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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’.Like a number of stories in the collection, O’Brien’s story touches on the dividing nature of technology when, as seems inevitable, there will be ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.
This link between the fictional elements of the anthology and real developments in technology and science gives a weight to the stories that some contemporary science fiction lacks.
There are parallels to draw here with authors such as Arthur C. Dick, and their interest in what technology would do to the human soul.
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.
In his essay ‘Dream Sequence’, Martyn Amos points out that when the technology in a story has become ubiquitous ‘the story then becomes less about the ‘tech’ per se and more about connecting characters and exploring impossibilities’.
However alien the surroundings, it is the human elements that make these stories really compelling, and the stories that engage us tend to be about the same loves and fears whenever they are written and whenever they are set.Martyn Bedford uses this to humorous effect in ‘The Sayer of the Sooth’, a story about lie-detecting technology and its power to induce paranoia: My great-grandfather is handed an amazing piece of technology and the chance to play soothsayer – to imagine any kind of future he cares to and write about whatever he likes – and he comes up with a story about a feller whose wife is cheating on him…are prospecting – sampling possible futures to see which rings true – testing what it is that drives us on.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.The stories in are all told on a human scale, exploring the tension between the individual and their surroundings.These ‘small’ events draw the reader into the wider landscape of the future.Clarke, who concerned themselves with the ‘bigger picture’ of where technology would take us, but I think the stories in , with their focus on the struggles of individual characters, all convincingly and engagingly rendered, have more in common with writers like J. The overarching concerns that sneak into any vision of future technology are the same now as they were in early science fiction: will it help us or hurt us?But the nature of technology and our uses for it have changed and the threats that form the backdrop to the human dramas in are more insidious than those of the traditional canons of science fiction.