01/05/2009. Contributed by Kelly Jensen
pub: Baen. 304 page hardback. Price: £14.03 (UK), $19.36 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4165-5523-0.
check out website: www.baen.com
Transhumanism is a movement that supports the use of science and technology to enhance ordinary humans physically and mentally. A popular theme in Science Fiction, the underlying theories are well documented and cited as one of the probable causes of the coming singularity! Exciting stuff and the editors at Baen obviously agree as they have put out a collection of eleven stories that explore many aspects of what it is to be Transhuman.
I really enjoyed this collection for several reasons: It is not too long. So many anthologies are endless tomes that no one can hope to finish before their interest wanes, with the exception of year's best collections where the subject matter varies wildly.
There are forewords by the editors. I love a spoiler (yes, I have been known to check the back of the book to see if so and so is still alive) or at least a little insight into the author and the story I'm about to read. It's the equivalent of being able to browse the teaser on the inside cover.
There are afterwords by the authors. Hooray! I can't tell you how many stories are actually improved by simple understanding of where the story came from and why it was written. You can argue that a good story speaks for itself and, indeed, it does. However, as previously mentioned, I love a little insight.
As for the stories themselves, they are all enjoyable to a degree, none need to be skipped, which is unusual in any anthology, making this a particularly good collection! I always try to pick my top three, by which I don't intend to slight the other entries, these are the stories I personally enjoyed the most.
The last story in the collection, 'Escape' by James P. Hogan goes a long way in explaining transhumanism and the coming singularity to the uninitiated. A prisoner on death row, Brom Naylor, is given one of the few options one could hope for: medical experimentation. He is asked to donate his brain to a grand experiment that would transport his consciousness to a manufactured body. This body, named Adonis, is superior to an unenhanced human in every way, physically and mentally. During the first phase of the experiment, which is wildly successful, Naylor outpaces the set parameters for his performance by pursuing a single-minded goal, escape. Through his plotting and planning you begin to realise his genius for such a caper and escape he does but not in the expected way.
Another of my favourites is 'G@avin45' by Daniel M. Hoyt. It's about the coming of the Singularity and depending upon which side of the fence you sit, either stunning or frightening in its predictions. While understanding the interface 'face' technology and terminology stumped me at first, the story quickly settled, the plot coming to the fore. Faces are the way most folks view the world.
Sophisticated VR equipment allowing the user to interact with the world through their own definition of rose-coloured glasses. Blanks are the people who have resisted this change, viewing the world they way they always have, warts and all. The Blanks challenge those with Faces to experience the world for a short time unenhanced. The goal of the movement is Blank Day, which becomes an experience with unpredictable results. This story could well be sub-titled 'Transhuman' as it stands well for everything this anthology is trying to accomplish.
Finally, my hands-down favourite story in the collection is 'The Guardian' by Paul Chafe. This is the kind of short story that is a novel, miniaturised. Mark Astler was a beat cop until he wasn't and the organ donated to science was his mind. Now he controls security cameras with the ability to process a billion images a day. His speciality, apprehending runners, fugitives at large, for many years. He's largely successful until one such fugitive runs directly to him and leaves a message. As his capabilities and responsibilities are enhanced and enlarged he begins to question his role and purpose, ultimately managing to transcend both in an eloquent description of transhumanism.
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