Special Double Review
(Reviews by Charles Payseur & Colleen Chen)
(Underwords Press, August 2014)
Edited by Erin Underwood & Nancy Holder
Reviewed by Charles Payseur
Reprinting a veritable cornucopia of young adult science fiction, Futuredaze 2 offers up something for everyone, from the deep-space science fiction of "The Other Elder" by Beth Revis to the post apocalyptic survival of Connie Willis' "A Letter from the Clearys" to the weird science fiction of "The Fluted Girl" by Paolo Bacigalupi. For all the differences in setting and character, though, the collection does an excellent job of showcasing the true strength of science fiction: its diversity.
Difference and diversity are themes brought up again and again in the collection, perhaps most effectively in N. K. Jemisin's "Valedictorian," a far-future science fiction where the world has been largely conquered by beings evolved from artificial intelligences. Humanity survives in small areas, but pays a tithe by giving up a number of its children, including the very best and brightest from each year. And when Zinhle, the top student in her class, finds out why the enemy beyond the firewall demands its sacrifice, she has to decide which side is most monstrous, and which most human.
The collection shows the great variety that science fiction can offer, and though it tends to follow the young adult trend of focusing more heavily on post apocalyptic and dystopian stories set on Earth, at least it picks some very good ones, and greatly varies the settings and perspectives. "Secret Identity," for example, by Will Shetterly, introduces a young superhero struggling both with his obligation to those he must protect and his obligation to be true to himself and open about his sexuality. Meanwhile, Ken Liu's "The Veiled Shanghai" retells the story of Dorothy and Oz in an alternate, magically alive China. The differences in the stories play off the themes within them, that each voice, no matter how different it may seem, is worth listening to, is worth being heard.
Of course, the stories are also incredibly fun, telling tales that are compelling, emotionally resonant, and charming, all the while blazing new paths through the young adult landscape. This is especially true for stories like "The Last Ride of the Glory Girls" by Libba Bray, an off-world, steam-western science fiction tale. Beyond the novelty of the concept, though, is a gritty story of a woman looking for a better world and not settling for anything less, even if she has to pierce the fabric of time to find it. Infectiously fun, the story combines action and humor with a subtle weight that I almost didn't notice until it came crashing down around me.
The entire collection is paced well, organized so that it starts light with Neil Gaiman's "How to Talk to Girls at Parties," a story about two friends happening upon a different kind of foreign exchange party. And while I thought the first half of the collection was a bit packed with darker, more serious stories, the second half had me smiling again. And ending with "I Never" by Cassandra Clare brought the whole package back to where it began, with two friends at a very strange party.
And in the end I believe that the collection succeeds at showcasing the strengths of young adult science fiction by revealing the incredible diversity of voices present in the genre. Regardless of what flavor science fiction you have a hunger for, Futuredaze 2 satisfies, and might just offer up a few tastes and stories you never knew you were craving.
Charles Payseur lives with his partner and their growing herd of cats in the icy reaches of Wisconsin, where companionship, books, and craft beer get him through the long winters. His fiction has appeared at Perihelion Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, Dragon's Roost Press, and is forthcoming from Wily Writers Audible Fiction.
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(Underwords Press, August 2014)
Edited by Erin Underwood & Nancy Holder
“How to Talk to Girls at Parties” by Neil Gaiman
Reviewed by Colleen Chen
Anthologies are generally a mix of a couple good stories, a couple bad, and a mass of overwhelmingly mediocre stories. Because of this, I read Futuredaze 2 with high hopes but—despite a number of high-profile authors—low expectations. I was happily surprised by a set of good stories—some stellar—made better by being together. Altogether, the collection makes for an enjoyable, fairly light, and sometimes thought-provoking few hours of reading.
There's a nice variety of science fiction worlds presented in this anthology. They range from steampunk (“The Last Ride of the Glory Girls”), to superheroes in high school (“Secret Identity”), to a giant ship heading on a generations-long journey to a new planet (“The Other Elder”), to an alternate Wizard of Oz that fictionalizes the May 4th movement in Shanghai, China (“The Veiled Shanghai”), and beyond.
I would categorize four of the stories as taking place in dystopian settings. We have an impending apocalypse in “Deep Blood Kettle,” with a meteor headed toward Earth, a setting of some time after a nuclear bomb has exploded (“A Letter from the Clearys”), a high school in a time of post-alien-invasion (“Valedictorian”), and an ultra-controlled “safe haven” outside of which humans have destroyed most of the world (“Good Girl”). These stories focus on the acceptance of whatever environment one grows up in as “normal,” and the protagonists' coming of age introduces a growing awareness that with adulthood comes consciousness of how things could have been or should be.
In terms of the young adult themes, a number of the stories explore sexuality and its connection with identity—both “Good Girl” and “Secret Identity” have coming out as a major element. There's a fair splash of teen romance here as well; Neil Gaiman's “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” features a clueless narrator so focused on his inability to converse well with girls that he doesn't hear anything they're really saying. “Stupid Perfect World” and “I Never” read like conventional teen romance, albeit particularly quirky and interesting ones.
Many of the stories are about the blossoming of wisdom, the waking of a higher self that knows better than a teenager's normal awareness what she should do with her life. “Going Deep” and “Sweet Sixteen” are good examples of this gaining of wisdom that transcends the selfish needs of a child for attention and comfort. “Wilding” explores a teenager's first taste of her own mortality. “The Other Elder” shows us the coming of age of a leader-to-be.
Three of the stories in the collection stood out to me:
“The Fluted Girl,” by Paolo Bacigalupi, is a future fantasy in which the teenaged protagonist, Lidia, has been surgically altered so she doesn't age beyond adolescence. She is the fluted girl, and despite hints of horrible surgeries that have shaped her into something very different, something that has enough value for people to buy stock in her and own a part of her, we don't realize what it means to be “fluted” until close to the end. Throughout the story, Lidia glimpses how a different way of life was once possible and might be again. She realizes she has choice. This highly original and haunting story, and my following favorite, are both about finding a way to be authentic in a restrictive context.
“The Last Ride of the Glory Girls,” by Libba Bray, is the sole steampunk story in this collection and is a fantastic representative of the genre. It has my favorite heroine in the collection. There's a bit of romance and a bit of humor and quite a lot of depth and overall is just such a sweet, unique, well-constructed story. Adelaide is a girl growing up on a world that's like a distorted wild west. She is cornered into joining the Pinkertons, a group of law enforcement agents, and is given the task of infiltrating the Glory Girls, a group of outlaw girls who rob trains with a device that stops time. She finds a sense of belonging with the Glory Girls and discovers that by being herself and by embracing her freedom, prisons can be escaped in ways that transcend time and space.
“Stupid Perfect World” by Scott Westerfeld is the funniest story of the collection and had me laughing out loud. It takes place in a school of the future in which the protagonists, Kieran and Maria, are doing an assignment for their scarcity class. For two weeks they are to adopt some old lack that people used to suffer, to teach them what things were really like in the “old days.” Some kids get diseases, others give up modern conveniences like teleportation. Kieran chooses to sleep like people used to (people no longer need to sleep at all), and Maria has her hormone balancers switched off, so she starts behaving like a true adolescent girl. Kieran is having trouble figuring out how to sleep until Maria starts calling him and reading him her poetry at night. The story is light and not realistic, but I loved it for being creative, hilarious, romantic, and thoroughly enjoyable.
These three stories were standouts in that they appealed not only to my inner teenager, but to my outside adult too—despite the protagonists' ages, I didn't have to suspend my adult cynicism or try to think like a teenager to assess whether I'd enjoy it if I were in that age group. So I would highlight them for their intergenerational appeal.
I didn't find any stories that completely didn't work for me, but I did encounter some that I could see I would have loved as a young adult, but at my current age I found overly simplistic, tired in theme, or simply annoying—possibly in the same way as I find teenagers annoying. All of these qualities, however, might make these stories more accessible to an age group that, as a whole, craves less subtlety and more drama. Overall, an excellent collection of well-written and well-arranged science fiction pieces solidly aimed at a young adult audience.
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