Fantastic Reviews - Anthology Book Review
Fast Forward 1 cover art Fast Forward 1 edited by Lou Anders

Pyr trade paperback - 407 pages
Copyright 2007
Cover art by John Picacio

Book reviewed October 2007

Rating: 7/10  (Recommended)

Review by Aaron Hughes

          Short fiction has always been the lifeblood of the science fiction genre, so the dwindling of the print SF magazine market (see this post at Boing Boing) is a serious concern for the future of the field.  One glimmer of hope is the recent resurgence of the original anthology, and so it is very encouraging to come across Fast Forward 1, edited by Lou Anders, an original anthology of 19 strong stories (and two poems) from many of the leading names in SF, the first volume of what will hopefully be a long-running series.

There is precedent for original anthologies filling the void when print magazines suffer a period of decline.  When multiple digests folded in the late 1960's and early 70's, anthologies such as Orbit, Universe, New Dimensions, and Dangerous Visions picked up the slack.  (Notably, stories from original anthologies received over 40 Hugo nominations in the 1970's, after print magazines had accounted for all but one of the short fiction nominations before 1968.)

2007 is shaping up as perhaps the best year for original anthologies since the days of Orbit and Dangerous Visions.  Most of the new original anthologies are theme anthologies, including The New Space Opera and Wizards, both edited by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann;  Farah Mendlesohn's political protest anthology Glorifying Terrorism (to which I was a contributor);  John Klima's Logorrhea;  and Interfictions, edited by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss.

Fast Forward 1, aptly subtitled Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge, may prove more important than any of these, because it is the first in a planned series of unthemed original anthologies - something that has not been done effectively since Patrick Nielsen Hayden's Starlight series from 1996 to 2001.  It is nice to see Pyr, a relatively new SF publisher, using the original anthology format to showcase its brand of literary yet entertaining SF.

(A second unthemed anthology, The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction edited by George Mann, was recently published by another new imprint, Solaris.  The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction is also worth checking out, although to my tastes not quite as strong as Fast Forward 1.  I particularly enjoyed the story "A Distillation of Grace" by Adam Roberts, but then I love everything by Adam Roberts.)

For my money, the single best story in Fast Forward 1 is "Sideways from Now" by John Meaney, a British author who is fast becoming one of my favorites.  "Sideways from Now" combines familiar SF tropes such as telepathy and alternate universes, but weaves them together in very original ways, blending two disparate styles.  There is a hard SF tale about Ryan O'Connell, the developer of quantum technology that enabled Ryan and his wife to be the world's first telepathically connected couple, until Yukiko's death from cancer.  A year later, Ryan is just beginning to cope with his loss, when he experiences ever stronger visions of a bizarre world.  This world is described in a New Weird style, through the eyes of several of the inhabitants of the Clanking City, a huge metropolis on wheels that must endlessly roll along to keep up with the motile bubble of atmosphere that its citizens breathe.  As he watches the Clanking City trundle into grave danger, Ryan begins to believe that this is no hallucination, that the quantum technology he pioneered has inadvertently given him a window into a universe he never knew was there.  This is a wonderful metaphor for how anyone stricken with grief must learn to reconnect with the surrounding world.  At 69 pages, "Sideways from Now" is the longest story in the book, but so richly layered that it is difficult to believe Meaney was able to contain the tale in as few pages.  I will certainly be nominating this story for a Hugo Award, for it is inconceivable that there could be five better novellas published this year.

There are several other standout stories in Fast Forward 1"Solomon's Choice" by Mike Resnick & Nancy Kress concerns a primitive race whose women retain the memories of their ancestors.  One woman is brave enough to seek help from a human researcher to save her daughter from horrible memories caused by the researcher's predecessor.  In Robert Charles Wilson's "YFL-500", a strange form of future abstract art gives fascinating insight into the artistic process.  "No More Stories" by Stephen Baxter is the most satisfying take I have ever read on the old notion that perhaps we are all living in someone else's dream.  Elizabeth Bear uses dreams in an entirely different way in "The Something-Dreaming Game", in which autoerotic asphyxiation is the key to contact with an alien race.  The award for the funniest story goes to Paul Di Filippo for "Wikiworld", set in a bizarre yet strangely familiar future, in which the whims of on-line communities can suddenly alter anything from local politics to international affairs.

The level of quality is very high throughout Fast Forward 1.  The only story I disliked was George Zebrowski's "Settlements", a slipshod attempt at political statement that reads like something from an undergraduate excited by his first exposure to Marx.  (Then again, I also strongly disliked Zebrowski's Brute Orbits (my review of Brute Orbits) , which won the Campbell Memorial Award, so take my comments with a grain of salt.)

Aside from the strengths of the individual stories, Fast Forward 1 is remarkable for its broad range of ideas and styles.  In addition to the stories already mentioned, Fast Forward 1 includes serious social SF (Paolo Bacigalupi, "Small Offerings", set in a different, albeit equally dismal, future than "The Calorie Man" and "Yellow Card Man"), pointed satire (Ken MacLeod, "Jesus Christ, Reanimator"), silly political satire (Pamela Sargent, "A Smaller Government"), nerds in space (Kage Baker, "Plotters and Shooters"), hard SF in space (Larry Niven & Brenda Cooper, "The Terror Bard"), hard SF in India (Ian McDonald, "Sanjeev and Robotwallah"), post-singularity SF (Justina Robson, "The Girl Hero's Mirror Says He's Not the One"), Jack Vance-style far future SF (Gene Wolfe, "The Hour of the Sheep"), near future absurdist SF (Mary A. Turzillo's "Pride" and Tony Ballantyne's "Aristotle OS"), time travel (Louise Marley, "p dolce"), military SF (A.M. Dellamonica, "Time of the Snake"), even a pair of poems on SF themes by musician Robyn Hitchcock.

          The emphasis is on science fiction rather than fantasy, but this book demonstrates what a variety of authors and stories science fiction can encompass.  By its wide array of different approaches to the future, Fast Forward 1 gives us an encouraging glimpse into the future of science fiction.
What do you think? Comments are welcome!
Please send them to:
vanaaron@excite.com
Copyright 2007 Aaron Hughes

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Links to other reviews, articles, and websites:
The SF Site Featured Review: Fast Forward 1
Fast Forward 1 edited by Lou Anders - Official sffworld.com review
SF Signal: REVIEW: Fast Forward 1 edited by Lou Anders
Green Man Review: Lou Anders (editor), Fast Forward 1
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