I picked up The Tomorrow Project: Bestselling Authors Describe Daily Life In The Future at Norwescon in 2011. Given my forty book backlog (which I’m decreasing, at least until my December B&N/Half-Priced Books trip), my reading latency shouldn’t be shocking.
Four stories. Four authors.
Chapter 1: Last Day of Work by Douglas Rushkoff
This story deals with the science fiction concept of post-scarcity, through the eyes of the last working human on his last day on the job.
As a student of Economics, I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of post-scarcity economics. It’s one of the big draws of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, although later it becomes clear that the Federation isn’t post-scarcity in all ways.
So I love the concepts driving this story. Unfortunately, Cracked Editor David Wong made this so much more interesting even in article format, and at the same time, it’s concepts driving the story, not characters. The story’s take on current humanity is that we’re facetious meatbags incapable of any higher functions beyond consumption, destroying the Earth like locusts in Egypt.
Nothing of post-scarcity is really explored. Instead, the narrative focuses tight on this one character, the only character on screen, in fact. Most of the story is spent in flashback, and we all know how I feel ’bout flashbacks.
The story’s well-told and enjoyable enough, I just feel like holy shit you could have explored so much more. No time’s spent examining the cultural boom that’d surely happen if all human creativity had the chance to just bloom, rather than dying on the vine in Starbucks.
I’m just saying, wasted potential, man.
Also, the ambiguous ending makes the story feel indecisive, leaving us unsure whether this is the protagonist’s last day of work, or whether he’ll come back tomorrow, despite there being no work left for him to do. Structurally, the story would have ended far more solidly on “and we’re done!”
Chapter 2: The Mercy Dash by Ray Hammond
I dig the utter pervasiveness of technology in this short story, while still staying grounded in realism. Tech is inescapable, humans though, are still very human. New devices optimize our time, by surrendering control of our driving to a networked road system, or having virtual personal assistants, or any number of other useful goodies.
Of course, I’ve worked in Software QA, and when I read about the roadway networks, I shout at the top of my lungs, “But what about latency on the roadways? What about bugs? How many people died due to a stack overflow error on the Audobon?!?” And I know why the author didn’t address this: Because the digression would have been too awesome for the rest of the story.
This short’s biggest weakness is characterization. So much time’s spent on flashy gadgets that it feels like the characters get less screen time than Tatsuki Arisawa after episode 20 of Bleach.
The only two characters whom I’d call round are the protagonist and his girlfriend. The lead’s pretty apple-pie boring, despite being boring (Sauerkraut snore-worthy? Bratwurst Boring! Man, I rock!) and I found his girlfriend to be mildly neurotic and jealous. Admittedly, the protagonist naming his virtual PA after her is pretty weird, but her reaction…
While the author might’ve made the girlfriend’s jealous streak deliberately, I felt it ill-advised in a story that ultimately had too few empathetic characters to glom onto.
Admittedly, the Virtual PAs had some attitude, too, but let’s be honest, Zelazny did it better with Frakir, Merlin’s sentient strangling cord from the Amber Chronicles.
Chapter 3: The Drop by Scarlett Thomas
I genuinely liked this story. Heavily character-focused, the technology, like in all great science fiction, amplified the story rather than being the story. But really, I’ve got to call out the author on claiming that Agnes’ younger brother, while playing D&D, was waiting on a Phoenix Down for resurrection.
Let’s get this straight… this:
Is not this:
Overall, a good read, immersive, I’d consider reading again.
Chapter 4: The Blink of an Eye by Markus Heitz
Too short, too dark, especially in a collection meant to excite me about technology’s potential. I really hate when science fiction makes technology the enemy. In this story though, I don’t hate the technology, so much as the man who programmed himself a comfort-cage and then never left.
I’m sick of dark science fiction, dark fantasy. It’s as old and tired as a Hollywood ending in Hollywood. Can’t we have realistic resolutions. Don’t those sell books? And if not, why not? Just for once, I want an ending on Spec Fic that isn’t a downer. Can we have that?