Cyber World by Jason Heller and Joshua Viola, eds.

There’s a soundtrack to this anthology, and I’ll be posting about that tonight — short version: if you like music that shares the same roots as these stories, you should check it out.

Cyber WorldCyber World: Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow

by Jason Heller, Joshua Viola eds.

Kindle Edition, 250 pg.
Hex Publishers, 2016

Read: October 26 – 31, 2016

Heller insists in his Afterword that this is not a collection of Cyberpunk stories, and who am I to doubt him? Although it feels pretty punk to ignore the Editor/The Man. It sure feels like Cyberpunk — but I’m also pretty sure that it doesn’t matter what I call it, as long as I say that it’s good, strong, creative, mind-bending, and occasionally mind-blowing. I can’t summarize this anthology better than Hex Publishers did:

Cybernetics. Neuroscience. Nanotechnology. Genetic engineering. Hacktivism. Transhumanism. The world of tomorrow is already here, and the technological changes we all face have inspired a new wave of stories to address our fears, hopes, dreams, and desires as Homo sapiens evolve—or not—into their next incarnation.

Cyber World is a collection of this new wave of cyber-inspired tales, that should appeal to a wide audience. There’s part of me that wants to write a paragraph or two on each story — well, most of them — but I don’t have the time for that, and I can’t imagine many of you would read it. So I’ll opt for brevity. As I read through this collection, I noticed that my notes had a theme, I’d consistently remark on three aspects of the stories: 1. The Premise/Cyber-Conceit; 2. The Story/Characters; 3. The Language Used/Way of telling the story. Now, this actually sounds like a pretty decent strategy to approaching these, but I’m not clever enough to do that deliberately, apparently. Almost every story here nailed two, if not three, of these aspects.

There was a story that only scored on one front for me, but I’m not going to mention which one, because I know others will strongly disagree with me — I might even disagree in 6 months — so I’m not going to focus on it. Even those stories that didn’t do much for me, I can absolutely see where others would say that they’re a favorite. Usually, when I read a bunch of short stories I don’t see where people would have much appreciation for some of them (I mean, I know tastes vary, but sometimes you just don’t get why people like stuff). Not here — tough to ask for more than that. The writing is on point — lean, terse, quick-moving — with the occasional appropriate exception. There’s something that made me smile about all but one of the stories. The voices are strong and individual — yet pretty much clearly belong together.

I do want to talk about a few of these — sorry, no one really wants to read about how I write these things, but I think this says something. I wrote that fragment, and then took one more look at my notes, trying to find 3 or 4 stories to focus on and I came up with four in a row and stopped myself before things go out of hand. Again, this speaks to the strength of this collection. I still wasn’t able to restrict myself to 4, though:

  • Mario Acevedo’s “Reactions” is maybe too-brief, but a compelling look at remote warfare drugs and the effects of both of those on the brain/soul. Just enough zag to his pretty obvious zig to make this a keeper.
  • “The Rest Between Two Notes” by Cat Rambo contains this line:

    But this is New York City, and there can be traffic jams or terrorist threats or flash plagues to contend with…

    “flash plagues.” I love that concept. There’s just so much — probably a novel if someone wanted it, in those two words. The rest of the story was pretty weird and disturbing, and though provoking on its own, but those two words (for me) sealed it as a favorite.

  • “The Faithful Soldier, Prompted” by Saladin Ahmed reflects the international flavor of this book as well as featuring an odd mishmash of spam emails and religious revelation. Something only Ahmed could probably pull off.
  • “Staunch” by Paul Graham Raven pushed just about every stylistic button for me — mix of bio/technical/cyber/genetic fiction, plus political/economic commentary — and a whole bunch of other stuff — while telling a tight story.
  • “Will Take Care of Our Own” by Angie Hodapp is probably the most accessible, closest to mainstream story in this batch. Which doesn’t stop it from being a great story about politics, with some interesting commentary on contemporary issues — just what SF is supposed to be about — with a good fallible protagonist.
  • Minister Faust’s “The Ibex on the Day of Extinction” felt very different from most of these stories, and I don’t know how to talk about it without spoiling the whole thing, but I wanted to focus on how good it was.
  • “The Singularity Is in Your Hair” by Matthew Kessel — can I use the word “sweet” about one of these? Probably not, but this tale about VR helping a person with a debilitating disease experience more than many people is very close to it.
  • “A Song Transmuted” by Sarah Pinsker just blew me away several times.
  • “It’s Only Words” by Keith Ferrell — is almost a counter-point to the worlds the rest of these take place in — a dash of Thoreau to rebut the rest.
  • “The Bees of Kiribati” by Warren Hammond was just freaking chilling — a police interrogation to a heinous crime, becomes so much more. I want a book in this world, now. Just without the creepy killer (it can have another creepy killer, I just don’t want anything to do with this one again).

Heller (and I read his book Taft 2012 before starting this blog, so you can’t read all the nice things I thought about it at the time) and Viola did a bang up job with this collection. They might not love the label cyberpunk (but someone neglected to tell those who wrote blurbs, or the promotional material I read), and perhaps it’s not the most accurate — but if these stories aren’t Cyberpunk, they’re the result of evolution from Cyberpunk. Cyber World is a direct descendant of Mirrorshades — a couple of these stories could’ve easily been included in that collection (but some require more current cultural/technological input).

Don’t read too many of these in one sitting, it takes away some of the impact — but you’ll have a hard time stopping once you start. One of the best collection of stories I’ve read in forever.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. I thank them for this.


4 Stars