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Fast Forward 1
edited by Lou Anders
Pyr, 414 pages

Fast Forward 1
Lou Anders
Lou Anders is an editor, author, and journalist. He is the editorial director of Prometheus Books' science fiction imprint Pyr, as well as the anthologies Outside the Box (Wildside Press, 2001), Live Without a Net (Roc, 2003), Projections (MonkeyBrain, December 2004), and FutureShocks (Roc, January 06) . He served as the senior editor for Argosy Magazine's inaugural issues in 2003-04. In 2000, he served as the Executive Editor of, 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, Dreamwatch, Star Trek Monthly, Star Wars Monthly, Babylon 5 Magazine, Sci Fi Universe, Doctor Who Magazine, and Manga Max. His articles have been translated into German and French, and have appeared online at SF Site, and

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

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jakob Schmidt

"The type of dreams we dream today will determine the world we and our children live in tomorrow," Lou Anders suggests in his introduction to Fast Forward 1, pointing out how science fiction has influenced the very future it had been written about. Anders considers SF to be very strongly connected to social and technological change in its nearer future, and most stories in Fast Forward 1 reflect this view in being straightforward SF stories about such possible changes. The result is less Hard-SF than might be expected from this premise; several of the stories concentrate on social changes more than on technological, and some are quite obvious more allegorical than speculative in the narrower sense. Hence, the thematic scope of this anthology is wider than I expected. However, in terms of general quality, Fast Forward 1 is slightly disappointing: it features several good and even some great stories, but most entries felt somewhat mediocre to me.

The anthology opens with one of the outstanding contributions: a subtle, low-key near-future story by Robert Charles Wilson, about art and class differences in a society where advanced technology provides for a functioning, world-wide welfare system. A good part of Wilson's strength (as he has clearly proven in his novel Spin) lies in his characters, and "YFL-500" reads almost like a fine piece of realist short fiction from the future in which it is set.

The second featured story, by Justina Robson, is set in the aftermath of her novel Mappa Mundi, but is actually more reminiscent of her more recent novel Living Next Door to the Good of Love. It's a vaguely surrealist take on what it would mean if humans learned to engineer their states of mind, and if the memes of the mind were to start interacting with genetic material. Everyone seems to be a meme-engineered pop-cultural archetype in this story, but nevertheless Robson takes the concept seriously and manages to make the reader care about such a non-person protagonist who tries to be something besides "The Girl Hero."

After this highly satisfying beginning, most of the following stories are letdowns. Only on page 226, with the beginning of Ian MacDonald's "Sanjeev and Robotwallah," the anthology achieves its initial quality again. MacDonald's story is set in a civil-war-torn near-future India and follows a young boy who is -- as boys will be -- enthusiastic about the mecha-style war engines stalking the land. Without even a hint of presumptuousness, the story chronicles his involvement with and disillusionment about a group of hip teenage robot-pilots. It's a moving, funny, and, despite the mechas, very believable story.

Besides these three stories, there's still a lot of good stuff to be found: Gene Wolfe's fantasy-story "The Hour of the Sheep," (that, by the way, feels totally out of place in this anthology) is about an aristocratic sword master who, contemplating a book on the art of self-defence, decides that first he has to gather some experience in real-world fighting. Wolfe's story is a highly stylised, darkly humorous parable on false, self-serving heroism and its rewards. Paul DiFilippo's "Wikiworld" is a delicious, romantic picaresque set in a post-modern world which offers an optimistic variation on some classical cyberpunk concepts. Then there's "Small Offerings" by Paolo Bacigalupi, a grim depiction of the possible consequences of a creeping ecological disaster and how it might affect everyday life. Stephen Baxter's "No More Stories" manages to combine an existential question (What happens to the world after I die? Does it really just go on?) with an interesting SF-concept, all packaged in a contemporary, slightly uncanny and very human story. "Time of the Snake" by A.M. Dellamonica is an interesting variation on the alien invasion, this time told from the perspective of a human collaborator. Even though not terribly graphic, Dellamonica's story is full of very unsettling violence all to reminiscent of the daily news... And even though it's not too cerebral, it definitely makes you think about which side you would be on.

The remaining eleven stories and two poems I found in one or the other way lacking. "Plotters and Shooters" by Kage Baker focuses on a social struggle between two groups of workers on a space station, slugged out by a kind of video game. The concept is more interesting than it sounds, but ultimately, it's all pretty pointless. "Aristotle OS" by Tony Ballantine is a gimmick story about yet another computer going crazy. It doesn't take its own premise seriously, and, in its total predictability, fails to be even remotely funny. The only redeeming quality of this story is the small, sadly endearing human touch in the end. Elizabeth Bear's "The Something-Dreaming Game" isn't too original either, but features both well-written descriptions of an alien world and gut-wrenching human drama. While not brilliant, this story is certainly worth your time. "The Terror Bard" by Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper offers some pretty astounding cosmic set pieces in a dying solar system. The story also features an interesting and tragic human dilemma, but this becomes evident only on the last few pages, and it isn't really used to good effect. Louise Marley's "p dolce" is a time travel story, but neither is it interesting as scientific speculation nor is the conflict of the two main characters remotely beyond the totally superficial. "Jesus Christ, Reanimator" is obviously a satire on religious fundamentalism of all shades. It has its funny moments; but to be honest, was it necessary to write yet another story about a Jesus who's just a reasonable and nice bloke who's totally mystified by all this religious crap built up around him? How about, for once, a story featuring a Jesus who happens to be a power-hungry maniac? Pamela Sargent's "A Smaller Government" is written in a similar vein. Here, the main offices of the American government are shrunk to puppet-house size. It's a blatant metaphor for the supposed moral diminishment of the American government (Sargent even makes this explicit in the last lines of the story), and, besides this platitude, it has nothing to offer. "Solomon's Choice" by Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, one of the few stories of this anthology that actually takes place on another planet, is just slightly disappointing. It is well-written and conceptually interesting, but its resolution feels totally arbitrary and not quite plausible. "Pride," by Mary A. Turzillo, has a contemporary setting and has only one little element of SF. If you get over the implausibility of the basic premise (being that an animal laboratory would just kill of a successfully cloned sabre-tooth tiger), it becomes a well-written and even slightly shocking story about the potential irresponsibility in striving for greatness. "Settlements", by George Zebrowski, is more an essay written in dialogue than a story. Zebrowski manages to invest a very old and trite concept with some new thoughts -- but ultimately, the whole thing feels just a little too pretentious, while lacking in substance.

Fast Forward 1 also includes "Sideways from Now," a novella-length story by John Meaney. I really wanted to like this one, since part of it takes place in a wonderfully alien world, a moving, steampunkish city populated by telepathic aristocrats and stressed-out technicians; but the story just wanders off in too many directions. In the end, I felt that the point of the story was either disappointingly unimaginative or I simply didn't get it.

Also included are two poems by Robyn Hitchcock. While "They Came from the Future" seemed more of a collection of the typical platitudes about the differences between the golden age and cyberpunk, "I Caught Intelligence" finds effective imagery for an interesting concept.

Generally speaking, this anthology is a mixed bag. Even though it features a long row of big names, not all of them deliver peak performances. While I'm sure that Fast Forward 1 will prove to be one of the better anthologies of 2007, there's still a lot of room for improvement.

Copyright © 2007 by Jakob Schmidt

Jakob is part of the editorial team of the German magazine Pandora. That's in his spare time, which luckily still makes up the bulk of his days.

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