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TERRAFORM by Brian  Merchant Kirkus Star


edited by Brian Merchant & Claire L. Evans

Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-3746-0266-6
Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Dispatches from the hyperconnected, hypersurveilled future.

The editors of this SF anthology bill it as a “full, visceral, and vital portrait of a world in rapid evolution,” and in many ways the collection delivers on that promise. Like all the best science fiction, these stories look at our present through the lens of some possible futures. Key themes emerge, including surveillance capitalism, artificial intelligence, and climate change. The world we see here is hyperconnected and yet uber-alienating, full of potential for ever shinier tech but lacking much opportunity for genuine, joyful humanity to thrive. There are some brilliant, haunting stories—a gonzo sendup of corporate culture ("Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company" by Kevin Nguyen), a minithriller about a smart-home assistant with a mind of its own ("Warning Signs" by Emily J. Smith), a time-travel tale about the gentrification of the past ("Trojan Horses" by Jess Zimmerman), a too-close-to-home parable about aliens who arrive on Earth as refugees ("The Wretched and the Beautiful" by E. Lily Yu). There’s also some invigorating experimentation with form, including fiction in the form of operating instructions ("Hysteria" by Meg Elison), school paperwork ("Exemption Packet" by Rose Eveleth), text messages ("U Wont Remember Dying" by Russell Nichols), and a simple list ("An Incomplete Timeline of What We Tried" by Debbie Urbanski). The dystopian realities of social media and late-stage capitalism are everywhere, with a ghost becoming a backdrop for selfies ("Ernest" by Geoff Manaugh), soldiers livestreaming from the front lines ("Headshot" by Julian Mortimer Smith), thousands of people lining up to toil meaninglessly in "entropy mills" ("Busy" by Omar El Akkad), and financial advisers pitching the zombie apocalypse as an investing opportunity ("Zombie Capitalism" by Tobias Buckell). Overall, this collection presents a sort of paranoid/defiant vision of the future in which everything and everyone is for sale but almost everything of value has been lost. Don’t look here for (much) hope, but do read these short, biting, vibrant stories for their wit, inventiveness, and verve.

These dark, witty, and occasionally mournful stories will thoroughly satisfy readers looking for creative new dystopias.