Monday, September 14, 2015

Book Review: Future Net

Book Review: 'Future Net' edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff

2 / 5 Stars

‘Future Net’ (315 pp) is DAW Book No. 1037. It was published in October, 1996, and features cover artwork by Peter Gudynas.

At the time it was published, the Net – i.e., the online world – was starting to become a pop culture phenomenon and an essential part of American life. I remember back then that several times a month I would receive a garishly colored envelope containing a CD from America Online. If you didn’t like AOL, you could look to companies like Mindspring and Earthlink. And if you really wanted to go big, you’d upgrade from a 56K phone modem to something called 'broadband'...........

‘Future Net’, like all other Martin Greenberg-edited anthologies, was comprised of newly commissioned short stories all tailored to deliver on the title theme. And, needless to say, like just about every other Greenberg anthology DAW issued, the contributors sent in stuff that was never their most innovative or imaginative work, but rather, pedestrian efforts that were aimed at paying the bills.

The stories in ‘Future Net’ all feature the Net as a post-Cyberpunk entity; in other words, it’s no longer an immense black space filled with rotating, colored, 3-D geometric objects like in Neuromancer, but a ‘virtual reality’ as depicted in the film The Matrix. Many of the protagonists in these stories are crippled physically or mentally, and see VR as a route to salvation, self-fulfillment, or a kind of quasi-supernatural permanence…..

My brief summaries of the contents:

Zoomers, by Gregory Benford: overwritten tale of stockbrokers who search Cyberspace for the Next Big Thing.

Someone Who Understands Me, by Matthew Costello: dark doings on the part of a feuding couple. The plot is not original, but it is well-handled.

The Coyote Virus, by Josepha Sherman: a young female faculty member finds an unusual ally in her struggle against..........sexual harassment.

Prometheus Bringing Fire, by Robin Wayne Bailey: an alien who clandestinely monitors the Net develops a conscience; unconvincing.

Freedom, by Mickey Zucker Reichert: an elderly woman, confined to a wheelchair, investigates the Net. It's exactly as boring as the premise would indicate.

Redemption Inc., by Gary A. Braunbeck: a Girl Dying Young arranges to be reincarnated in cyberspace. Mawkish and overwought; one of the less impressive entries in the anthology.

O ! The Tangled Web, by John DeChancie: a web surfer finds an Internet Service Provider like none he’s ever seen before.

Jarvik Hearts, by Wil McCarthy: a spinster and a rumpled detective team up to find an AI that targets other AIs on the Net.

Lover Boy, by Daniel Ransom (Ed Gorman): Gorman recycles a common crime novel / detective novel trope in this tale of cyber-porn gone awry.

Cyberspace Cadet, by Paul Dellinger: this tale borrows from the 1990 movie Total Recall by featuring yet another VR Trip to Mars.

Shining On, by Bill Sue Mosiman: more a horror story than sf, so much so it seems really out of place in this anthology. A severely handicapped mutant makes the wrong kind of online friend....creepy enough to be among the better entries.

Souvenirs and Photographs, by Jdy Lynn Nye: in the far future, some too-clever kids find a way to hack teleporters.

Ghost in the Machine: a quadriplegic man volunteers to walk again….as his avatar in VR; he meets his deceased wife. Another maudlin, overly sentimental entry.

Memories of Marie’s Shoes, by Brooks Peck: in a futuristic prison, a trustee uses the Net to solve a homicide. Offbeat, and one of the better entries in the anthology.

Web-Surfing Past Lives, by Jane Linskold: mild tale of an AI who investigates odd happenings in the Net.

Fatal Error 1000, by Barbara Paul: less sf, than a Whodunit transposed to cyberspace. Competent, if not particularly inventive.

The verdict ? ‘Future Net’ displays the blandness and homogeneity that characterized the Greenberg anthologies. The stories that show some imagination are too few to allow me to nominate this as a 'must-have' volume, even for the most dedicated cyberpunk fans.

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