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Brave New Worlds

From Huxley’s Brave New World, to Orwell’s 1984, to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, dystopian books have always been an integral part of both science fiction and literature, and have influenced the broader culture discussion in unique and permanent ways. Brave New Worlds brings together the best dystopian fiction of the last 30 years, demonstrating the diversity that flouris


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    Jan 17, 2011

    rated it
    it was amazing


    If I rate the anthology as a whole using my usual “as the average of the contributions” system, then Brave New Worlds gets a composite rating of 4.0303. But I loved what Adams did here, and it may have de-throned Wastelands to become my new favorite anthology.

    Individual stories rated as follows:

    “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson – one of the classic dystopian fiction stories; and the narrative’s success is due (in large part) to how prosaic and unassuming it is–not “pastoral”, but written like so

    Individual stories rated as follows:

    “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson – one of the classic dystopian fiction stories; and the narrative’s success is due (in large part) to how prosaic and unassuming it is–not “pastoral”, but written like someone from a pastoral setting. And if you got hit with it (for the first time) at a young age like I did, I’m sure you can agree that it’s a phenomenon. ★★★★★

    “Red Card”, S.L. Gilbow – Adams (the editor) took special care in ordering these stories, and he definitely wants you to read this one immediately after reading “The Lottery”. Gilbow gives us a sort of inverse of Shirley Jackson’s classic; and though his prose isn’t as gifted, it’s a little bit chilling to consider, especially if you read it back-to-back with Jackson’s. ★★★☆☆ by itself but ★★★★☆ as an accompaniment to “The Lottery”.

    “Ten With A Flag”, Joseph Paul Haines – Holy shit. You think to yourself: “I hate it when an author uses ‘Johnnie’ for an adult characters name”; and you think: “Maybe that ending is just a little bit telegraphed”; but you think: “Damn but that is the ultimate question.” ★★★★☆ on style but ★★★★★ on substance.

    “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, Ursula K. Le Guin – A little pretentious, a little style-heavy; but also brilliant in a way that doesn’t take a lot of churning to get. ★★★★★

    “Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment” by M. Rickert – Reading it, one almost immediately concludes: “It’s like Handmaid’s Tale light!” Right down to the oblique nod with the “classmate” character’s name (Jenna Offeren? Offred?). But the message is mostly clear (if a bit muddled by the clumsy adolescent voice) and the story fits right into the collection. Plus Rickert is (generally speaking) a gifted writer. ★★★☆☆ by itself but ★★★★☆ in the anthology’s collection.

    “The Funeral” by Kate Wilhelm – Another one that stands in good company with The Handmaid’s Tale; an all-around amazing short. ★★★★★

    “O Happy Day!” by Geoff Ryman – A little bit of everything, thematically. And written in a marvelously stark style; pitch perfect. Also: almost certainly inspired by the phrase “feminazi” (and taking it to its logical extreme, what with the trains and the mass murders). ★★★★★

    “Pervert” by Charles Coleman Finlay – I feel like I keep handing out 5-star ratings to these individual stories but… well, these deserve it. This one was another pitch perfect slant on a dystopia rooted in sexuality; it was well-placed after “O Happy Day!” and seemed almost like its kinder/gentler-yet-somehow-more-sinister cousin. ★★★★★

    “From Homogenous to Honey” by Neil Gaiman and Bryan Talbot – A comic strip style take on the homogenous de-queered dystopia. A little blunt, and lacking some of the artistry I’d otherwise expect. ★★☆☆☆

    “Billennium” by J.G. Ballard – Felt like a typical Ballard backdrop to me; the paranoia, the claustrophobia, the outside closing in… An abrupt break from the themes of the past three stories and onward into a metropletic apoplexy. Again: typical Ballard. ★★★★☆

    “Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn – First caught this one online in Lightspeed magazine; loved it then; loved it more on the second reading. The re-jiggered senses of family and community; there is a lush and twisted tapestry in this tale. ★★★★★

    “Pop Squad” by Paolo Bacigalupi – He has come a long way since “The People of Sand and Slag”; a long way indeed. If
    The Windup Girl
    was great, then this was stellar. The whole premise of outlawing children in the face of a population swollen through longevity drugs? Chilling. I would love to see this expanded to novel length. ★★★★★

    “Auspicious Eggs” by James Morrow – I’ll admit a certain special soft spot for folks that take on the fundamentalist agenda; and Morrow’s vision is chilling and well-placed within the anthology (as it’s a pretty potent foil to “Pop Squad”). His combination of the “Doctrine of Affirmative Fertility” along with that global warming/rising sea levels stuff? Frightening. That bit at the very end threw me tough. ★★★½☆

    “Peter Skilling” by Alex Irvine — The lead-in note suggests that this one (like the preceding story) takes certain fundamentalist views to their logical conclusion in a political context; so I was waiting for that and… it didn’t really come. Irvine’s take on the re-awakened man is an interesting one (albeit: why resurrect a man just to prosecute and execute him?); but I didn’t really get terribly strong overtones of religiosity; but totalitarianism? Yes. ★★★☆☆

    “The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury — Not a phenomenal bit of prose, but definitely tight. And perfectly placed in the collection for maximum punch. (And I’ve got a soft spot for this particular theme.) ★★★☆☆

    “The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away” by Cory Doctorow — A little bit Neal Stephenson’s
    , a little bit William Gibson’s
    . And though it’s a bit long (as Doctorow short stories seem to be), it lacks some of the tedium that would make me otherwise reluctant to read it. Another story oh-so-perfectly nestled into this collect. ★★★★☆

    “The Pearl Diver” by Caitlín R. Kiernan — A perfect complement to Doctorow’s take on the same kind of hyper-surveillance from the preceding story. But this one… What style. ★★★★★

    “Dead Space for the Unexpected” by Geoff Ryman — Says so right in the editorial intro: it’s like Office Space, but a thousand times more sinister. That final paragraph seems like it could have been cut though. ★★★½☆

    “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” by Harlan Ellison® — Yet again: such a fitting complement to the preceding story. Takes the same focus on time and scheduling and punctuality but gives it a more fanciful, stylistic spin. (And even though this is probably to the best Ellison I’ve ever read, there’s something about Ellison that rubs me the wrong way.) ★★★☆☆

    “Is This Your Day to Join the Revolution?” by Genevieve Valentine — Resonates pretty close to Finlay’s “Pervert” (vide supra). But seemed less cutting; rather than be specifically about sexual politics, it’s about suppression in a more general sense. (Also: not another “Johnny”!) ★★★☆☆

    “Independence Day” by Sarah Langan — This is the story “Is This Your Day to Join the Revolution?” could have been. This one gets gritty and personal — what with the race and identity politics, and the suppression/oppression experiments, and the government mandates, etc. And man-oh-man is there something ever so sympathetic and identifiable about Trina. ★★★★☆

    “The Lunatics” by Kim Stanley Robinson — An interesting break from its (mostly? entirely?) Earth-bound kin in this anthology. Parts of it drag a little but it’s otherwise solid, and suitably bleak. ★★★★☆

    “Sacrament” by Matt Williamson — A bit heavy-handed? A bit told-not-shown? But intriguing inasmuch as his choice of perspective (i.e., the torturer’s) lends a different lens, a different voice compared to most other offerings in the collection. ★★★½☆

    “Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick — One of the most frightening of Dick’s fragile realities; what makes “Minority Report” such a strong dystopian story is how you wrestle with the whole notion of pre-crime, and how it so clearly demonstrates how we rush into policy decisions with new technologies before we really understand them. ★★★★½

    “Just Do It” by Heather Lindsley — Cute; mildly subversive. One of those “it follows logically” type natural extensions from modern behavioral targeting and other “personalized marketing”. An interesting what-if; though the twist was a bit predictable for corporate espionage fiction. ★★★½☆

    “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. — Ensuring equality for all… via handicaps. Classic Vonnegut theme and style. “And so it goes.” ★★★★☆

    “Caught in the Organ Draft” by Robert Silverberg — Pitch perfect dystopian fiction; has everything you would want/need for a story like this. The ambiguous morality, the questionable “for a better world” agenda with all of the requisite “yeah and/but except in this cirumstance…”; the narrator that ultimately allows those same “yeah and/but except” circumstances to undermine his own idealism. ★★★★★

    “Geriatric Ward” by Orson Scott Card — It’s not an all together bad story; but as far as dystopian stories go it was… a bit weak. I wasn’t terribly intrigued by the questions raised, and as someone raising a child, I find the idea of nine year-old parents baffling. ★★☆☆☆

    “Arties Aren’t Stupid” by Jeremiah Tolbert — Strong the whole way around; interesting questions, and an interesting world with a lot of depth. Something about it reminded my of Marc Laidlaw’s “400 Boys”–what with the underground culture and the easy slang and the factionalism. There are some little details that make aspects seem disjointed, and I felt like I could have used a bit more fleshing out of some of the characters, but overall this one came out strong. ★★★★☆

    “Jordan’s Waterhammer” by Joe Mastroianni — Interesting scene-setting, what with the sexless clones and the regimented industrialism of it all. I always get a little sad though with how quick authors are to take themes having to do with empathy and love and mesh those into some thinly veiled messianic aspect (complete with nee gospels). Despite that (and despite some odd… typos?), it was a good take. ★★★☆☆

    “Of a Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs” by Adam-Troy Castro — By now in the anthology, you should have developed a connoisseur’s palate for dystopian fiction; and this should do nicely. More “fantasy” than “science fiction”, and it definitely leans to the hyperbolically stylistic. But the “big important question” is there (re is the ultimately comfortable life worth it if every tenth day you’ll be tortured nearly to death?), and it is chilling in the right ways. ★★★★½

    “Resistance” by Tobias Bucknell — I loved this story; the style and the pacing, the nod to cyberpunk classic
    . In a way, this story is very much cyberpunk itself — the examination of isolation and disenfranchisement. But here is a disenfranchisement born of the idea that democratic governance could be predictive, calculated, summed-and-averaged from voter beliefs as inferred from behaviors. But it needed to be a novella (or longer). ★★★★☆

    “Civilization” by Vylar Kaftan — You could look at those introductory notes and reflect on your own experience as a kid in the 1980s and say: “A Choose Your Own Adventure? that’s not creative at all.” And of course, you’d be wrong. Kaftan perfectly (and creatively) sums up the whole thesis of the collection with this one. Pure gold. A+ ★★★★★

    Ruby  Tombstone [With A Vengeance]

    Feb 17, 2013

    rated it
    it was amazing

    review of another edition

    Recommends it for:
    everyone, also young people

    As far as short story anthologies go, it really doesn’t get any better than this: 36 stories by well-respected writers, each one a chilling dystopian vision of the future, raising a rich variety of seriously mind-bending questions about the world we’re living in today.

    The stories have obviously been very carefully curated, so that each flows smoothly to the next. Certain themes (like reproductive rights, time management, privacy and the ageing of the world’s population) are explored from differ

    The stories have obviously been very carefully curated, so that each flows smoothly to the next. Certain themes (like reproductive rights, time management, privacy and the ageing of the world’s population) are explored from differing perspectives, sometimes through back-to-back stories.

    And if the stories alone don’t get your brain pumping, there’s a study guide at the back, along with an enormous list of further reading and a dystopian cinema guide. Seriously – if this book doesn’t have something for you, if it doesn’t make you stop and think about something new, or at least give you the odd tiny chill going down your spine… give up. You’re officially a lost cause, and you should just stop reading.

    I’ve added the full list of stories below with my personal verdict, but it really is hard to pick out highlights when the overall quality is this high. Even the stories I didn’t love weren’t terrible – they just suffered by comparison with the other stories around them.
    Note: The stories marked with a “♛” are those that were truly incredible, and I highly encourage people to track down a copy for themselves at all costs..!

    ✘The Lottery — Shirley Jackson – One of my least favourite stories, but still a classic for a reason.
    ✔Red Card — S. L. Gilbow
    ✔Ten With a Flag — Joseph Paul Haines
    The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas — Ursula K. Le Guin – The price of happiness.
    ✔Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment — M. Rickert
    ✔The Funeral — Kate Wilhelm
    ✔O Happy Day! — Geoff Ryman – Very dark indeed.
    ✔ Pervert — Charles Coleman Finlay
    ✘From Homogenous to Honey — Neil Gaiman & Bryan Talbot
    ✔Billennium — J. G. Ballard
    ✔Amaryllis — Carrie Vaughn
    Pop Squad — Paolo Bacigalupi – Reproductive rights – So immersive, you can smell the hormones.
    ✔Auspicious Eggs — James Morrow
    ✔Peter Skilling — Alex Irvine
    ✔The Pedestrian — Ray Bradbury
    ✘The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away — Cory Doctorow
    ✘The Pearl Diver — Caitlín R. Kiernan
    ✔Dead Space for the Unexpected — Geoff Ryman
    ✔“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman — Harlan Ellison®
    ✔Is This Your Day to Join the Revolution? — Genevieve Valentine
    ✔Independence Day — Sarah Langan
    The Lunatics — Kim Stanley Robinson – Slavery
    ✔Sacrament — Matt Williamson
    ✔The Minority Report — Philip K. Dick
    ✔Just Do It — Heather Lindsley
    ✔Harrison Bergeron — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
    ✘Caught in the Organ Draft — Robert Silverberg
    ✔Geriatric Ward — Orson Scott Card
    ✔Arties Aren’t Stupid — Jeremiah Tolbert
    Jordan’s Waterhammer — Joe Mastroianni – Slavery
    Of a Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs — Adam-Troy Castro – The price of happiness
    ✔Resistance — Tobias S. Buckell
    ✘Civilization — Vylar Kaftan
    ✔The Cull — Robert Reed
    ✘Personal Jesus — Jennifer Pelland
    The Perfect Match — Ken Liu – Online privacy – I’ve been thinking about this one ever since I put the book down. At first I thought the writer was being a bit heavy-handed in emphasising the links to today’s culture and technology, but then it started to sink in for me.. It really IS scarily similar to the technological world we live in….. in fact almost identical if you think about it. Amazing to think that we already have let most of these things happen and are largely unaware of what we’ve done by giving up our privacy and right to choose.

    A lot of the material is available online in full text or podcast. The editor’s website is an awesome source of free stuff and extra information:…
    Go there. Go NOW!



    Even people who don’t usually read science fiction will often be familiar with a few classic titles in the “dystopian SF” sub-genre. After all, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and of course the famous Aldous Huxley novel Brave New World are some of the few SF titles that have entered the mainstream literary canon to such an extent that they’ve become assigned school reading for many students. However, novel-length dystopian SF didn’t stop with those venerable classics, and can even be said to be thriving

    Less well known but equally deserving of our attention are the many excellent short stories written in the sub-genre. To rectify this situation, we now have Brave New Worlds, a brand new anthology of dystopian SF short stories edited by John Joseph Adams. And, while “definitive” is not a word to be thrown around lightly, in this case it’s more than appropriate: Brave New Worlds is as perfect an anthology as you could hope for, and if there’s ever a college-level class about dystopian SF, this book is almost guaranteed to be assigned reading.

    One of the great things about a broad anthology like this one, collecting 33 different stories that still all fall under the umbrella of dystopian SF, is that you get the chance to sample a large variety of styles and approaches. Classics and brand new stories, short vignettes and longer tales, and almost every variety of what could constitute a dystopia: age discrimination — against the old AND the young; sexual discrimination — against women, men, or based on sexual orientation (both hetero- and homosexual); environmentally damaged worlds; societies with too many babies, not enough babies, or even no babies at all; people living too long; people dying too soon. Almost anything that could conceivably go wrong with our world goes wrong in one or more of these stories.

    Another result of reading so many different stories that still broadly fall in the same category is that it will inevitably lead you to notice the common threads that run through all of them, e.g. the common story dynamic of conflict between two or more characters is often replaced by the conflict between character and society. More interestingly, John Joseph Adams points out in his introduction to the anthology: “Whether or not a society is perceived as a dystopia is usually determined by one’s point of view; what one person may consider to be a horrible dystopia, another may find completely acceptable or even nigh-utopian”. The inhabitants of these broken, damaged societies have often become used to whatever miserable set of circumstances they are living in. In some cases, they are no longer even aware that things used to be different and have started considering their current lives as acceptable by default. This leads to some stories that generate a sense of discomfort so acute that it borders on the claustrophobic. The strongest stories in this collection verge on horror, although of the psychological or even existential kind rather than blood and gore. There are a few stories in Brave New Worlds that will simply stay with you forever — and whenever literature can do that to you, you know you’ve got a winner in your hands.

    Brave New Worlds contains a whopping 33 stories, delivering great value for your money but making it hard to write something meaningful about every single one without ending up with an extremely long review. So instead, here are my personal favorites in the order in which they appear in the anthology:

    “The Funeral” by Kate Wilhelm is one of those stories that feels as if you’re seeing a five minute glimpse of a brilliant movie that has an elaborate plot you can only guess at. You know there’s a lot going on, even if you don’t really grasp all of it. It’s also over much too soon.

    “O Happy Day!” by Geoff Ryman is another stunning, claustrophobic story that focuses on a very small — and very dark — part of a much larger conflict. (Geoff Ryman actually has two stories in the anthology, which struck me as a great, confident decision on the part of the editor: both stories are excellent, so why choose one over the other?)

    “Pop Squad” by Paolo Bacigalupi was (for me at least) the standout story in the author’s brilliant collection Pump Six and Other Stories, so I’m glad to see it included in this anthology. There’s a lot going on here, some of it brutally evident and some of it much more subtle, but as with all of these stories I’d rather let you discover it for yourself than describe it here in too much detail.

    While these three stories all get an unqualified five stars from me, Matt Williamson’s “Sacrament” somehow outdid them all with its outrageous juxtaposition of cold-eyed, rational horror and spine-tingling beauty. There are two distinct parts to the story, and the way they combine at the end is so powerful that reading it for the first time was a stunning experience. Not for the first time when finishing a story in Brave New Worlds, I had to close the book and walk away for a second to let it all sink in. According to John Joseph Adams’ typically insightful and thoughtful introduction to the story, Matt Williamson is currently working on his first novel, and I for one am very excited to read it.

    And then, towards the end, there’s “Jordan’s Waterhammer” by Joe Mastroiani, another gem with such a chilling and gorgeous conclusion that I still get chills thinking about it. In between these five superb examples of short form SF, you’ll find a collection of excellent stories, including some established classics as well as many great entries by newer authors. Even though everyone will have their favorites and their least favorites, Brave New Worlds doesn’t contain any story that’s less than excellent, which is quite rare for such a large anthology.

    If you’re not convinced yet, please check out the anthology’s great companion website, where you’ll find some free sample stories (some also available in audio format) as well as fascinating short interviews with some of the stories’ authors, my favorite being Joe Mastroiani’s because it puts the story’s world in more detail and heightened my appreciation even more.

    It doesn’t happen very often that you find an anthology that’s perfectly executed from start to finish, but Brave New Worlds is exactly that. The stories in this collection are science fiction in the truest sense of the word, starting from an often painful sociological premise and extrapolating it to the most private and emotional aspects of our lives. The only reasons I can think of for not liking this book would be if you have an aversion to either dystopian SF or short fiction. If you don’t fall in either of those categories, you simply won’t find a finer anthology than Brave New Worlds.

    (This review was also published at on 2/2/2011.)