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Fast Forward 2
edited by Lou Anders
Pyr, 360 pages

Fast Forward 2
Lou Anders
A 2009/2008/2007 Hugo Award nominee, 2008 Philip K. Dick Award nominee, 2007 Chesley Award nominee, and 2006 World Fantasy Award nominee, Lou Anders is the editorial director of Prometheus Books' science fiction and fantasy imprint Pyr, as well as the anthologies including Fast Forward 2 (Pyr, October 2008), Sideways in Crime (Solaris, June 2008), Fast Forward 1(Pyr, February 2007), FutureShocks (Roc, January 2006). In 2000, he served as the Executive Editor of Bookface.com, and before that he worked as the Los Angeles Liaison for Titan Publishing Group. He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact (Titan Books, 1996), and has published over 500 articles in such magazines as The Believer, Publishers Weekly, and Dreamwatch. His articles and stories have been translated into Danish, Greek, German, Italian and French.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Fast Forward 1
SF Site Review: Projections: Science Fiction in Literature and Film

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Derek Johnson

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In 2007 Lou Anders edited Fast Forward, one of the strongest original anthologies that science fiction has seen -- so strong, in fact, that after one closed the book one wondered if Anders would be able to match both the quality and the ambition of that volume in his next. After all, the anthology's very title indicated that Anders wanted to actually incorporate the Campbellian vision into a genre that, for all of its rhetoric about being a literature of the future, too often looks fondly over its shoulder at the trails blazed in the past. Even Dangerous Visions fought to bring the genre up to the speed of the present more than chart a path to the future. But Anders did it; Fast Forward not only met the challenge to look forward, but succeeded. And with Fast Forward 2, his follow-up anthology, Anders not only continues to forge ahead and actually push science fiction into the future, but also position himself as one of the genre's most dynamic and influential editors. A reader looking for the best in contemporary science fiction will find not a wasted story in Fast Forward 2's pages. This is the Stuff.

Anders starts out strong with his introduction. Titled "The Age of Accelerating Returns," where he discusses the genre's ever-increasing popularity and opinions by Joseph Mallozzi, Isaac Asimov, Brian Aldiss and Paolo Bacigalupi of science fiction's purpose (even futurist and The Singularity Is Near author Ray Kurzweil gets a citation) before citing what he sees as science fiction's four purposes: its predictive capability, its preventative possibility, its ability to inspire the future, and being "the literature of the open mind," which "acknowledges change and encourages thinking outside the box." And then presents fourteen tales which promise to do just that.

To be fair, some of the stories keep one eye over their shoulder, but do so with knowledge and maturity that the genre too often lacks, and with concerns that reflect our present. In Nancy Kress's "The Kindness of Strangers," aliens land and begin wiping out many major cities, all to help save us from ourselves. Paul McAuley's ironically titled "Adventure" follows a civil servant who has won passage to an alien planet, only to find the same petty boredom and selfishness that has always followed the human species. Kristine Katherine Rusch flies us to the moon in "SeniorSource," where senior citizens are give a new lease on life by working in space for the titular company; her protagonist must solve a presumed murder or face return to earth and eventual death. "Long Eyes" by Jeff Carlson follows the lone crewperson of a spaceship to an alien planet, to meet a tribe of savage aliens who are, in fact, us. Rich characterization, evocative language and a dollop of lives either examined or lacking examination separate these stories from standard genre fare. Of these, only "SeniorSourse" attempts anything resembling prediction, while "The Kindness of Strangers" falls more firmly into preventative territory.

The stories more firmly rooted in the future might strike the casual sf reader as a little more alien (by what we might think of as science fiction's standards) but no less mature. There are cloak-and-dagger tales. Paul Cornell combines modified humans, erased memories and, ultimately, high physics in "Catherine Drewe" (which begins the book), while Karl Schroeder and Tobias Buckell spin a yarn of an ocean-faring carbon farmer living in an ecologically damaged future caught up in a tale of intrigue involving Russian mobsters and soldiers out for control of uncopyrighted gene stocks in "Mitigation." There is biopunk: in "Cyto Couture," Kay Kenyon takes us to a future of "Cyto Couture," whose inhabitants cultivate plants engineered to grow a wedding dress. Jack McDevitt, in "Molly's Kids," deals with artificial intelligence; in this case, one must be sent into space, and decides while on the launch pad that it does not want to go, despite the importance riding on a successful launch. In "The Gambler," Paolo Bacigalupi focuses on a future so close that the reader can set the time by it. A news writer for an online news organization faces termination if he does not write a story that generates a large number of unique visitors, and so must forgo the important environmental stories he writes in favor of interviewing a Vietnamese celebrity. It's a great tale of the coming dog-eat-dog world of junk news. And Jack Skillingstead, in "Alone with an Inconvenient Companion," presents a protagonist with an tenuous grip on reality who meets a woman attending a genetics conference and cannot tell if she is a real woman. These are the tales that inspire the future, that take on the cutting edge of scientific research (and pop culture phenomena) to show us where we are headed.

And then there are the standouts among the standouts. Chris Nakashima-Brown gives us a powerful, and quite funny, vision of bio-artists, sports, body enhancement and copyright law wrapped up in an air of Hemingwayesque melancholy in "The Sun Also Explodes." It's a story of gene-splicing gone amok that never lets up on the wow factor. Mike Resnick and Pat Cadigan, in "Not Quite Alone in the Dream Quarter," lead us through a surreal, haunting landscape where beings from human dreams have escaped, and try to learn what it means to be human. And in "An Eligible Boy," Ian McDonald returns to the India of River of Gods to tell the story of a young Hindu man looking for a suitable mate, and seeks out the advice of an artificial intelligence designed for a soap opera to help him traverse the hazardous terrain of dating in the twenty-first century. It is the anthology's most human, and most charming, story, a great love story without all of the sap one finds in such tales.

All of these stories meet Anders's challenge to acknowledge change and encourages think outside the box, but Benjamin Rosenbaum's and Cory Doctorow's "True Names" really delivers those goods. It's certainly the longest story in the book (actually a novella), a tour de force that weaves a tale that blends quantum computing and universe modeling to tell a story that boggles the mind with each section, cramming a new idea into what feels like each new paragraph. It's like watching The Matrix with more depth and layer upon added layer of complexity, wowing the reader with each progression. Indeed, it's the only story in the anthology that this reviewer read twice, just to make sure that I didn't miss anything on the initial read. It's destined to become a classic.

Fast Forward 2 is so good that I'm a little frightened to think what Anders and company have in store for us next time. But I'm looking forward to finding out.

Here's to the future.

Copyright © 2009 Derek Johnson

Derek Johnson lives, works and writes in Central Texas. He believes that, one day, he'll make a dent in his ever-growing "to-read" pile. That hasn't happened thus far.


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