge: a small, idiosyncratic and deeply humane idéal to the year in question.
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