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REVIEW | Brave New Worlds ed. by John Joseph Adams

John Joseph Adams has singled-handedly been responsible for making me read more short fiction in the last 3 years than nearly the 10 years before that.  Each collection starting with his first reprint anthology Wastelands up to his latest Brave New Worlds have done a great service to each of the themes visited providing a well rounded smorgasbord of ideas and entertainment.

Brave New Worlds is Adams' best entry into the reprint anthology fold thus far bringing to light many impossibly classic stories as well as some recent gems that will mostly stand the test of time as well. Each and every story grows from the kernel of an idea that society or politics has become gone awry in some way either in its laws or rituals. Adams provides his incisive commentary to introduce each piece as usual, which does tend to drift into some good social commentary as well given the topic at hand. Some stories are about people raging against the machine while others are about those who just fall in line simply because they are instilled with fear of what would happen otherwise.

While at first look Brave New Worlds simply looks like a collection put together for their name value--as it is a who's who of classic and modern authors--I quickly realized that each and every story was picked with care and some even defy normal convention as we are treated to a short graphic story by none other than Neil Gaiman that in no way feels shoehorned in and Ursula K. Leguin's piece  "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" from the 70s that feels absolutely timeless, but has no main characters as it sweeps through a town. While there are some I didn't connect with as well as others there isn't a clunker in the bunch. These 33 stories inspire a sense of caution and sometimes outright horror about things that could easily come to pass.

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson is one of the best known examples of a dystopian story and immediately sets the right tone for the collection. It is a simple yet very effective use of bringing an ancient ritual into somewhat modern times. This was actually my first time reading the story, but I enjoyed it so much I immediately re-read it.

"Red Card" by S. L. Gilbow is placed in a world where from time-to-time someone gets a free pass at murdering someone.  The story comes off feeling very realistic with the tone of the protagonist having an eerie sense of doing the right thing. Would you shoot that guy who cut you off on the way to work if given the chance?

"Ten With a Flag" by Joseph Paul Haines gives us the ultimate choice tale. As technology advances we're able to learn more and more before birth about our children, but do we really want to know more? And should the government know before you do? Haines crafts a very fine story that twists very nicely in the end.

"The Funeral" by Kate Wilhelm is definitely, if not a precursor to The Hunger Games, a big influence in many ways. The class system was very similar and the story centers around young girls wanting to escape from their society. It was far too short given all the tidbits thrown in.

"O Happy Day!" by Geoff Ryman is probably the most screwed up story in the bunch condemning most men to death for being too violent while a few gay men are saved only to do the worst jobs possible in their society. Very dark stuff with a hint of hope.

"Billennium" by J. G. Ballard was an amazing take on population growth and getting exactly what you ask for only to ruin it yourself. I felt like I was reading a story right out of the Twilight Zone.

"Amaryllis" by Carrie Vaughn turns the overpopulation theme a bit on its side with this one. We always get stories about people breaking the laws having children, but rarely do we get to see what happens down the line, which is what Vaughn gives us here. I never thought I'd care this much about a story on a fishing boat, but the struggles of the crew left me rapt.

"Pop Squad" by Paolo Bacigalupi gives us another of his truly darkly inspired stories about a world where aging is frowned upon and children are straight out illegal.

"Dead Space for the Unexpected" by Geoff Ryman is his second in the collection only on the lighter side.  Think of Office Space, but with a main character who wants nothing more than to please and be praised for it. Than make him as big a dick as you can think times 2 and you're just about there.

"The Minority Report" by Philip K. Dick is another classic that should be read by everyone even if you've seen the movie (which has held up on its own as well). A conspiracy of future events is after the main character as he attempts to proves his innocence against irrefutable proof in a country where you're arrested before you even commit a crime.

"Just Do It" by Heather Lindsley is made of pure awesome.  We all know advertising has gotten out of control and invades nearly every aspect of our life, but what if it was literally injected into you? This story made me hate McDonald's all over again.

"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. asks us When does making everyone equal become unfair?
Very funny in a twisted sort of way given all the handicaps the characters are under.

"Caught in the Organ Draft" by Robert Silverberg imagines a world where the elder elite have changed the laws to harvest organs from the young. Damn if this doesn't seem all too feasible now.

"Arties Aren’t Stupid" by Jeremiah Tolbert gives his characters their own version of a techie Patois which lend this tale a huge amount of originality, which is beautifully told. Art is integral to a groups essence and when society forbids them their creative powers start a shift that will change the world.

As immensely readable as Brave New Worlds is I had to put it down intermittently just because I couldn't stand the idea of finishing the collection. I give Brave New Worlds 10 out of 10 hats. This is one of the best collections of this or any year and showcases Adams's immensely keen editorial eye. If you are a fan of classic authors George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Kurt Vonnegut, and modern scribes Suzanne Collins, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Lauren Beukes you should add this to you collection and savor it. For a good size helping of these stories a free sampler is also available containing 10 of the stories.

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Anonymous said...

Great review. I decided to check out the ebook for the Nook. Warning: the ebook version is missing 4 stories due to digital copy right issues two of which I really wanted. Harrison Bergeron and The Minority Report. By the paperback instead so you get all 33 stories. Super bummed as Harrison Bergeron was one of my favorite short stories from one of my high school English classes. Oh well.

Mad Hatter Review said...

Didn't realize that about the ebook. It seems like a lot of older works have a lot of e-issues. Have you heard about the short movie 2081 based on Harrison Bergeron? It is available at amazon and I've heard good things. I'll probably check it out soon since I enjoyed the story so much.

Anonymous said...

I haven't. Thanks for the heads up. B&N was gracious enough to send me the hard copy due to the mix up with the Nook version so it looks like I will be getting all of the stories after all.

Have you read the anthology by Adams regarding the apocalypse? If so, is it worth picking up?

Mad Hatter Review said...

The apocalypse collection is WASTELANDS, which is definitely worth checking out. Apparently BRAVE NEW WORLDS was the collection Adams wanted to do right after WASTELANDS, but other collections got in the way.