Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories Paperback – 7 Dec 2010
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About the Author
John Joseph Adams is the bestselling editor of many anthologies, such as Wastelands, The Living Dead (a World Fantasy Award finalist), and many others. Barnes & Noble.com named him "the reigning king of the anthology world," and his books have been named to numerous best of the year lists. John is also the fiction editor of the online science fiction magazine Lightspeed. Prior to taking on that role, he worked for nearly nine years in the editorial department at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. He is currently the co-host of The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast on io9.com, and has published hundreds of interviews and other pieces of non-fiction.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"O Happy Day!" by Geoff Ryman is perhaps too vile of a cautionary tale for me, while "Red Card" by S.L. Gilbow, "Ten with a Flag" by Joseph Paul Haines, "The Funeral" by Kate Wilhelm, and "Amaryllis" by Carrie Vaughn are all wonderful stories by writers that I have never read before. To that point, the recommended further reading lists at the end are an excellent final touch.
I now wish that I had a copy for my bookshelf, because the Kindle edition has a two big problems.:
1. It was not made clear on the Amazon page for the Kindle edition that four stories (by J.G. Ballard, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, and Kurt Vonnegut) were omitted from the digital version. The author or publisher inserted a clever dig at the rights holders of these stories on the digital copyright page, which I chuckled at and do appreciate, but had I known these stories were omitted, I would have purchased a paperback copy instead.
2. There is no table of contents, which means that you cannot easily skip stories or read them out of order. A table of contents with links to the starting page of each story is a very important element in electronic versions of long anthologies like this! Want to re-read that one story that really surprised you? You'd better remember the title or the name of the author so you can run a search for it.
4 stars for the collection/3 for the kindle edition.
Brave New Worlds is Adams' best entry into the reprint anthology fold thus far bringing to light many impossibly classic stories as well as some recent gems that will mostly stand the test of time as well. Each and every story grows from the kernel of an idea that society or politics has become gone awry in some way either in its laws or rituals. Adams provides his incisive commentary to introduce each piece as usual, which does tend to drift into some good social commentary as well given the topic at hand. Some stories are about people raging against the machine while others are about those who just fall in line simply because they are instilled with fear of what would happen otherwise.
While at first look Brave New Worlds simply looks like a collection put together for their name value--as it is a who's who of classic and modern authors--I quickly realized that each and every story was picked with care and some even defy normal convention as we are treated to a short graphic story by none other than Neil Gaiman that in no way feels shoehorned in and Ursula K. Leguin's piece "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" from the 70s that feels absolutely timeless, but has no main characters as it sweeps through a town. While there are some I didn't connect with as well as others there isn't a clunker in the bunch. These 33 stories inspire a sense of caution and sometimes outright horror about things that could easily come to pass.
"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson is one of the best known examples of a dystopian story and immediately sets the right tone for the collection. It is a simple yet very effective use of bringing an ancient ritual into somewhat modern times. This was actually my first time reading the story, but I enjoyed it so much I immediately re-read it.
"Red Card" by S. L. Gilbow is placed in a world where from time-to-time someone gets a free pass at murdering someone. The story comes off feeling very realistic with the tone of the protagonist having an eerie sense of doing the right thing. Would you shoot that guy who cut you off on the way to work if given the chance?
"Ten With a Flag" by Joseph Paul Haines gives us the ultimate choice tale. As technology advances we're able to learn more and more before birth about our children, but do we really want to know more? And should the government know before you do? Haines crafts a very fine story that twists very nicely in the end.
"The Funeral" by Kate Wilhelm is definitely, if not a precursor to The Hunger Games, a big influence in many ways. The class system was very similar and the story centers around young girls wanting to escape from their society. It was far too short given all the tidbits thrown in.
"O Happy Day!" by Geoff Ryman is probably the most screwed up story in the bunch condemning most men to death for being too violent while a few gay men are saved only to do the worst jobs possible in their society. Very dark stuff with a hint of hope.
"Billennium" by J. G. Ballard was an amazing take on population growth and getting exactly what you ask for only to ruin it yourself. I felt like I was reading a story right out of the Twilight Zone.
"Amaryllis" by Carrie Vaughn turns the overpopulation theme a bit on its side with this one. We always get stories about people breaking the laws having children, but rarely do we get to see what happens down the line, which is what Vaughn gives us here. I never thought I'd care this much about a story on a fishing boat, but the struggles of the crew left me rapt.
"Pop Squad" by Paolo Bacigalupi gives us another of his truly darkly inspired stories about a world where aging is frowned upon and children are straight out illegal.
"Dead Space for the Unexpected" by Geoff Ryman is his second in the collection only on the lighter side. Think of Office Space, but with a main character who wants nothing more than to please and be praised for it. Than make him as big a dick as you can think times 2 and you're just about there.
"The Minority Report" by Philip K. Dick is another classic that should be read by everyone even if you've seen the movie (which has held up on its own as well). A conspiracy of future events is after the main character as he attempts to proves his innocence against irrefutable proof in a country where you're arrested before you even commit a crime.
"Just Do It" by Heather Lindsley is made of pure awesome. We all know advertising has gotten out of control and invades nearly every aspect of our life, but what if it was literally injected into you? This story made me hate McDonald's all over again.
"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. asks us When does making everyone equal become unfair?
Very funny in a twisted sort of way given all the handicaps the characters are under. [There is a new short movie called 2081 based off this story as well.]
"Caught in the Organ Draft" by Robert Silverberg imagines a world where the elder elite have changed the laws to harvest organs from the young. Damn if this doesn't seem all too feasible now.
"Arties Aren't Stupid" by Jeremiah Tolbert gives his characters their own version of a techie Patois which lend this tale a huge amount of originality, which is beautifully told. Art is integral to a groups essence and when society forbids them their creative powers start a shift that will change the world.
As immensely readable as Brave New Worlds is I had to put it down intermittently just because I couldn't stand the idea of finishing the collection. This is one of the best collections of this or any year and showcases Adams's immensely keen editorial eye. If you are a fan of classic authors George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Kurt Vonnegut, and modern scribes Suzanne Collins, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Lauren Beukes you should add this to you collection and savor it.
Less well known but equally deserving of our attention are the many excellent short stories written in the sub-genre. To rectify this situation, we now have Brave New Worlds, a brand new anthology of dystopian SF short stories edited by John Joseph Adams. And, while "definitive" is not a word to be thrown around lightly, in this case it's more than appropriate: Brave New Worlds is as perfect an anthology as you could hope for, and if there's ever a college-level class about dystopian SF, this book is almost guaranteed to be assigned reading.
One of the great things about a broad anthology like this one, collecting 33 different stories that still all fall under the umbrella of dystopian SF, is that you get the chance to sample a large variety of styles and approaches. Classics and brand new stories, short vignettes and longer tales, and almost every variety of what could constitute a dystopia: age discrimination -- against the old AND the young; sexual discrimination -- against women, men, or based on sexual orientation (both hetero- and homosexual); environmentally damaged worlds; societies with too many babies, not enough babies, or even no babies at all; people living too long; people dying too soon. Almost anything that could conceivably go wrong with our world goes wrong in one or more of these stories.
Another result of reading so many different stories that still broadly fall in the same category is that it will inevitably lead you to notice the common threads that run through all of them, e.g. the common story dynamic of conflict between two or more characters is often replaced by the conflict between character and society. More interestingly, John Joseph Adams points out in his introduction to the anthology: "Whether or not a society is perceived as a dystopia is usually determined by one's point of view; what one person may consider to be a horrible dystopia, another may find completely acceptable or even nigh-utopian". The inhabitants of these broken, damaged societies have often become used to whatever miserable set of circumstances they are living in. In some cases, they are no longer even aware that things used to be different and have started considering their current lives as acceptable by default. This leads to some stories that generate a sense of discomfort so acute that it borders on the claustrophobic. The strongest stories in this collection verge on horror, although of the psychological or even existential kind rather than blood and gore. There are a few stories in Brave New Worlds that will simply stay with you forever -- and whenever literature can do that to you, you know you've got a winner in your hands.
Brave New Worlds contains a whopping 33 stories, delivering great value for your money but making it hard to write something meaningful about every single one without ending up with an extremely long review. So instead, here are my personal favorites in the order in which they appear in the anthology:
"The Funeral" by Kate Wilhelm is one of those stories that feels as if you're seeing a five minute glimpse of a brilliant movie that has an elaborate plot you can only guess at. You know there's a lot going on, even if you don't really grasp all of it. It's also over much too soon.
"O Happy Day!" by Geoff Ryman is another stunning, claustrophobic story that focuses on a very small -- and very dark -- part of a much larger conflict. (Geoff Ryman actually has two stories in the anthology, which struck me as a great, confident decision on the part of the editor: both stories are excellent, so why choose one over the other?)
"Pop Squad" by Paolo Bacigalupi was (for me at least) the standout story in the author's brilliant collection Pump Six and Other Stories, so I'm glad to see it included in this anthology. There's a lot going on here, some of it brutally evident and some of it much more subtle, but as with all of these stories I'd rather let you discover it for yourself than describe it here in too much detail.
While these three stories all get an unqualified five stars from me, Matt Williamson's "Sacrament" somehow outdid them all with its outrageous juxtaposition of cold-eyed, rational horror and spine-tingling beauty. There are two distinct parts to the story, and the way they combine at the end is so powerful that reading it for the first time was a stunning experience. Not for the first time when finishing a story in Brave New Worlds, I had to close the book and walk away for a second to let it all sink in. According to John Joseph Adams' typically insightful and thoughtful introduction to the story, Matt Williamson is currently working on his first novel, and I for one am very excited to read it.
And then, towards the end, there's "Jordan's Waterhammer" by Joe Mastroiani, another gem with such a chilling and gorgeous conclusion that I still get chills thinking about it. In between these five superb examples of short form SF, you'll find a collection of excellent stories, including some established classics as well as many great entries by newer authors. Even though everyone will have their favorites and their least favorites, Brave New Worlds doesn't contain any story that's less than excellent, which is quite rare for such a large anthology.
If you're not convinced yet, please check out the anthology's great companion website (just do a web-search for the name of the anthology and its editor), where you'll find some free sample stories (some also available in audio format) as well as fascinating short interviews with some of the stories' authors, my favorite being Joe Mastroiani's because it puts the story's world in more detail and heightened my appreciation even more.
It doesn't happen very often that you find an anthology that's perfectly executed from start to finish, but Brave New Worlds is exactly that. The stories in this collection are science fiction in the truest sense of the word, starting from an often painful sociological premise and extrapolating it to the most private and emotional aspects of our lives. The only reasons I can think of for not liking this book would be if you have an aversion to either dystopian SF or short fiction. If you don't fall in either of those categories, you simply won't find a finer anthology than Brave New Worlds.
My version had eight stories:
AMARYLLIS by Carrie Vaughn
THE THINGS THAT MAKE ME WEAK AND STRANGE GET ENGINEERED AWAY by Cory Doctorow
IS THIS YOUR DAY TO JOIN THE REVOLUTION? by Genevieve Valentine
JUST DO IT by Heather Lindsley
ARTIES AREN'T STUPID by Jeremiah Tolbert
OF A SWEET SLOW DANCE IN THE WAKE OF TEMPORARY DOGS by Adam-Troy Castro
RESISTANCE by Tobias S. Buckell
CIVILIZATION by Vylar Kaftan
One benefit of anthologies is to introduce readers to new authors. Some of the above were unknown to me, but I'm afraid none of the stories converted me. I did like Tobias Buckell's story - the best of the group. The rest were competently written, but I didn't find them particularly compelling. One, "Of a Slow Sweet Dance..." seemed to me so clearly a re-casting of Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas", that I'm surprised that both stories are included in the full version of the book.
Although this was only a sampler, and the stories are different in many ways, I found the styles and themes similar enough that a steady diet of serious dystopia grew wearing. This especially since Vylar Kaftan's story is essentially an outline for dystopian plots - choose one element from column A...
It may be that the full book is more balanced, but I ended up glad I didn't have more to read - surely the opposite of what this taster was intended for.
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