Edited by Hannah Strom-Martin & Erin Underwood
(Underwords Press, February 2013)
Reviewed by Barbara Melville
As a teen, my bookshelves were riddled with YA fiction. But these weren't the best, probably because my brothers had hidden all the good stuff. I’ve since been uncertain of the genre, and so I was glad to find an anthology which quenched my anxieties. The main strengths of Futuredaze are ideas and surprise, and I also feel the editors placed these stories well. But I do have quibbles – some were sloppy in places and didn’t have much of a point. There’s also tiresome exposition – in fact, I applaud those writers who didn't tack on the age of the main character, but rather showed adolescence through language.
The anthology kicks off with “Clockwork Airlock” by Nancy Holder, a retelling of "The Lady, or the Tiger?". Set on a steampunk-esque space ship, Jinquine is awaiting punishment for mutiny, and will have to choose between two unmarked doors: one leading to freedom, the other to the vacuum of space. The writing is sensuous, and the plot is strong, though it might not tantalise those who’ve read the original. I felt the characterisation could’ve been handled better – within a few pages I was alienated by Jinquine, who is difficult to like, and in the end I didn't care for her predicament.
“Spirk Station” by Chuck Rothman follows Reeni’s adventures on Adhara Station – aka Spirk Station – a meeting place for alien races. In particular, it follows her friendship with a duck (yes, really). This is a fun, silly story which plays clever games with language. Reeni narrates in a futuristic youth speak, a technique which can easily go wrong, but here it is consistent. The use of speech verbs was perhaps a little too consistent – with the phrase “made like” replacing the word said. This was tiresome after the first few repetitions.
“Not With You, But With You” by Miri Kim is one of my favourites in the anthology. Naomi lives in a world where a controlling government modifies human beings into slaves. Naomi's friend, Daphne, is mourning for her father, a recent victim of such modifications. The narration is excellent – Naomi is a believable and conflicted character. It's impossible not to care for her as she navigates her and her friend’s predicament.
“Powerless” by Leah Thomas is another good one, though it has problems. Being allergic to electricity, our narrator Ollie is used to isolation, and his one and only friend is drifting away from him. Ollie is a relatable and beautiful character, giving powerful and synesthesiac descriptions of electricity. My bugbear is the ending – it's too abrupt, leaving a few subplots flailing. I was waiting for a strong resolution, and felt disappointed to have it snatched away.
“The Stars Beneath Our Feet” by Stephen D. Covey and Sandra McDonald shares the journey of Zack and Min, both stranded in space, and searching for means of survival. Overall, this is a lovely, well-crafted story. The burgeoning fondness between them is sweet, and the problem solving makes for a strong, creative plot. I wasn't keen on the ending – it's far too corny for my tastes – but this didn’t spoil it.
The editors were smart in putting “Out of the Silent Sea” by Dale Lucas next, as it appears to be similar to the previous story. But our main character, Owen, is not just stranded in space – he's a human missile. This is a beautifully-written story about love and isolation – the prose is stunning and the world is rich and believable. Where it falls down is the amount of repetition, and there are also a few issues with pace, but overall it’s a good one.
In “Another Prison” by Rahul Kanakia, Cheyenne lives in a world dominated by a wish lottery. But instead of staying surrounded by riches, she returns to the wasteland where she grew up, seemingly free from the influence of others’ wishes. This is yet another favourite of mine. Powerful, haunting themes of imprisonment, free will and wish fulfilment make for a fantastic, immersive read.
“Driven Out” by Steve Alguire is an excellent story set in a bible class. The children are slaves to an alien religion, waiting to find out about a friend who escaped, while their teacher prattles on oblivious. This is very short, but it works – I wanted more, but I didn't feel I'd been cheated.
“A Voice in the Night” by Jack McDevitt binds physics with archaeology. Our main character Alex is obsessed with a radio presenter who died many years before. When he discovers this presenter died alone in space, Alex wonders if there’s a final broadcast, and goes in search of the signal. This is a well-plotted, touching story about how we make our own journeys.
“Unwritten in Green” by Alex Dally MacFarlane is beautiful in places, but difficult to stick with. Set on another world, two caravans join together for self preservation, and try to discover why the sky has turned orange. This is an interesting world, shown through language, without reliance on exposition. But the viewpoint character is a bit boring, and the plot is too crowded. When I got to the end, it felt like it stopped arbitrarily, rather than finishing.
“The End of Callie V” by Jennifer Moore is yet another fun one, set in a disturbing world of designer children. Callie is one of them, and seems to like her life. But her parents cannot afford to keep her past adolescence, meaning she is due to be terminated. This is a sweet, well-written story, with an unexpected ending. This could have been longer though – as nice as Callie is, I felt I should’ve been more attached to her.
Lavie Tidhar's “The Myriad Dangers” is a hilarious, clever story about a boy discovering the world around him. Danny observes as various clichéd dangers descend on his life, beginning with an alien invasion. To say more would spoil it, so my lips are sealed.
“The Fall of Stile City” by William John Watkins is about societal hierarchy. The upper classes live at the top of the tower, and the lower classes live and work at the bottom. Our narrator and his friend find a smart but simple way to challenge this system. This is nothing startling, but it’s still done well, with good plot and consistent language.
Danika Dinsmore's “String Theory” is about assessing one's identity from a many worlds perspective. Using a stolen metal device, Alexandra Tate travels to different realities, temporarily replacing the corresponding versions of herself. There are a couple of bits of exposition sticking out near the beginning, and I also feel the story could've been longer, maybe five hundred words or so. But, it's still good, and the complex characterisation is breathtaking.
“Hollywood Forever” by Llinos Cathryn Thomas isn't as well written as the others, despite a compelling premise. Our narrator has snuck in to a Global Movie Awards ceremony, in a world where the famous – thanks to a youth treatment – can look like teenagers forever. But this raises an interesting question – what about the real teens waiting their turn? That's what this story explores so well. Where it falls down is believability, especially the dialogue. I feel this was a longer story at heart, needing more room to develop.
“The Cleansing” by Mark Smith-Briggs is proof you can have YA fiction with deeper themes. Our narrator is waiting for his grandfather to die – not from natural causes – but thanks to a worldwide lottery designed to reduce the population. We're shown how both death and population crises can creep up on us, echoed when the grandfather’s execution is moved forward for no apparent reason. A sharp and heart-wrenching story.
“Prospect of a World I Dream” by Alex Kane is one I almost liked. Several teenagers are in space on a mission to find a new planet, which turns out to be uninhabitable. The world and prose are strong in places but sloppy in others, and let down by troves of pointless cameo characters. I also felt dialogue bogged it down – there's so much telling and not enough showing. But it does improve as it progresses, and the ending is touching.
“Larvae” by Gregory Frost has some ace descriptions, but overall it didn't work for me. Our narrator wants to study insects, and is recording her adventures in a journal, continuing to pen as it all goes awry. Unfortunately, this kind of narrative and plot has been done to death. There’s also a heap of exposition; stuff our narrator already knows and wouldn't tell a journal. Some of the ideas are good, but the story might have been more believable with a form like emails or letters.
“Over It” by Camille Alexa is set in a technologically advanced future, where our main character Lolly is assaulted. But because this happened in a virtual reality, it's not recognised as legitimate by her peers, who keep telling her to get over it. This is a great idea, given it's tempting to dismiss any bullying or bad experience involving a computer as irrelevant. Sadly, a good idea isn't enough – as a story, this doesn’t really go anywhere.
In “Your Own Way Back” by Rich Larson we meet Elliot, a boy with his grandfather’s consciousness suspended – albeit it temporarily – in his head. This is a cute, nicely-written story with a strong surprise ending, but I didn't feel Elliot's character was explored enough. This is told from a close third person perspective, but this didn't serve the story – first person could've worked better.
The final story in the collection is “Me and My Army of Me” by Katrina Nicholson. Miles is sick of being bullied by his lab partner Ralph, and has devised a machine to get rid of him. It is written as a letter to his mother, by way of explanation in case it all goes horribly wrong, and interjected with funny stick drawings. Nicholson has kept the letter consistent, remaining true to the form whilst still being a well-plotted tale of creation and revenge. The editors were right to put this one last – wit and mischief make for a great finale.
Overall, this is a great anthology, offering some of the strongest YA fiction I’ve seen in years. There’s something for everyone here, and not just young adults, but the not-so-young adults too. In spite of this anthology’s issues, many of these stories offer something extra – that sought after one-punch sensibility; the kind which grips and stays with you long after closing the pages.
|< Prev||Next >|