The story is told in a series of taught vignettes, which, like the settings, are stripped down to their essentials.
Many of these scenes, like the opening of the story, feature two characters sitting at a table: Across from him, the semblance of a man: veins prominent on the surface of the skin, eyes locked on his own in this room peeled back to functionality, to the process at hand. The final story in the collection, Toby Litt’s ‘A Brief History of Transience’, is not about technology at all.
Good modern science fiction differs from earlier examples of the genre in one key way – whether they are dystopian or utopian, modern stories in this genre embrace complexity and uncertainty.
They reflect a more complicated world and our lack of faith in our own nature. Orr, one of her characters has perfected the ability to enhance any aspect of the human brain.
The threat that lurks in many of these stories is not that of technology breaking free of our control, but what we will choose to do with it, and can we trust ourselves. He bemoans his students who, when asked what they would chose for their own ‘designer’ brains, ‘opt for logic, speed, efficiency.
They would want better memory […] not a single one chose empathy, compassion, wisdom, creativity, joy, humour’. Ray comments that Orr’s story is set in a world where ‘we lose our humanity through individual choice, not through government coercion’.It is this dilemma that is at the heart of many of the stories in the volume.Not the oppression of a controlling external evil, but the choices of individuals. It is a collection of work by thirty-eight scientists and authors working in pairs to imagine what life will be like in 2070.The book’s subtitle, ‘Stories From An A-Life Future’, refers to ‘artificial life’ – what happens when technology becomes indistinguishable from the ‘natural’ world.It was what happened instead of life, which was elsewhere or late or unfairly denied them. The strength of writing is evident throughout the collection.Orr’s ‘Fully Human’ explores the effect of ‘designer brains’ on the human character.Some offer a commentary on the story’s content and its philosophy, some a discussion on the technology involved in the story, but all give the reader a lucid discussion on social and personal ramifications of those technologies.They remind us that the authors of these essays, as much as the fiction writers are communicators of ideas.Readers of Sean O’Brien’s work, for example, will be more familiar with his darkly haunting poems and short stories.O’Brien’s ‘Certain measures’, set in a now-ish near future, is about knowledge and what we choose to do with it.