November 18, 2018

Review: Tomorrow Factory: Collected Fiction

Tomorrow Factory: Collected Fiction Tomorrow Factory: Collected Fiction by Rich Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't read that many short story collections, but I will freely admit the terrific cover art on this book is what first made me pick it up at the library. Then, upon viewing the author's photo, and seeing this
kidyoung man with enough published stories to put out a collection (and apparently many more besides that)...I thought, well, I'll take a chance on it.

I'm very glad I did.

I don't know if you could call Rich Larson a once-in-a-generation talent, but he's damned good. This is evident from the very first story in this collection, "All That Robot Shit," which flips the tale of Robinson Crusoe on its ear. In this version, the castaway, or the Man, is washed up on an island with a thriving culture of sentient robots that have developed their own religion...and their own punishment for blasphemers who claim humans made them.

(In a small, sneaky detail, the kind that doesn't dawn on the reader until the story is finished, the Man is referred to as "it" throughout, and the robots are given gender. It's just one of the ways Larson subverts the usual tropes.)

Other standouts in this collection include "Extraction Request," which marries primeval Alien-inspired horror with the SF conceit of a predatory fungus, to bleak, memorable effect; "The Ghost Ship Anastasia," one of the longer stories, about a crew sent to check out a mining bioship that has ceased transmitting (this one has callbacks to both Alien and Lovecraft); "Your Own Way Back," about a grandfather who uploads himself to a chip in an attempt to cheat death, and ends up being carried around in his grandson's head for a while, until he realizes he can't impose the burden of his quasi-existence on his daughter's struggling family any longer; "Circuits," probably my favorite story here, the post-apocalyptic tale of a sentient train riding its lonely track, long after the abandonment of the planet and the death of humans; and "Innumerable Glimmering Lights," the showstopping closing story, about a intelligent aquatic species--maybe an octopus, maybe a squid--drilling through the roof of their ice-covered ocean world, and triggering a clash between science and faith.

The only reason I gave this book four stars instead of five is because the author is obviously a fan of cyberpunk, and I'm not, particularly. Uploading a human mind and consciousness, according to everything I've read, is about as scientifically possible as faster-than-light and time travel...which is to say, not at all. Still, it's an accepted trope nowadays, and of course it's not so much the basic idea as what the writer does with it. On that basis, Rich Larson is an outstanding young writer, and definitely one to keep an eye on.

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