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Fast Forward 2 edited by Lou Anders

01/02/2009. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin

Buy Fast Forward 2 in the USA - or Buy Fast Forward 2 in the UK

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pub: Pyr/Prometheus Books. 356 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59102-692-1.

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'Fast Forward 1', Lou Anders' anthology of entirely new Science Fiction short stories, was a brave new voice in a field which had seen little in the way of non-reprint, non-themed anthologies of new material. Since then the Pyr collection has inspired other new anthologies including books by George Mann, Ellen Datlow and Jonathan Strahan.

Here we are at the second volume then, with editor Lou Anders showing us fourteen brand new stories from some of the best names in Science Fiction, old and new. His enthusiastic introduction to the anthology and each of the stories betray an excitement for both the genre and its future.

Comicbook and 'Doctor Who' writer Paul Cornell's opening story sets the scene for the anthology - these are tales not set to re-tread old tropes. The action-filled spy story set on Mars is a cracking way to start. Kay Kenyon's 'Cyto Couture' is up next. Depicting a slum boy taken in to work caring for genetically-engineered plants that grow fashionable clothes, it had a number of memorable moments despite an under-whelming ending.

Chris Nakashima-Brown's 'The Sun Also Explodes' has flashes of brilliance on every page but its plot is disjointed and unwelcoming. I can see that this writer has a lot of talent but this was my least favourite story in the book. Luckily, it is followed by a short short by master storyteller Nancy Kress, which is succinct and charming. Jack Skillingstead's 'Alone With An Inconvenient Companion' is also great, with a really unsettling ambiguity caused by its unreliable narrator, reminiscent of a good David Lynch film.

The sixth story dominates this collection. Cory Doctorow and Benjamin Rosembaum collaborate on a novella taking up 94 pages, nearly a third of the whole book. 'True Names' is a dazzlingly ambitious story on the very forefront of Science Fiction, detailing the simulated personalities competing in a super-computer built from an asteroid hurtling through space. As another vast simulated being attempts to take over the resources they live in, the virtual characters merge and compete over processing space, divide and meet other versions of themselves.

This story is tour de force of imagination and the authors retain a clear storytelling style despite the complicated web of characters they've created. It's a shame 'True Names' is the only long piece in such a small collection because all the other stories feel like satellites orbiting its dominating presence. It's a remarkable work that may end up in a few best of collections but its size and ambitiousness leaves the anthology feeling a little unbalanced.

Jack McDevitt's 'Molly's Kids' is a nice short comedown from 'True Names', a short sweet story on similar but less expansive lines. Paul McAuley's 'Adventure' is a little baffling and somewhat light on substance but it has a few nice lines in its brief tale. The second collaboration, between Mike Resnick and Pat Cadigan uses an unusual style but keeps a sense of narrative going in an odd detective story.

The best stories in 'Fast Forward 2' are definitely those bringing up the rear. Ian McDonald's novel work for Pyr has been some of the finest Science Fiction in recent years and here in 'An Eligible Boy' he returns once again to the future India of his novel 'River Of Gods'. The story of Jasbir, a young Indian man being taught by an AI how to be a suitable suitor in a country scarce of women is beautiful, intelligent and poignant.

Kristine Kathryne Rusch is another experienced writer and her tale of an elderly policeman retiring to the lower gravity of Earth's orbit is notable for its excellent characterisation. The lead character has to work as a police detective from his space retirement community to pay his room and board and if he fails in an ominous moon murder, he may be sent back to an Earth too punishing for his feeble body. Compact and satisfyingly well constructed.

The third of the collection's pieces by two writers working together is also my favourite of the volume. Tobias Buckell had a decent short story in the first 'Fast Forward' but here he teams up with Karl Schroeder to produce a storming near-future story of mercenaries, spies and double crosses in a rapidly heating world dominated by the attempts to stop climate change. 'Mitigation' is one of few stories out there showing how a world might be lived in during rather than after such a catastrophic event and its world-building and plot are top-notch.

Jeff Carlson's 'Long Eyes' and Paolo Bacigalupi's 'The Gambler' finish off this instalment of Lou Anders' new anthology series and they acquit themselves well. Bacigalupi's tale is particularly prescient, an electrifying look into future media where journalists compete for attention in a constantly changing super-charged version of the blogosphere where news stories are ranked by how many people watch and read them.

Again, Pyr have produced an excellent book and again Lou Anders has selected a very good collection with four or five stories that are truly great. Doctorow and Rosembaum's huge story is too good not to have been included but it does overshadow some of the other fantastic pieces towards the end of the book. Perhaps if stories this long are to be included the anthologies they should be a bit bigger to balance things out a bit better. Don't let that minor criticism turn you away from what is hopefully going to be an annual delight.

Tomas L. Martin

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