The universe perhaps behaving differently at the quantum and the macro level but no less strangely or counter-intuitively, both particles and people are governed by their relationships, a theme explored in ten stories gathered by Sheila Williams for the latest volume of the ongoing Twelve Tomorrows series published by the MIT Press entitled Entanglements: Tomorrow’s Lovers, Families and Friends.
Genetic engineering and the impact of science on society familiar ground for Nancy Kress who explored the territory in her trilogy of The Sleepless, here she introduces Invisible People, the tale of a childless couple who have the good fortune to be able to adopt the child of an unwanted pregnancy; everyone wins, until it emerges years later that Kenly Linton and others like her were the creation of illegal experiments in eugenics, yet the ultimate goal is not what might be presumed.
A very different dynamic is presented by Rich Larson in Echo the Echo, with people, places and situations introduced as swiftly and efficiently as the dating app which creates an avatar of the user to send on a virtual date with the counterpart of a prospective partner to test the waters, but while a superficial compatibility can be simulated a stronger connection is reliant on more complex variables.
The shared parenting duties of a compound family unit are challenging for Charlie’s primary mother Jo, the only non-career woman in the group, a position balanced between privilege and the unspoken resentment of the other mothers and further complicated by Sparklybits, an errant manifestation of the house artificial intelligence in Nick Wolven’s story of future families, expanded responsibilities and how parental expectation and disappointment will never change.
Mary Robinette Kowal offers A Little Wisdom from an elderly lady suffering from Parkinson’s Disease but still able to put one foot in front of the other thanks to her implants and her eDawg; curator of an art gallery and preparing an exhibition which hopes to offer the wisdom of the ages, despite her infirmity it is the wisdom of her own age and experience which sees the panicked visitors through in a crisis.
Dakarai’s boyfriend Jin has a request for him in James Patrick Kelly’s Your Boyfriend Experience, to be the test date for robotic “playmate” Partner Tate, an elaborate and expensive prototype windup toy with “software for all occasions” who takes Dak to the fanciest restaurant in town for an evening of beautifully conveyed sensory delight which give way to unexpected reversals and a moral dilemma weighted by an unexpected emotional burden Dak did not think Tate capable of.
Recently widowed, a woman throws herself into her research, almost denying her feelings and those of her teenage children, but Cadwell Turnbull suggests Mediation which becomes a further point of dispute, forcing her to confront her what she doesn’t wish to in a story which emphasises how much the collection is about people in a world of technology rather than the machines themselves.
Austin and Colby are brothers separated by six years and a gulf of life experience and pain which hasn’t yet broken their bond, both citizens of The Nation of the Sick, as is Cybil Natarajan, the anti-corporate dreamer who needs a savvy coder to help her remodel the world, first virtually then applying those concepts practically, Sam J Miller presenting a buoyant yet madly achievable utopia where the melting snows of Christmas wash away a lifetime of tears.
The smartest kids in school pretending to be stupid because it’s safer not to draw attention to themselves, they gather after classes to tidy the science lab for extra credit while also studying something extra-curricular: subversion. In a world of authoritarian censorship where science, history, literature and art are all sanitised to present an acceptable environment for impressionable minds whose very thoughts are expunged from memory by electronic minders, Suzanne Palmer exploits a loophole in Don’t Mind Me.
The Monogamy Hormone extracted by Annalee Newitz is unusual in that the specific development around which the story is built is unproven, possibly even a placebo, but there are other more demonstrable technologies quite literally coating the back walls in her sweet tale of finding what you wanted in the last place expected, exactly where it was all along.
The collection interspersed with the “infographic abstracts” of artist Tatiana Plakhova, Entanglements closes with Xia Jia’s encounter with The Monk of Lingyin Temple, as translated by Ken Liu, a very different view than the other writers’ optimistic views of the western world, set in an isolated Buddhist monastery whose reclusive inhabitants have experienced too much of the worst of the world, confronting it and overcoming it via technology in a tale of karma and revenge and the cycles of life and rebirth.
Entanglements is available from now from the MIT Press