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The Future Is Here

Tired of the same ol' dystopian retreads? Diverse Energies, a collection of short stories edited by Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti, might just cure what ails you.

The Future Is Here

BOOK REPORT for Diverse Energies, edited by Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti

Cover Story: The Future Is Bleak
The Best: "Pattern Recognition" by Ken Liu, "Next Door" by Rahul Kanakia, "Blue Skies" by Cindy Pon
The Worst: "What Arms to Hold Us" by Raja Khanna
The Weird: "Uncertainty Principle" by K. Tempest Bradford, "A Pocket Full of Dharma" by Paolo Bacigalupi
Bonus Factors: Diversity, LGBTQ, Skynet, Time Travel, Vikings
Break Glass In Case Of: Dystopia Fatigue

Cover Story: The Future Is Bleak

Those towers are def. architecturally interesting, but what exactly are they? I don't see any windows; are they industrial silos for storing Soylent Green? After all -- spoiler alert -- there aren't exactly a lot of people out and about in this future... 

My fave parts are actually all text: the names of all the cool authors who contributed short stories, which I typo'd as 'shorties' (can we make that happen?); the title, which comes from a JFK speech; and obvs the tagline, since I made it the title of this post. 

The Deal:

These eleven stories are like Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Dystopia, in terms of both characterization and worldbuilding: conscripted soldiers, time travelers, brainwashed kids... but no tribute or initiate copycats to be found here!

The Best: "Pattern Recognition" by Ken Liu

A school of parent-less kids, protected behind forty-foot walls from the scary and mysterious Outside. The ending is a bit more show than tell, but I love the reveal of fundamental truth bombs.

The Best: "Next Door" by Rahul Kanakia

Los Angeles is overrun with homelessness, with squatters finding refuge wherever they can -- including the unused rooms of those too preoccupied with visual implants to even notice. And with our collective smartphone addiction, the idea isn't that far-fetched.

The Best: "Blue Skies" by Cindy Pon

I'm reluctant to break out superlatives in reviews, but Cindy Pon does one of the best jobs at incorporating a non-English language that I've ever read. My bugaboo with insta-translation is mainly when it doesn't make sense in context (e.g. 'why are these fully fluent characters translating for each other?', 'why is this person translating their own narration?'). The use of Mandarin completely works in and elevates this kidnapping story, although it might read as standard insta-translation if I didn't have a very weak grasp of the language. 

Here's a snippet from the ransom call: 

"Mei you, mei you. Wo hao." No, he hasn't tortured or raped me.

What the speaker's actually saying is, "No, no. I'm fine." -- which easily could be swapped in without being redundant. So THANK YOU, Ms. Pon, for showing how it's done.

The Worst: "What Arms to Hold Us" by Rajan Khanna

'Worst' is way harsh, Tai, but this one basically lost me by its second word -- that being 'gollies', these manually operated mining machines. My trubs with imagining this technology prevented me from being fully absorbed into the story.

The Weird: "Uncertainty Principle" by K. Tempest Bradford

Good to know that Batman will still be popular in 2048, and an 81-year-old Anderson Cooper will still work at CNN. Our future-day Larry King, ladies and Brian!

The Weird: "A Pocket Full of Dharma" by Paolo Bacigalupi

Spirituality meets technology in futuristic Chengdu. I can't say much more because spoilers, but you totally have this song in your head, don't you?

Well, you do now.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Well, obviously, if the title hadn't already tipped you off. The protagonists of these stories come from various racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds. (GASP! Just like real people!)

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ

"Next Door" by Rahul Kanakia prominently features a romance between two boys. The eponymous "Good Girl' in Malinda Lo's story finds herself attracted to the badass chick who's helping her find her brother. And the relationships of the space settlers in Ursula K. Le Guin's "Solitude" don't really have rigid definitions.

Bonus Factor: Skynet

In "Freshee's Frogurt" by Daniel H. Wilson, a froyo store is the site of the rise of the machines. Froyo, why you gotta do me like that when I JUST WANT TO LOVE YOU?!

Bonus Factor: Time Travel

One of the stories that instantly engaged me turned out to be about time travel. Clearly, my all-consuming love of time travel is so strong that I can spot it without even knowing it. 

Bonus Factor: Vikings

Greg van Eekhout's "Gods of the Dimming Light" blends science fiction with Norse mythology. And you guys, I'm really into Vikings (or at least the show Vikings) right now.

Break Glass In Case Of: Dystopia Fatigue

In a time when it seems like every dystopian novel belongs to a series, Diverse Energies goes in the exact opposite direction. Not only is the streamlined storytelling a breath of fresh air in this genre, but the diverse characters and settings don't hurt, either.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from my local library. I received neither money nor froyo for writing this review (dammit!). Diverse Energies is available now.

Mandy Wan's photo About the Author: Residing in Edmonton, AB, Mandy unabashedly loves YA lit, frozen desserts, and terrible puns.