Fiction Reviews

Fast Forward 1

(2007) Lou Anders (ed), Pyr, $15.00, trdpbk, 409pp, ISBN 978-1-591-0-2486-6

This is an anthology of original SF edited by Pyr's editorial director, Lou Anders, who has edited at least four previous SF anthologies for other publishers (Outside the Box, Live Without a Net, Projections and FutureShocks). I have a tendency to think of anthologies as 'samplers' featuring the work of a smorgasbord of writers, some of which you may care to find further work by if sufficiently impressed by their short offering. As such, it is usually extremely unlikely that any given reader will like absolutely every story in an anthology, and the best that one can hope for is that any given such book will contain more 'hits' than 'misses'. I'd say that this book definitely falls into that category. It features (in order of appearance) Robert Charles Wilson, Justina Robson, Paolo Bacigalupi, Robyn Hitchcock, Kage Baker, Tony Ballantyne, Elizabeth Bear, Stephen Baxter, AM Dellamonica, Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper, Louise Marley, Ken MacLeod, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, Ian McDonald, Pamela Sargent, Mary A Turzillo, George Zebrowski, Gene Wolfe, John Meaney, and Paul Di Filippo. I have my favourites among these, you, no doubt, will have yours. I hope you will forgive me for not going into the story contributions in great detail, partly because it would be a pain to come up with one or two line comments on 23 stories, and partly because it would be pointless, other than in the case of if one were being paid by the word for the review (and I hope readers know that we here at Concatenation are not paid at all, we are just active fans who love our field and enjoy communicating with others), but mainly because the 'hook' for me of this particular anthology is actually the introduction by Anders.

Surprised? Let me tell you why...

There are two reasons. The first (and most trivial) is that it appears that once again the hoary old chestnut of the science fiction field 'running out of steam' has reared its ugly (and rather stupid) head. Even if we leave aside the 23 examples in this book of the field not running out of steam, even if we leave aside the 500+ reviews on this website alone that show that the field is far from running out of steam, the fact remains that the argument itself is recursive. Any SF reader over the age of, say, 40 has already encountered it many times and, guess what?, it proved not to be true in the past and it will, without a shadow of a doubt, prove to be false once again. Get this: reality will never outstrip imagination. If you think it will, then you probably have no imagination to begin with. It does not matter how gosh-wow a world you live in, it does not matter that our present looks increasingly like the futures we once had in the past; the very fact of that makes SF more relevant, not less (one of the points Anders makes). The fact is that for all the futures we realise, there are always yet more futures to come. Paths not taken, choices of paths yet to be made, even choices of paths we have taken, but which we may well need to get the hell off of. SF is the literature that takes this into account. SF is there to provide the alternate perspective(s) - that is what it does! Anders gets this point across (and I hope I have too).

The second reason is, at one and the same time, more personal -- in light of a recent example I'm about to tell you about -- and also more general... For reasons too boring to go into, I had recently volunteered to work in a charity shop for a while and, while there, encountered a woman of close to my own age who said that she "didn't know what science fiction was for", that she "didn't know what was the point of science fiction". I answered glibly at first, why should SF be 'for' anything? If, say, 'entertainment' were sufficient reason 'for' many things, then why should it not be sufficient for SF? Indeed, I continued, what is anything 'for'? I don't personally enjoy football, but I never question what it is 'for' - it is 'for' lots of reasons, albeit some of them tribal in nature - why can't it just be 'for' fun? Or 'for' the hell of it? In other words, it is not a case of 'why?' but 'why not?'. I could see she was unconvinced, so I took a different tack. Knowing she enjoyed romances I asked her to imagine a contemporary romance with me, completely non-science fictional, based somewhat on her own activities. Imagine, I said, that the fictional lovers, among other things, called each other on their mobiles, texted each other and maybe even sent e-mail love letters. Perhaps they looked up gifts for each other on the internet, ordered them on-line and paid for their purchases with credit and debit cards. Perhaps they went shopping together and mugged for the CCTV cameras. Maybe they'd take a cheap holiday, using a low-budget airline for their travel; maybe they'd use their phones to take pictures of themselves and e-mail the pics to friends back home. Maybe they'd use contraceptive pills so that there'd be no issue from their lovemaking. Maybe they'd settle down and make a life together, acquiring a microwave and a DVD player and a computer and games console... It went on. I am sure you can see where this is going, but it is surprising to me that she could not, anyway... We painted this romance in terms that she agreed was definitely not science fiction, indeed, that she agreed contained much that she actually did in 'real life'. And then I asked her, "Imagine that this book we've written gets published, and then further imagine that, through whatever agency, a copy of this book then falls backwards exactly 100 years in time, and somebody in 1907 picks up the book and reads it." And then I asked her, "Is the book being read in 1907 a romance, or is it science fiction?" It was around here that her brain stalled and she finally stopped asking me what science fiction was 'for'. Not that I think still that she really got it, but at least it shut her up! All of which is a long-winded way of saying what Anders makes so clear in his introduction. It is as good a 'defense' of what science fiction is 'for' as any I have ever read, and relates back to the first point, that SF is the literature of perspectives and, further than that, that it is the champion of a particular, rational, skeptical perspective; one that does not accept things at face value(s), but which dares to ask the questions 'why?' and 'what next?'. Anders also points out, by way of a quote from Gardner Dozois, no mean editor himself, "Even today, the Pope interdicts cloning, the President of the US pushes to make stem cell research illegal, mention of the theory of evolution is banned from textbooks and explanations of 'creation science' are inserted instead... The battle of science against superstition is still going on... In fact, in a society where more people believe in angels than in evolution, that battle may be more critical than ever. One of the major battlefields is science fiction..." And that is what SF is for, among other things: the right to believe that you don't have to believe what some people tell you to believe; that it is OK to ask the reason why, that it is OK to imagine that things might be different, and that is it is OK to accept that the inevitability of change as the default position, not just a glossy option or add-on. Now that is what I call a good intro to a book of SF tales! Even if for only this reason, I look forward to Fast Forward 2. Needless to say I recommend FF1. Happy reading, oh open-minded reader...

Tony Chester

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