Posted by : atcampbell | On : March 19, 2002

Futures edited by Peter Crowther

Eleven people attended the discussion of Futures. The book is an anthology of four hard SF novellas written by prominent British authors. The Reading Group had discussed books by all but one of these writers previously. Since we talked about each story separately, this story will group our comments accordingly. Seven of us had read the book.

“Watching Trees Grow” by Peter F. Hamilton is a murder mystery set on an alternate Earth that has a race of extremely long-lived humans. A crime investigation occupies more than two centuries and takes a detective all over the world and eventually on a tour of the solar system to find the murderer. We thought that Hamilton did an elegant job of dropping us in the middle of the situation, getting us interested, and then explaining details as needed. The society in this story exhibits several well thought out consequences of longer lifespans, including faster technological progress and different roles for women. The mixture of hard SF, alternate history, and mystery worked well. This was the favorite story for four of us.

“Reality Dust’ by Stephen Baxter is a futuristic story featuring space travel, first contact with aliens, and downloading of human consciousness. We thought this story lacked new ideas and just reworked concepts that Arthur C. Clarke and Greg Egan handled better. The writing was awkward, with too much exposition and a couple of switching viewpoints that did not tie together well. It was easily everyone’s least favorite story.

“Making History” by Paul J. McAuley follows a historian trying to figure out what really went on during a failed political revolution. We liked the “historical SF” approach, and thought the story featured some neat twists. We generally thought it was a well-written and enjoyable story, although it was no one’s personal favorite.

“Tendeleo’s Story” by Ian McDonald is set in an Africa slowly being overrun by a fast-growing alien plant called Chaga. The story ties in to some of McDonald’s earlier work, especially the novel Evolution’s Shore. We liked the fresh voice of the young woman who narrates this story, and we enjoyed reading about the changes in her life from child to adult as the Chaga draws closer to her home. This was simply a well-told disaster story with interesting characters, and it was the favorite of three in our group.

Overall we found the stories in Futures were interesting and of high quality, and we liked the novelty of reading stories rather than a novel. After the meeting we had a nice dinner at Brick Oven Pizza.

— A. T. Campbell, III