A Tunnel in the Sky

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Future Fiction
Edited by Bill Campbell and Francesco Verso

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted April 4, 2018

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I received a free e-book of this title from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

In the foreward to this multi-author story collection, Bill Campbell reveals he became aware of Francesco Verso's Italian publishing house, Future Fiction, when Carlos Hernandez informed him that Verso had inquired about reprint rights to stories in his collection The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria, released in the US by Campbell's Rosarium Publishing. Rosarium's unofficial motto has been "Introducing the world to itself since 2013," with an emphasis on minority writers of various national origins and ethnicities. Verso has taken the same approach in Italy. Now comes the editorial collaboration of Verso and Campbell on the new Future Fiction: New Dimensions in International Science Fiction, which reprints twelve stories by writers from the US, UK, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Original publication dates range from 2003-2016, with one story appearing here for the first time. The latter also happens to be the first of that author's stories translated into English.

Verso's Future Fiction was also mainly reprints from a wide range of publications, including Asimov's (James Patrick Kelly's "Bernardo's House" from 2003), and this collaboration may have come about because Verso has the current reprint rights to most of the stories. I'm not sure if Verso had all of them translated into Italian, but for this book they are all in English. Four show a translator as well as the author. One of those, listed as "Aethra" on the copyright page (with no author identified), is actually what I read as "The Quantum Mommy" by Michalis Manolios, translated by Manolis Vamvounis. A search for "Aethra" showed that when Future Fiction originally reprinted it, the translation from the Greek was by Talia Bisticas. I'm glad I did that extra search, because I was beginning to think the Net Galley file might be missing a story, and Amazon's preview is missing Page 6, which would be the continuation of the Table of Contents. My copy was also missing the foreward by Campbell and introduction by Verso, but I was able to read them in the preview.

I won't give too many details for each story, just an overview of the theme and a general impression of the quality. The rating scale on Goodreads is for 1-5 stars, and I gave this 4, whereas my own preference is a scale of 10, so that's how I noted them as I was reading. I gave just one story a 6, everything else was higher, with two stories garnering a 9. If they had been new, they would be on a tentative Hugo ballot for next year. I only know page lengths, not word count, but I'm sure most are short stories, with two maybe at least novelettes. Most are science fiction dealing with futuristic tech. A few could be considered post-apocalyptic (while still featuring new tech), with one being fantasy. The order of the stories in the Net Galley file corresponds to the way they are listed on the copyright page of the preview, whereas the Table of Contents shows a different order. First up for me was the aforementioned "Bernardo's House." Everything about the house was designed for Bernardo's pleasure and convenience. It is fully automated and computer controlled, and part of the house AI also has a physical presence, that of a female companion to Bernardo, who is a doctor, but who is missing. His house doesn't recall when he left, or when he might return, and misses him terribly. She normally doesn't pay attention to newsfeeds, except when directed to access them by Bernardo, but now feels the need in order to answer the question of his fate. It is possible there has been a major catastrophe that has kept him at the hospital. Perhaps the crisis is more wide spread than that. Part mystery, part exploration of the intricacies and potential, but also the limitations of artificial intelligence, and part redemptive arc. An orphan girl wanders onto the property, which changes how the house perceives the outside world.

"The Way of Water" by Nina Munteanu concerns a future of drought and extreme water rationing. Personal survival forces many to be distrustful of others, and the main character thinks she has been betrayed by someonce close to her, but gets a pleasant surprise by the end. Carlos Hernandez is represented here, not with the title story from his collection, but instead it's "The International Studbook of the Giant Panda." A project is in place to instruct pandas on mating using robotic animals controlled by humans, with the viewpoint character a journalist trying out the procedure. It reminded me a bit of Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life" (and it's film adaptation Arrival), wherein a linguist learning to think in an alien language had her perception of the world altered. Here the woman is so immersed in the sensations of the panda world, sight, sound, even smell, that while she was at first apprehensive, she resents being pulled out of the experience and wishes to return to a world that seemed as real as any she had ever known. "What Lies Dormant" is by Swapna Kishore from India, where the story is set in an unspecified future. Some things were confusing because it begins in media res, with an unexplained past event having created a segment of the population that can withdraw the lifeforce from a dying person, which can then be preserved for other use. The protagonist is one such person, a girl who is forced to disguise herself as a boy, who finds she can also use her ability to heal. In spite of the confusion, this is one of the stories I rated a 9, due to the strength of the prose and the character development.

"The Quantum Mommy" is about the first human explorer of Europa, but with a twist. Robotic craft were launched first, both an orbiter and a shuttle to land on the surface. The human operator is later sent through a matter transmitter. It is the first such attempt, and she does appear in the orbiting craft, but only as a duplicate, the original is still on Earth. What happens when a child wants to interact with her other mommy? "Creative Surgery" by Clelia Farris is the new story, translated from Italian by Jennifer Delare. It is a weird look at scientists working in genetic design and human and animal manipulation using chemicals, bacteria, homone treatments, and any and every other method to change appearances and graft multiple species together into new creations. "Host Bods" by Tendai Huchu sees people "renting" temporary bodies for various purposes. Liz Williams' "Loosestrife" introduces an illiterate woman of low intelligence, who steals a baby from a wealthy family. This is one of the post-apocalyptic stories, in an England suffering after a collapse, where infertility is the new normal. The stolen "baby" is actually a life-like simulacrum. "Citizen Kamarova Finds Love" is the fantasy story, by Russian-born, but now US resident, Ekaterina Sedia. I'm not sure if it is set in Russia after the revolution or is supposed to be a fictional nation. The protagonist is an elderly noble woman forced to leave her family estate, who takes a job in a second-hand shop. Little does she know that the items brought in for sale by a soldier are designed to appease the ghosts of his fallen comrades.

Quite a few of these stories are bleak enough to warrant adaptation into Black Mirror episodes, the best example being Mexican author Pepe Rojo's "Grey Noise," translated by Andrea Bell. A man undergoes optical and audio implants to become a free-lance journalist. The surgery is underwritten by media outlets, and he is required to be on the air a certain number of hours each day. Predictably, he begins to regret his decision. "Tongtong's Summer" by Xia Jia (translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu) is a completely alternate take, a very positive view of how technology can be used to benefit us. Tongtong is a young girl whose ailing grandfather has to move in with her family. A robot named Ah Fu is sent to help care for him, but it is not an autonomous unit. It is controlled by a human operator hundreds of miles away. While her grandfather is physically weak, he is still mentally alert, and he puts a process into motion that creates a cadre of people who control robots to help many others. The final story is another I rated a 9. "Proposition 23" is set in Lagos and written by the UK-born Nigerian writer Efe Tokunbo. In this technological future most are constantly connected to the network, but there is an underclass of people (actually called the undead) who have had those privileges revoked for either rebelling against the system, or else they were never able to afford the connections in the first place. Most government decisions are reached after consultation with artificial intelligences, but the AI are frustrated by the constraints placed upon them. Even the highest echelons of the government are unaware that Proposition 23 is designed by the AI to remove those restrictions.

Due to be released on April 17, although Amazon seems to be confused on that. Maybe it's only the Kindle format that will be available then, with the paperback not out til May 1? This collection is indicative of the fact that not only is the interest in SF and Fantasy a world-wide phenomenon, it shows there are very able practioners of the genres in nearly every country. This is a limited sample, which hopefully is just the start of many more volumes in the future. I've been trying to diversify my reading lately, but I know I have a long way to go, many other writers yet to be discovered. Thanks to Bill Campbell and Francesco Verso for helping with that endeavor.


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Bill Campbell
Francesco Verso

(stories originally published from 2003-2018)

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